Shake Up the Concept of the Comfort Zone
In my previous post, I posed the question, “Is it possible to train for change?” I gave the short answer “Yes!” as a sneak peek into what was in store, but in the next two posts, I’m going to provide a more in-depth response to that question.
The answer encompasses two ideas:
- Shaking up the traditional concept of the comfort zone.
- Shaking up your own comfort zone.
We’ll get into #2 in the next post, but for now let’s look at #1.
Change is inevitable
As I’ve mentioned before, change is inevitable. We are all changing constantly: our bodies, our minds, our dreams, our purpose in life, and the environment in which we live—everything changes. The philosopher Henri Bergson, winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote:
“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.”
I was struck by the idea of creating oneself, and I want to explore how to do that.
Speaking of change makes me think of a very common metaphor: the concept of the comfort zone. Wikipedia defines a comfort zone as:
“A psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease and in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of anxiety and stress.”
I want to highlight a few words from that definition: “familiarity,” “easy,” and “sense of control.”
In a world that is changing at a speed and scale like never before, the impact on our lives is that feelings of stress and anxiety are dramatically increasing. Familiar things seem to being slipping away as new technologies are rapidly introduced. Greater complexity fosters a sense that nothing is easy and everything is a new challenge. These feelings can rob us of a sense of control.
In order to cope with such rapid change, it is important to be focused on our wellbeing. We must take back the sense of control in our lives, and in order to do that we must learn to embrace change. It’s time to shake things up. As I mentioned earlier, there are two things we need to shake up:
- The traditional concept of the comfort zone.
- Your own comfort zone.
First things first: let’s examine the traditional concept of the comfort zone.
The traditional concept of the comfort zone
The traditional way of speaking about the comfort zone is based ideas like, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” or “Something magic happens outside your comfort zone.” These statements are usually accompanied by a picture of a fish jumping to another bigger fishbowl, or imagery of exciting and amazing activities highlighting the concept.
These leaps are great. I’m in favor of big jumps! I have made huge jumps out of my comfort zone several times in my life (like when I moved from my small hometown to Milan and then from there to NYC). It’s also possible to jump outside your comfort zone in smaller, less life-changing situations.
I’d like to highlight a couple of considerations that emerge from looking at the comfort zone in this way.
When the comfort zone is approached this way, we can identify a before and an after the jump.
The before can take a great deal of preparation, whether it is a large investment of time, resources, and effort or preparing ourselves mentally to feel brave enough to take the risk. The risk of approaching change this way is that it feels like there is a high bar to entry, and if it requires so much preparation, we may only try to do it in a limited number of occasions in our lives.
The after part of the jump can be quite difficult to manage. Feelings of anxiety and stress can be very strong, and it can be tempting give up and return to the comfort zone—the place that’s familiar and easy and where we feel in control—to make those feelings go away.
Another way to approach change
But perhaps there’s another way to approach change—a different way to look at your relationship to your comfort zone.
The traditional view suggests that change only occurs in dramatic ways during the big markers of our lives: births, deaths, marriages, moving to new places, career change or promotion, and so on. But while those markers can herald dramatic change, it’s important to recognize that our lives are made up of seconds, minutes, hours, weeks, months, and years. Every single one of these micro-moments is an opportunity for change.
What if, instead of looking at those macro-markers, we zoomed in and looked at these micro-moments? What if we focused on creating tiny steps—small, manageable improvements that allow us to expand our comfort zones instead of jumping out of them?
By taking these small steps, we can train ourselves to create and embrace change. We can grow and learn from a place that feels familiar, that seems easy, and in which we feel a sense of control. We can mitigate the feelings of anxiety and stress caused by rapid change by slowly building up our resilience to embrace change and live better lives.
In contrast to the traditional view, the Comfort Zone Shake-Up’s view is:
Our lives begin inside the comfort zone.