Let’s begin our exploration into stepping out of your comfort zone with a quote from Brene Brown “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort. You cannot have both”.
There is nothing wrong with choosing a comfortable life.
To be content with your partner, your family and friends, and where you have chosen to call home. To have a career you don’t mind, and a few hobbies to enjoy in your spare time.
But what if this is your life and it feels like Groundhog Day?
There can be many reasons for life getting stuck on repeat, one of which is being caught up in your comfort zone.
In some ways this article is about courage. The courage to proactively change what is not working, or to set a course towards a more inspiring and fulfilling life day to day.
So, let’s take a look at what a comfort zone is all about and decide, for ourselves, whether we choose to live within it or step out of it. Whether we choose comfort or courage.
What is a comfort zone?
There are literally hundreds of definitions of what a comfort zone is.
For example, the Oxford Learners Dictionary defines a comfort zone as “a place or situation in which you feel safe or comfortable, especially when you choose to stay in this situation instead of trying to work harder or achieve more”.
We each have a brain full of learnt behaviours and tasks, that we can perform each day, without our having to consciously show up.
The order in which we get dressed (yes, we all have one!), our response to questions such as “how are you today?” or the routes we take to the places we regularly go.
Once we have learnt how to do something, and can repeat it effortlessly, we generally don’t have to think, or stress, about it too much.
It is this that principally enables us to comfortably and safely go about our day, or aspects of our day, feeling in control and without having to put in a lot of effort.
‘Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
It is actually a brilliant system, when you think about it. Imagine if we had to think our way through the hundreds, if not thousands, of repetitive things we do each day!
However, if key aspects of our life, such as our careers and/or relationships, are essentially being run on repeat it is likely to be a different story. Here we may find ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, in what is deemed to be a comfort zone - in our own version of Groundhog Day.
The theory is that, if we step out of our comfort zone, we will break the cycle.
This generally means choosing courage over comfort, but the results can pay dividends.
When we learn new skills, achieve a goal, or work our way through a challenge, we
become better equipped for future experiences and perhaps more resilient in dealing with the ebbs and flows of daily life. We expand ourselves and our horizons.
In the wise words of John Assaraf “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there”
The Comfort Zone Conundrum
The challenge with your comfort zone is that it can be, well, comfortable.
In a pair of old slippers kind of way. They might be a poor fit, a little worse for wear, or be full of holes - but we hang on to them all the same!
There are many reasons we may be drawn to the familiar, even if we know that something is well past it’s sell by date.
Allowing our own needs and wants to take second place to our responsibilities
Fear of failure or fear of succeeding
A lack of self-confidence
Fear of taking risks
Inability to make decisions
A lack of capability or competency
Responding to peer pressure or the opinions of others
…the list goes on.
From an evolutionary perspective, we are actually wired to take the road well-travelled.
The route where we are least likely to have to face any proverbial sabre-tooth tigers. To seek out a safe spot that keeps us out of harm’s way and helps to ensure our survival.
Regardless of whether you are one of life’s natural go getters, or nature’s adrenalin junkies, your characteristics and instincts are likely to entice each of you into buying a season ticket to the comfort zone.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Let’s do a little exercise.
Grab a pen and paper and write down the following 7 categories - a few examples of areas that help to make up a fulfilling life:
1. Personal Relationship
3. Charity and Community
5. Health and Wellbeing
6. Fun and Adventure
7. Home Environment
Next rate how satisfied you are with each category, out of 10. Where 1 is completely unsatisfied and 10 is completely satisfied.
Don’t overthink it, just go with your gut instinct.
If an area is irrelevant to you, or this exercise, then either give it a 10 or skip it.
The chances are there will be some aspects of your life that will be ticking along nicely and others that are in need of a little or more work.
If one or more area is not where you would like it to be, do you know why?
As previously stated, there are many reasons we may be stuck in life, one of which is that we may have slipped into comfort zone territory.
That we are doing the same things and getting the same results
Or perhaps doing the same things and hoping for different results.
Sailing into the unknown
It can be tempting to throw caution to the wind, quit an aspect of our life and set sail for greener pastures. Especially if we have dived in to articles, or the biographies, of those who have taken that giant leap of faith and have succeeded.
I personally don’t think this is feasible or sound advice, for the majority of us.
But let’s be clear, there is no change without changing.
If we want our circumstances or ourselves to be different, then we will need to leave the safety of the harbour and move into the open seas. To plot a course towards our goals and dreams, or to navigate our way out of any storm we may unwittingly find ourselves in.
It generally takes effort to create a life filled with a sense of purpose and fulfilment. One that sees you wanting to get out of bed each morning, well most mornings anyway.
Of course, there are times when life throws us a curve ball and we find ourselves in deep water, ready or not.
Regardless of where we begin our journey from, it takes courage to embark on what may be choppy seas ahead. But in the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”.
However, having personally undertaken this journey, I believe there is a lot that can be done to smooth our passage.
Know your destination
A loaded question but where do you want to be?
If an area of our life is not as we would like it to be it can be tempting to just set sail for a different destination. But is it the right one for you?
