The self-development industry is rife with the old cliché of “getting out of your comfort zone”.
So often you’re advised to lean into your edge and push your comfort zone and face your fears, with very little guidance as to what it actually means to do this.
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying that if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t really understand it.
And this is something I often see regarding the idea of getting uncomfortable to achieve growth.
A lot of people talk about it; few can explain in simple terms how to do it.
WHAT IS COMFORT?
When solving any problem, first you must clearly define the problem. So before we even look at why we should leave our “comfort zone”, or how to do it effectively, we must first define what comfort is exactly.
What does it mean to be “comfortable?”
The first part of this myth I would like to challenge is the idea that the comfort zone is somewhere you actually feel physically or emotionally comfortable.
Sure, occasionally it will have a semblance of measurable comfort, such as the feeling of lying on a sofa having a nap. But most of the time, the comfort zone is a decidedly uncomfortable place to reside.
It’s a place filled with neediness, longing, regret, worry, loneliness, boredom, and a fear of missing out. These are quite uncomfortable states to be in, which is why we drown these thoughts and feelings with being “too busy,” indulging in alcohol abuse, and binge eating.
Let’s begin by redefining the comfort zone as being simply the familiar zone. The comfort we describe is not about feeling comfortable physically or emotionally, it’s more of an academic/mental comfort, where we perceive ourselves to “know” the situation.
You don’t stay in a shitty job, boring relationship or unhealthy lifestyle because it feels comfortable. You stay in it because it’s familiar. You feel like you know what to expect and how to manage yourself within the situation. You feel safe in knowing the rules, even when the situation itself is regularly painful.
WHAT IS DISCOMFORT?
Following on from this, we can see that discomfort is mostly about stepping into the unknown, or unfamiliar.
In a minute, we’ll simply and clearly define what “stepping into” actually means.
But first I’d like to point out that while discomfort may include uncomfortable feelings physically and emotionally, the real emphasis is on doing something that is likely to cause you to experience confusion.
Essentially discomfort is about trying something new. But not just something new; something where you’ll also have no guarantee that you’ll do it well. Discomfort means moving forward with a high risk – or even a complete certainty – of total failure.
With the concept of failure, we get to see what our real “comfort zone” is made of.
All your life you have been conditioned and pressured to believe that you need to “know” what you are doing. Failure, uncertainty, confusion, frustration; you were taught that these mental and emotional states indicated there was something wrong with you.
Leaving your comfort zone, a.k.a. familiar zone, is about welcoming these sometimes painful states. It means willingly choosing to lose and fail, to be a beginner student again, and to let go of what you currently believe to be true.
Discomfort is really about accepting the unknown and welcoming it into your life.
WHY DON’T WE ENJOY DISCOMFORT?
We often think the very word “uncomfortable” also means “unpleasant”, but is this true?
When you’re frustrated in a passionate way while trying to learn something new, do you not enjoy it?
I do. When I’m working through a new acrobatic trick with my dance partner, or trying to solve the riddle of a new advertising funnel in my business, I’m simultaneously frustrated and enjoying myself. I’m confused and uncertain, yet I don’t mind feeling that way!
Yet in other situations, I’ve seen myself avoid change and learning because I associate the inevitable discomfort with pain. When I researched these situations and what I’ve seen in my coaching clients, three some common fears came through:
- The unknown is worse
One major reason people avoid leaving their familiar zone is because of fearing that what they find will be even more painful. Not only that, they also fear that they will not be able to come back to their familiar zone after leaving it.
For example, if I quit my job to find a better one, I’m afraid that not only will there be no better jobs, I’ll also never be able to come back to my current job. Even though my current job sucks balls, my mind is able to fictionally concoct an even worse scenario, and then I believe that fiction.
This makes me feel like there is no point in even looking for another job, yet searching for another job comes with no risk or obligation at all. So you know this fear is controlling you if you don’t even explore or research other options.
- This is as good as it gets
When we try, we open up risk to failure. That’s obvious. But deep behind that is a subtle fear; what if there is only failure waiting for us?
I’ve seen everyone I know hold themselves back from taking a risk because they’re afraid that the result will be confirmation that they can never succeed in this area. Essentially, this is the fear that hope will be destroyed by evidence.
If I don’t ask that girl out on a date, she can always remain a “maybe.” There will always be a chance she could say Yes. However, if I actually ask her out, there is the risk that she will say “no fucking way, ever.” Goodbye maybe!
Some of us want to hold on to the hope more than we want to change.
- I’ll be embarrassed
We blame most of the pressure we feel to remain the same on society, in our minds. We believe that we will be socially punished if we are seen by others to be confused, uncertain, or failing in our attempts.
Many of us choose to remain unimpressive in order to avoid disapproval.
There is some external substance to this. In New Zealand, for example, we have a cultural phenomenon called “tall poppy syndrome”. This is where people get cut down socially for trying to leave the herd.
I see this being in a band. If we are the unknown band at the gig, no one will cheer for us or join the mosh pit (it’s a metal band), even if they enjoy the music. They wait to see if everyone else is supporting us before they offer support. It’s like they’re afraid to back something that could fail.
SO HOW DO I ACTUALLY LEAVE MY COMFORT ZONE
Basically, it’s about accepting and welcoming the risks listed above.
Leaving your comfort zone – or familiar zone – is not necessarily about trying to make yourself feel uncomfortable. It’s about welcoming failure, confusion, doubt, and frustration. Not just welcoming these things, but actually seeking them out.
There is a mental reframe required. When you notice yourself saying “but what if it’s worse”? you can reframe that to say “let’s find out what’s worse than this.”
There’s a Fight Club type approach I take to leaving my familiar zone; I seek destruction.
I want to destroy my limiting beliefs, untruthfulness and cowardice. Rather than seeking reward, which puts too much pressure on me to perform, I instead seek to destroy.
Rather than facing your fears to overcome them, trying facing your fears merely to experience fear, until you’re OK with fearful sensations.
Rather than seeking to achieve your goals, seek to fail your goals as many times as you possibly can, until you’re immune to failure.
Rather than trying to impress other people, or avoid disapproval, seek as much public disapproval as possible, so that you become shameless. Here’s an example of me doing this: http://www.theinspirationallifestyle.com/facing-fears-episode-1-the-walk-of-shame-video/
The most basic way to leave your familiar zone is to do something new that makes you feel uncertain. Something that you feel sure you will not do well in.
Do something like that once per day for a month, and just notice how much your confidence grows. It’s seems counterintuitive to deliberately fail in order to build confidence, I know, but try looking at it this way:
Success simply means you didn’t push past what you’re comfortable doing.
If you enjoyed the read check the Self-Improvement Starter Kit, that will help you push past your “familiar zone” :