YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Dee Chadwick
24 Oct 2021
What or where we prefer to be or do as we feel safe with this. Sometimes it’s a place, our occupation, our way of dressing, our ways of thinking – whatever makes us feel comfortable.

BEGINNING AT THE BEGINNING

That photograph with the joey safely tucked away in its mother’s pouch. Having initially crawled there as a tiny being to continue its growth whilst being nourished, warm, safe and able to listen to the comforting sounds of its mother’s body. At the same time, it is learning about those scents and sounds coming in from outside. To grow and gradually begin to pop its head out to check on what is happening; moving on to taking trips out of this comfort zone to the outside world. That pouch and its familiarity readily available for a quick retreat if feeling unsure or unsafe.

WHAT OF HUMAN COMFORT ZONES?

Many of us have a space in which we feel safe, this usually being our home, though sadly for some, home is far from a sanctuary. How well I remember working with children for whom school was their place of safety, their comfort zone as home was filled with violent words and actions which they witnessed even if they were not actually on the receiving end. For others, they use their mind, as a place to which they can escape, as their comfort zone. They let their mind drift to places remembered or imagined, somewhere that they feel is more beneficial to them than the physical space that they occupy. Such physical or mind-based comfort zones can serve us well, especially at times of stress or anxiety. However, they can also become too comfortable for us, with us preferring this to be our default location or mind setting. At such times, they could well be holding us back ... so counting against us rather than supporting us. We may need a proverbial kick in the pants to encourage us to move on from the familiar and safe surroundings and dip our toes into other waters.

This isn’t always an easy task. For some, help in the form of therapy may be required as support above and beyond that self-kick in the pants or the cajoling of family or friends. As stated in a Psychology Today article, ‘One of the problems psychotherapists confront on a daily basis is how to get their patients to do things that would be good for them. Dieting, exercising, leaving a bad relationship, starting a new business—these are among the many things people commonly want to accomplish, but fail to take action on.’ They instead choose to take the often perceived easy option of making no changes to the life that they are currently leading. Even though they know that they are not leading ‘their best life’- and have actually sought help for this.

Especially as we get older, for so many, moving out from our physical and emotional comfort zones can prove extra hard, with our comfort zone seemingly shrinking around us. I remember my Dad often saying – ‘that threw me’ – when faced with something familiar that had changed. It was often a route that he may have regularly taken in years gone by that had now had buildings demolished, roundabouts added. He was thrown out of kilter, out of his familiar comfort zone with this having the expected reaction of – ‘where am I going and how do I get there?’ Such happenings also affected him emotionally as he became more aware of his confusion and his inability to cope with change. How sad it was to see that look of pain in his eyes. I guess with age and a deteriorating mental ability to adapt, the comfort zone of familiar places and familiar memories from times gone by brings comfort and a feeling of safety. How scary it is to hear me echoing my Dad’s words as I too can feel ‘thrown by change’, but I am well aware that I need to keep accepting that need to exit my comfort zone in order to continue to grow and develop.

EXITING YOUR COMFORT ZONE

I spent ages browsing through files from past courses to find a diagram that I knew I had drawn. A diagram to illustrate the escape route from our comfort zone – then I came across this one which I am sure is much clearer than mine - in positivepsychology.com.  It shows and is entitled ‘How to Leave your Comfort  Zone and Enter your ‘Growth Zone’.

                                                                                                 

Whilst the diagram represents this as a straight line process, we have to remember that life doesn’t usually work that way for the vast majority of us. Just like that joey, we could well move tentatively forwards at times, take great leaps at others and feel the need to return to our comfort zone on occasion too. Maybe somewhere to hide away for a while, so maybe seen with negative connotations creeping in, or even a sense of giving up due to ‘failing’ with our progress. Thoughts that need to be kicked into touch in order to allow progress to re-start when the time is right. Has our comfort zone become a growth and action stopping place, though our instincts for self-protection may not recognise this?

Obviously, that joey reaches the point where it cannot actually physically squeeze back into the pouch and its comfort zone has to be the nearby presence of mum. It has passed through the fear zone, is well entrenched in the learning zone ready to spread its leaps and bounds as it grows in confidence of its ability to cope as an independent being. 