I previously spent 18+ years in a successful career in IT Management which took me to Sydney. I earnt more money than I had time to spend and burnt the candle at every end. I also lived for a period in an apartment with panoramic views of the ocean from every room. It was a great life and, in many ways, ticked a lot of boxes. But it wasn’t the life that truly fed my soul.
Be careful of the lure of the Instagram worthy life. The one that looks good on paper, or on social media, but is it going to float your boat in real life?
One way to help get clear on your destination, or at least where to next, is to put together a meaningful vision board.
There are lots of resources online, that can take you through how to do this, including one from Mindbodygreen: “How vision boards work & how to make a powerful one for yourself”.
Break the Journey Down
Once we know where we are going, next we need to determine how we will get there.
The journey may be a short one and you can just step right on out of your comfort zone and go for it.
However, it is more likely that you are going to need to break your journey down into manageable chunks.
Today I live in the beautiful Somerset countryside with my husband and two dogs. I get to do what I love and with who I love. Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that I live a whimsically perfect life. It of course can have its highs and lows, but I have created a life that is much more aligned to my true nature.
So, how did I get here?
Step 1: Retrained in wellbeing alongside my job over 12 months
Step 2: Created a savings plan which included downsizing and moving
Step 3: Put together a business plan and framework
Step 4: A 12-month sabbatical which included further training and a round the world trip
Step 5: Voila- land in my new life and vocation
Now, as you can imagine, this was no minor undertaking and each of the above steps required a lot of sub-tasks. My project delivery skills certainly came in handy!
Whether your goal is to change one aspect of your life or all of it, breaking it down into bitesize pieces can make it more palatable and doable.
Most journeys are achievable, if we break them down and do them at our own pace, knowing that every step forward is progress.
Set course for plain sailing
Whilst moving away from the safety of the comfort zone will see us in open seas, like any good navigator, we should aim to set a course for plain sailing.
Whilst there will be periods of inaction and periods of high stress, our goal should be to set a course between the two.
To be challenged enough so that there is motivation and action, but not so much that we experience anxiety and heightened stress.
This is the core theory of ‘The Yerkes-Dodson Law’. That we each have a zone where an optimal level of arousal results in our optimal performance.
This zone is different for each of us and is dependent on factors, such as our level of confidence and capability in the task at hand.
The theory is that if we have too little arousal then we will lack motivation. Too much and we are likely to be stressed out. Both ends of the spectrum will hinder optimal performance.
What we want to aim for is a sweet spot between the two. This is where we will perform and feel at our best. It is where it will feel more like plain sailing.
Expect a few waves
In reality, we are likely to hit choppy waters at some stage.
Here we may find ourselves wanting to head back to the safety of the harbour, or at least drop anchor for a while.
Once we are ready, we can pick up where we left off or, if appropriate, start over again.
Whilst this can be immensely challenging and frustrating, it is a natural part of the process.
And one where our biggest shifts in learning and growth can often occur.
Enjoy the Ride
Many of us have the mindset of fun being something we do, once the work is done.
For when we have lost that weight, overcome that illness, or nailed that promotion.
When it comes to choosing courage, having fun as our companion will always make the journey more, well, fun.
Whilst I am a big fan of celebrating successes, we want to make sure we are not waiting until we get there for life to begin. To have fun along the way and to enjoy the ride.
The other thing with having fun is that it can help in maintaining a positive mindset, and in taking the edge off of any stress.
Fuel for your journey
Similarly, make sure you look after yourself and don’t lose sight of your self-care.
If anything, embracing change should mean you up the focus on your wellbeing.
That as a minimum you prioritise your nutrition, exercise, rest, and sleep. To support you on your journey.
Know that it will be worth it
When we learn new skills, achieve a goal, or work our way through a challenge, we essentially expand our comfort zone.
We arrive at a new harbour with new skillsets on board, that we can utilise for future experiences and journeys.
Along with a little more self-efficacy, confidence, trust in ourselves, and our ability to change and grow.
And when we are ready, we may decide to set sail for another destination. To again expand ourselves and our horizons.
To expand our comfort zone.
Taking smaller steps
The time is not always now and we are not always ready, willing, or able to undertake high degrees of change. And neither do we need to.
However, this does not mean we have to stand still.
Below are 10 ways, to ease out of your comfort zone, that we can do alongside the life we already have. For those who do not want to set sail but would like to dip their toe in the ocean.
Comfort or Courage?
The question I suggested we each answer for ourselves at the beginning of this blog, is whether we choose to live within our comfort zone or step outside of it.
Now is the time to answer this question for yourself. Do you choose comfort or do you choose courage?
Are you content with yourself and life as is or, are you ready to proactively change what is not working or to set a course towards a more inspiring and fulfilling day to day?
It is not lost on me that life is sometimes the catalyst for change and many of us have been living outside of our comfort zones for some time now.
However, we are ultimately the master of our own ship and the one who decides if we will take shelter in the harbour or if we will set sail.
Whatever you decide, I wish you safe and successful travels.
This blog was written for Cytoplan and is also available on their website: