The term, “Comfort Zone,” refers to that psychological space in which a person functions with a minimal level of anxiety. It can be applied to various situations including family, job, social life, and recreational pursuits.
All of us like to operate within a comfort zone a large percentage of the time. We don’t choose a job because we are looking forward to it being stressful, and most people choose their vacations with an eye toward relaxation.
There is another side to the coin, however. We can become too comfortable if we don’t raise the bar on our comfort zone on occasion. The person who shies away from challenges may never advance on the job or never apply for potentially more exciting work. The person who fears getting temporarily hungry is likely to fail an attempt at dieting. Being socially inhibited can limit you from getting to know a broader range of people – which also keeps them from getting to know you. And always choosing a relaxing vacation may keep you from visiting and seeing new places or learning new skills such a skiing or pottery or ethnic cooking.
In other words, always staying in your comfort zone limits personal growth.
There are two necessary ingredients to make certain that your comfort zone is not too comfortable. First of all, it is important to recognize that a certain amount of tolerable anxiety is necessary for change to take place. There is no learning without some anxiety. In one of The Mental Health Gym podcasts, I noted that you can reduce anxiety by relabeling it as excitement about what you will be learning and accomplishing. In other words, you can reduce anxiety by changing the focus from internal feelings to external consequences.
The second ingredient is the recognition that risk-taking has unknown consequences. Staying comfortable has only known consequences, but those consequences may not be satisfying if they keep you stuck. If one accepts the fact that risking can be fun and productive of learning and change, even if the outcome isn’t great, it can help you leave your comfort zone.
There are worse things than getting turned down for a date or learning that you dislike a certain kind of new food that you tried or finding out that you really don’t like water skiing or that you didn’t get the job you wanted.
And you know what? You may be surprised to find out that sometimes leaving your comfort zone will lead to success and happiness and positive permanent change.