We as human beings respond in a similar way to exiting our comfort zone, both as a youngster but also at various points throughout our lives. Points of change when we acquire new skills and learn how to handle problems ... as we seemingly try to draw the comfort blanket of that comfort zone along with us. A blanket that grows with our confidence (especially in our abilities) and our learning in its many forms. A blanket that enables us to move forwards and grow as an individual, as a family member, as a team member. To reach targets, set new ones, new goals and further expand those horizons. Not forgetting that we may feel a need to snuggle back down under that blanket at times of enforced, possibly negative, change. Times of ill health, loss – of a loved one, work, a business, home, ability to cope.

Times when we need to feel safe, to rid ourselves of pain, to heal and stop making excuses and using avoidance tactics. To stop making use of personal comforts such as food, alcohol, excessive exercise before we begin to take those steps out of our current comfort zone. We are probably more aware than in younger years, in previous venturing out that we may not always succeed. Yet for us to grow, we need to give it a go. As ever, that comfort zone may be a physical space, or the space within us – those held within our heads, hearts and gut spaces.

TO STAY OR NOR TO STAY

A positivepsychology.com article says on this subject - ‘Life is full of opportunities to step outside the comfort zone, but grabbing hold of them can be difficult. Sometimes the problem is not being aware of reasons to do so. After all, if the feeling of comfort signifies our most basic needs are being met, why should we seek to abandon it?’

I imagine that this rings a bell for many of us and is the reason why we stay in an ‘ok’ but un-stimulating job or a relationship that feels similar and certainly doesn’t bring a sparkle to our eyes or our life! Is it a case of better the devil you know and all of the other reasons – or rather excuses - for staying and not changing your mind set, your way of being. It may be a case of no pain no gain as you may have to spend time, effort, hard cash by way of gaining qualifications, seeking the support of a therapist, taking a long, hard and searching look at just who and what you are... and asking - do you want to continue to be this person that currently looks back at you from the mirror? Or do you think of your dreams, your aspirations that have got lost under the cushions of your comfort zone? It’s a matter of choice – to remain feeling comfortable, safe, with set routines, or to make those changes and move onwards and upwards.

The trouble is that if you stay put, boredom can easily set in, with possible potential slipping away  down the drain of your physical, mental, emotional plateau.  Yet you can run the risk of coming face to face with the old flight or fight sensations if you step out, or at least have some tummy churning, swallow taking moments to face. But, isn’t risk-taking a part of living. Risks that you have considered and decided are worth the taking? You know your own boundaries and just how far you are willing, or able, to stretch them, then add in a little bit of wiggle room to allow yourself to continue in your growth. This is where those good old SMART targets come into play as can starting off by taking baby steps.

Don’t forget, you may need to retreat at times to your old comfort zone. In doing this, you may discover that you have different comfort zones for different aspects of your life with parts of you feeling ok with not moving on from being risk averse. Also, your new way of being is likely to develop into comfort zone mark 2, 3 or more. It’s part of the process of you moving through life by growing and stretching yourself rather than hunkering down and sticking with the way things are. As you progress through life, you will become more aware of your strengths and hopefully, will go on to develop others. You will find new ways of approaching tasks, thought processes and living in general by learning or developing skills, coping strategies and widening those previously limited horizons. All part of that process of personal development and growth.

OK, there is likely to be more stress, but not all stress is bad – in fact, we need to take care with how we use words such as stress, anxiety, worry or we may begin to wrongly believe our own press. The article in positivepsychology.com points this out and tells us that positive stress – aka ‘eustress’- ‘provides the energy to get through a public speech, go on a romantic date, and so on. These stimuli can be reframed as exciting, propelling us out of the comfort zone.’ Maybe it would be more beneficial for a different word to be used. One that doesn’t include the word stress as it may be too easy for us and our subconscious to focus on only this negative part of the word?

So why not give it a go – start by applying some Mindfulness techniques so that you approach run-of-the –mill actions and activities in a different way. Those first baby steps of moving out of your comfort zone. Simple changes such as changing the order in which you perform a set of routine tasks – maybe your start of day ones, as it’s not always easy to take that first step, or to know when the time is right for it to be taken. As Abraham Maslow told us - “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.”

That’s life – and living it the best way that you can.

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