It was Neale Donald Walsh who quipped, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
He was drawing awareness to move out of our safety zone to experience the richness of life.
Your comfort zone is a safety net where anxiety levels and the status quo are preserved. It is your harbor of contentment.
Mankind has an inherent drive for safety, wired into his DNA to seek food, water and shelter for survival.
However, once those needs a met, apathy and listlessness sets in since the mind becomes accustomed to certainty. In fact, it will go in search of it to maintain harmony and order.
Staying comfortable suits some people. The axiom, nothing ventured, nothing gained serves as a reminder that being contented does not yield the success we search for.
The mind has a negativity bias that any attempt to move out of our comfort zone is met with unease.
This is evident when we’re in a dreary job or an unfulfilled relationship.
If life is chaotic we are likely to feel overwhelmed and stressed. The key is to attain balance in-between, since being outside of our comfort zone can add further stress.
It is normal to experience anxiety when we’re uncomfortable. The body responds to perceived fear as a precautionary survival mechanism.
Yet, anxiety impairs our ability to gain new information because the mind cannot reason when stuck in a stressed state. It alerts us to impending danger if we move out of our comfort zone by impairing performance.
Being comfortable may also be age related.
As we mature, we become set in our ways and less likely to take risks. The lure of perceived rewards may not be as appealing beyond a certain age.
The pain-pleasure principle refers to your motivation to seek gratification or avoid pain. To venture beyond your comfort zone is influenced by how you relate to pain or pleasure.
“Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty. It wasn’t always a choice; we were born curious. But over time, we learn that curiosity, like vulnerability, can lead to hurt. As a result, we turn to self-protecting— choosing certainty over curiosity, armour over vulnerability, and knowing over learning,” states Brené Brown in her recent book, Rising Strong.
Yet, taking risks is shown to enhance self-esteem and self-worth. Even if we fail, we are likely to discover a new horizon and gain wisdom related to our strengths and weaknesses. Thus, we create an internal reference point the next time we enter uncharted waters.
Similarly, to push past our comfort zone can cripple and inhibit performance.
We must be vigilant in safeguarding our personal interest so as not to move beyond the tipping point of stress and anxiety. It may be akin to walking a tightrope while striving for balance.
“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” – Abraham Maslow
Nevertheless, optimal performance is attained outside our comfort zone.
We seldom achieve success when we’re comfortable, because everything is familiar. There is little need to draw on your mental faculties when you’re in the safe zone.
We must commit ourselves to take bold risks if we seek to become the finest version of ourselves.
To move beyond your comfort zone requires smaller steps to confront your fears, whilst managing discomfort. We learn to become comfortable with uncertainty like how elite forces such as the Navy Seals are trained.
It’s no surprise that personal growth becomes apparent beyond our comfort zone. In extending ourselves, we celebrate our gains as we accomplish new skills and emotional resiliency along the way.
The late Stephen R. Covey reminds us in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “It takes an enormous amount of internal security to begin with the spirit of adventure, the spirit of discovery, the spirit of creativity. Without doubt, you have to leave the comfort zone of base camp and confront an entirely new and unknown wilderness. You become a trailblazer, a pathfinder. You open new possibilities, new territories, new continents, so that others can follow.”
Cultivating new thoughts leads to a rise in awareness. Our Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is reinforced when we venture beyond our comfort zone.
We find our optimal anxiety zone which leads to improvements over time. This will vary according to individuals, yet the key is not to become complacent.
It must be said, you need not stay uncomfortable to reap the rewards. Long term discomfort can damage your self-esteem and put the brakes on performance. Instead, focus on making small strides towards your endeavours until you profit from the experience.
Mankind can withstand most circumstances. Evolution has allowed us to survive harsh conditions and engineer our biology with the tools to sustain life.
That adaptability can work for or against us depending on our actions. If we stay idle, we risk rusting out, thus impairing our personal development.
“However, if you were rarely exposed to growth experiences or taken outside of your comfort zone, then you may have to work harder to cultivate a positive attitude toward positive personal growth,” affirms American author and speaker John C. Maxwell in The Difference Maker: Making Your Attitude Your Greatest Asset.
It is the fear of the unknown that frightens us most, not change itself.
We can mitigate this uncertainty by reframing it as Stephen R. Covey avows, “Create an internal “comfort zone.” Then, when you get into the situation, it isn’t foreign. It doesn’t scare you.”
He is referring to creating an inner sanctuary when change overwhelms us. Within that space is the reassurance that what eventuates cannot disrupt what is familiar.
Given life begins at the end of your comfort zone, what lies beyond your perceived security is far greater than your habituated environment.
Life undergoes constant change and we must celebrate the challenging journey if we strive for a more enriching life.