A comfort zone is a cozy place – sort of like comfort food. It makes us feel secure, safe, and content.
But both have their drawbacks. If we have a regular diet of comfort foods, we are bound to gain weight. If we have a life of staying within our comfort zone, we don’t grow and develop. We settle for the “known” and the predictable, and very little rocks our boats of complacency. The problem with living within our comfort zone, however, is that as we near the end of it, we have “what ifs?” that we try to answer.
And those answers may be disturbing. So that you have fewer disturbing answers as you reach your senior years, you should practice getting outside of your comfort zone and having new experiences. You can do this by setting some reasonable goals that will force you into new experiences and challenges.
There are 8 reasons why this is a good thing for any person, but before we get into those, let’s just look at the “environmental zones” in which we all live.
A Review of Our “Zones”
Our lives are surrounded by three concentric circles with us in the very center. The first circle is our comfort zone. There are few surprises, live is steady and secure, and there is little more than perhaps a bit of everyday stress.
We are good at our jobs; our home life is secure; the people who surround us are “safe” relationships; we pay our bills, have food and shelter, and life is quite even. Outside of our comfort zone, there is another circle. We’ll call this the “zone of development” (ZOD).
In this zone are new experiences and challenges and experiences that await us if we have the courage and the motivation to push ourselves into them. These may be things like going back to school to train for a new career; they may involve some new ideas and people that will stretch our boundaries; they may involve taking some risks like moving to a new town for a new job.
The outer circle is the “Zone of Panic,” that place where you cannot imagine yourself ever going because the stress and anxiety will just be too great. These might include such things are taking our entire savings and pouring it into a new venture; they might include moving to a foreign country where we know no one.
Now onto these reasons for pushing through that Zone of Comfort.
1. You Will Grow
Gaining new knowledge is something we all should want. New knowledge helps us navigate life much better, allows us to form new ideas and opinions. Jessica Eckstrom was in her comfort zone. She was a college student enjoying that life with classes, friends, and activities
Part of her program meant that she had to complete an internship. She found that internship at the “Make a Wish” Foundation in North Carolina, close to her campus. That internship was pushing her out of her comfort zone of classes and campus life.
She had to work and to deliver value to an organization. Here’s what happened. Working in an atmosphere of children with cancer gave her a new idea. Over the next year, she founded and grew a business – Headbands of Hope.
She made and sold headbands and, for each headband sold, she donated one to a little girl with cancer and $1 to a children’s cancer research institute. Today her company is worth well over $1 million, only 4 years after its launch.
Getting out of our comfort zones can result in some pretty amazing experiences and get our thought processes working again.
2. Your Zone of Comfort Will Expand
You have a new experience that is successful; you have a new idea that others think is great. And you are still standing. And, it was actually fun and fulfilling. Now that new experience and new ideas become a part of your comfort zone.
You are happy to have that experience again; you are willing to entertain new ideas and run them by others again. Each new experience and each new idea pushes your comfort zone out, and that in turn pushes your zone of development out too.
3. We Become More Motivated
Success at something new makes us feel good. We want that good feeling again. There actually is a physical reason for this. When we feel good, we have increased levels of dopamine in our brains, and that “feel good” feeling becomes rather addictive.
We want that reward of feeling good, so we will seek new experience to get that reward.
4. We Become Better Decision-Makers
To push ourselves out of our comfort zones means that we have to make a decision about our behaviors. And as we make more and more decisions, we gain valuable practice to improve our process for making those decisions.
Where before, we may have been hesitant to make decisions that would take us out of our comfort zone, now we no longer fear the decision-making process.
5. We Will Become More Productive
We have all been guilty of this in the workplace. We have a high comfort level in our current position, and there is no stress or pressure to take on new challenges. We feign “busyness,” just so we don’t have to do anything new or unfamiliar.
All of this results in a lack of ambition, and lack of ambition means we stay exactly where we are. Raises are minimal, performance evaluations are just mediocre, and we watch others get those promotions.
When we push ourselves to take on new challenges at work, we work hard to meet those challenges, and there can be great rewards when we do so. We work harder; we develop ways to work smarter; and, in the end, we are recognized for that productivity with bigger raises and promotions.
6. We Begin to Learn What We are Really Capable Of
Sitting in our comfort zones causes us to “settle” for the capabilities that we have shown there. We accept that we are limited in what we can accomplish. A school district superintendent told this story several years ago at a conference.
She had completed her Master’s degree but had never gone on for her Ph.D. because of a strong belief that she would never be able to conquer statistics – two courses and a dissertation would involve statistics in her program.
She had been so horrible in math all of her life that she had barely managed to get through what she called the “math for idiots” course required in her undergraduate work. So she sat where she was. One day, she observed an algebra class in her building.
As she sat in that class, things began to “click.” All of a sudden she realized that she might be capable of learning algebra after all. In fact, she did. And, ultimately, she went on to get her Ph.D. – an accomplishment that led to her superintendency.
You will never find your capabilities until you test them.
7. We Discover that We’ve Been Bored for a Long time
Once we push into that ZOD and have new experiences, we realize that our lives have been pretty boring. There is, in fact, an entirely new world for us to discover, at our own pace of course. How liberating it is to have excitement in our lives.
8. We Move into Our Senior Years with Fewer Regrets
There is a post that has circulated on Facebook many times. It goes something like, “When I am ready to die, I will not be saying, ‘I had a nice life.’ I will go out saying, ‘Wow, what a ride!’” If we have pushed ourselves out of original comfort zones, expanded those comfort zones, and tasted much more of life, good and bad, we will indeed have far fewer regrets.
It’s also important to know and to accept that it is okay to retreat back into our original comfort zones at times. We cannot remain in the Zone of Development 24 hours a day – it is too stressful and too exhausting. So, when you feel the need to retreat, do so.
Tomorrow is another day.