comfort zone

The problem with comfort zones

Challenging yourself on a regular basis is a hard task to master. We all to often like to stay wrapped in a bubble known as our ‘comfort zone’. Our comfort zone is like a huge blanket. Under that blanket is everything that makes you feel secure, stress free and happy. Doesn’t sound too bad does it? In reality it may not be and from time to time its actually good to come back to what you know as your comfort zone however in the long run issues will arise …

  1. You will lack the ability to try new things
  2. You will lack the ability to continue your personal growth
  3. You will Increase your tendency to settle for the minimum

If you need further inspiration take it from the great Martin Luther king

‘You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you are afraid …

Well you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death in the spirit.’

The more you stay in this comfort zone the harder it becomes to actually removing yourself from underneath the blanket and the more you associate mental health issues like stress and anxiety to leaving that comfort zone.

Why Challenge them?

On the flip side, continuing to challenge your comfort zones enables you to …

  1. Increase your daily productivity
  2. Enhance your ability to deal with new situations
  3. Make it easier to push your boundaries further in the future.

Imagine that blanket of comfort but now imagine it expanding as you push your boundaries and explore new things. Overtime those things enter your comfort zone.

Hear I like to reference the idea of driving. Think back to your teens when you weren’t quite able to drive and all you could think about where the restrictions of where you could go what you could do. Think about that first lesson … the nerves, praying you don’t crash.  Now bring yourself to the present. What do you think of when stepping into your vehicle …? Nothing! By the end of your first year of driving for most people this fear has completely vanished. The idea of driving has now been gobbled up by your blanket of comfort and you now get to experience the freedom of driving for the rest of your life.

Taking the wheel for the first time was difficult however if it wasn’t you would not have been breaking out of your comfort zone.


Being aware of your Optimal Anxiety

Optimal anxiety is a mental state that mostly anyone who has achieved something new has entered. It refers to a state of mind where our anxiety and stress levels raise to a point slightly higher than normal allowing us to switch on and overcome the challenge we are facing. Think of your comfort blanket. Your level of optimal anxiety is sitting just outside your comfort blanket.

Achieving optimal anxiety however is not as easy it may seem and requires you to balance between your confidence to step outside your comfort zone and pushing yourself to achieve something unrealistic. Pushing yourself to far out of your comfort zone will lead to you exceeding your maximum level of optimal anxiety. Obtaining levels of anxiety above that of your optimal anxiety state will counteract your good intentions and cause a decreasing in your performance and you will fail to achieve anything. This in turn makes it an even harder task to push out of your comfort zone as you have now associated challenging yourself with disappointment, anxiety and fear! This reinforces the mental construct that pushing outside of your comfort zone is a bad idea. Therefore, the importance to challenge yourself within your level of optimal anxiety is critical to your personal growth.

Refer back to driving again. That first lesson you were nervous right? However, when you got in the car you where sitting next to a fully qualified instructor (Hopefully!). Having that instructor there created a feeling of subconscious reassurance that if it all goes wrong; they will bail you out. This enabled your anxiety levels to stay optimal and not to overload. Take that driving instructor away … now your sitting in a car with no idea what to do, your stress and anxiety will most likely overload to the point you will get out and if you don’t you will drive off and crash leading to a quick reversal back into your comfort zone and a harder wall to climb to get over it.

stepping stone

Taking small steps …

Achieving optimal anxiety when you don’t really know what it is or can’t remember what it feels like is a hard task to master. All though in essence it will be a trial and error approach regardless of what you do the approach of taking small but structured steps is widely accepted as a much better approach than the going and hoping which generates a much higher risk of pushing you past your limit of optimal anxiety.

Taking smaller steps may not feel very risky or challenging however this approach is a great way to not only get you push your boundaries and get you to your goals it also allows you to train your body and mind giving you the opportunity to tap into how your feeling at certain points as you push outside your comfort zone. This will further enable you to gage what your optimal anxiety levels feel like so you can learn your limits and maximize your performance in whatever challenge you are taking on. Not only does this technique give you the same benefits as if you where to jump out with both feet it provides you with a risk-free strategy to help you form a habit in your personal growth journey!

Understand your comfort zone, prepare to challenge it, take it slow and then make it a habit!