What is Your Comfort Zone, and Why Should You Leave It?

By - karengray
04.15.19 08:50 AM

When we look at it simply, your comfort zone is a behavioral space, or a mental space, where your activities and behaviors fit inside a nice steady routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk. It provides a state of mental security. When you stay inside your comfort zone you benefit in obvious ways, enjoying regular happiness, low anxiety, and reduced stress.

The idea of the comfort zone goes back to 1908 when psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of relative comfort created a steady level of performance. When we are able to maintain a steady and predictable state, then we can anticipate consistent results. And this sounds pretty good, until we want things to change.

In order to maximize performance we need a state of relative anxiety. In other words, to create change, we need to create a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This space is called "Optimal Anxiety." Optimal anxiety is that place where your mental productivity and performance reach their peak, and it's just outside your comfort zone, where Learning and Growth take place.

Know The Zones

Let’s look closer at the image above. Immediately outside our comfort zone is a place of fear and uncertainty. In this space we can experience a great deal of non-productive anxiety. There is no direction here. It is just uncomfortable. Too much anxiety and we're too stressed to be productive, and our performance drops off sharply.

In order to begin to experience some relief from that fear, we need to move farther out of our comfort zone. In this “Learning Zone” we can begin to problem solve and learn new information. We are far enough out of our comfort zone aht the anxiety levels become more productive and we can put that energy to good use. This is where we are when emergent things happen.

As we move further away from our comfort zone things start to look less familiar and we are challenged to create new innovative ways to address new and unfamiliar issues. This is our “Growth Zone.” This is where it is all new territory, and we are able to set and act toward new goals and dreams.

Anyone who's ever pushed themselves to get to the next level or accomplish something knows that when you really challenge yourself, you can create amazing results. More than a few studies support the point. But pushing too hard too quickly can actually have a negative result and prevent you from wanting to challenge yourself in the future.

It's our natural tendency to return to an anxiety neutral, comfortable state. This is what makes it so difficult to clear that first barrier of the “Fear Zone.” That is the most uncomfortable place, because it represents the sudden change from a steady comfortable place.

Your comfort zone is neither good or bad. It's a natural state that most people trend towards. Leaving it means increased risk and anxiety, which can have positive and negative results. But don't just think of your comfort zone as something holding you back. We need that comfortable head-space so that we can process the changes we create when we leave it.

What You Get When You Break Through the Fear and Try New Things

You'll be more productive. Comfort kills productivity. Without the sense of unease that comes from having deadlines and expectations, we can have the tendency to do the minimum required to get by. We lose the drive and ambition to do more and learn new things. We are also more inclined to appear busy as a way to stay in our comfort zones and avoid doing new things. Pushing your personal boundaries can help you hit your stride sooner, get more done, and find smarter ways to work.

You'll have an easier time dealing with new and unexpected changes. By taking risks in a controlled fashion and challenging yourself to things you normally wouldn't do, you can experience some of that uncertainty in a controlled, manageable environment. Learning to live outside your comfort zone when you choose to can prepare you for less controlled and manageable life changes.

You'll find it easier to brainstorm and harness your creativity. Seeking new experiences, learning new skills, and opening the door to new ideas inspire us and educate us in a way that other methods do not. Trying new things can make us reflect on our old ideas and where they clash with our new knowledge, and inspire us to learn more and challenge confirmation bias, our tendency to only seek out information we already agree with. Even in the short term, a positively uncomfortable experience can help us brainstorm, see old problems in a new light, and tackle the challenges we face with new energy.

How to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Outside your comfort zone can be a good place to be, as long as you remember that everyone's comfort zone is different. What may expand your horizons may paralyze someone else.

Do everyday things differently. Take a different route to work. Try a new restaurant without checking Yelp first. Go vegetarian for a week. Try a new operating system. Large or small, make a change in the way you do things on a day-to-day basis. Look for the perspective that comes from any change, even if it's negative. And remember this is about learning. Don't be discouraged if things don't work out the way you planned.

Take your time making decisions. Sometimes slowing down is all it takes to make you uncomfortable. Slow down, observe what's going on. Take your time and interpret what you see, then choose to intervene or not.

If you tend to think it through, trust yourself and make snap decisions. Just as there are people who thrive on quick decisions, others are more comfortable weighing all of the possible options several times over. Sometimes making a few speedy decisions is enough to get things moving.

It takes a lot of courage to step out of your comfort zone. You get the same benefits whether you dive in head first or start slow, so don't be afraid to start slow. Identify your fears, and then approach them step by step.

Return To Your Comfort Zone from Time to Time

You can't live outside of your comfort zone all the time. You need to come back to process your experiences. You will find that as you continue to learn and grow, your comfort zone expands. Think of it as a restorative time, like sleep. It is necessary to recharge us and get us ready for our next adventure.

The point of stepping out of your comfort zone is to embrace new experiences and to get to that state of optimal anxiety in a controlled, managed way, not to stress yourself out. Come back to your comfort zone and take time to reflect on your experiences so you can reap the benefits and apply them to your day to day activities. Then do something else interesting and new. Make it a habit if you can. Try something new every week, or every month.

And don't limit yourself to big, huge experiences. Maybe meditation pushes you out of your comfort zone just as much as bungee jumping. The goal isn't to become an adrenaline junkie. You just want to learn what you're really capable of.

The Role of Hypnosis

As we said, moving out of your comfort zone requires moving through some fear and anxiety. Hypnosis is an excellent tool for overcoming self-doubt, relieving anxiety, and correcting negative self-talk that may be holding you back. In just a matter of hours you can remove the internal barriers that may have you stuck in place.

Once you start learning and exploring, you will want to create some changes in your life. A lot will happen automatically as a result of your new experiences, but some will inevitably conflict with soe previous patterns and beliefs. Hypnosis is one of the most effective and efficient ways of creating new habits and patterns of behavior.∎

Karen Gray is a Certified Hypnotist, a Registered Nurse, and the Director of Green Mountain Hypnosis. For more information on how you can use hypnosis to change your life, contact Karen at karengray@greenmountainhypnosis.com, or (802) 566-0464.