Let me ask you…are you taking new steps or making changes to get outside of your comfort zone and while experiencing discomfort or messy-ness regularly?
Yes? Then great. That’s a sign you’re growing.
You’re making progress and progress brings happiness. As a bonus benefit is it also builds inner confidence and who doesn’t want more of that, right?
If you’re not stretching your comfort zone and growing yourself, then you’re like most people who have bought into the illusion that a comfort zone is where they’ll find happiness. No such luck; comfort zones don’t equate to happiness zones. So, it’s time to look beyond the illusion and get clear what they really are, understand there’s a predictable process to change, and get you self-motivated to break out of those comfort zones today!
Definition of A Comfort Zone
According to Wikipedia, “A comfort zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease and (perceive they are) in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of anxiety and stress.”
Notice that definition doesn’t say anything about being happy, fulfilled or successful. It’s only a feeling of “familiar” and “in control”. Thus your comfort zone is where the things you’re doing, the results you’re getting, the way you’re acting are simply…familiar. They’re only comfortable to you because they are “known” (familiar and known are the opposite of new and different) and you perceive you’re in control (certainty or control are the opposite of uncertainty).
What if comfort zones are more uncomfortable and unsatisfying than people realize or care to admit?
For example, have you ever stayed in a relationship longer than you should have? Have you stayed in a job that you hated because you were afraid you wouldn’t find something better?
“I’ll hang out here, where it’s not that great, but at least I’m in control and it’s familiar.”
That’s comfort zone living.
Doesn’t sound all that appealing when we look at it through this lens does it?
Why We Stay in Our Comfort Zone
The key takeaway is that your comfort zone doesn’t always equate with things like happiness, joy, fulfillment, or success. I don’t know about you, but I think things like happiness are pretty important to living a meaningful life. If you’re on board with that, then the next question becomes…
…why in the heck would we continue to live inside of our comfort zone if we’re not happy?
Because you have a brain.
Better said is it’s because you have a brain that prefers familiar and known to new and uncertain. There are a number of reasons for that, but let’s just say your brain has [safety] mechanisms and they MAKE YOU uncomfortable when you consider or try new things or step into unknown situations. (Imagine you’re about to walk into a room full of people you’ve never met. Does your heart start racing just a little bit or you feel butterflies in your tummy?
Just to be clear: Your brain’s job is to keep you alive, not to make you happy.
Your brain keeps you locked in comfort zones designed to keep you safe. Safe maybe, but all the while areas of your life experience become dread or dead zones. You struggle to find the motivation to change, to get out of your comfort zone, because your brain is too afraid that doing something new, uncertain or unfamiliar could be worse than what you’re already experiencing
Creating Certainty With a Predictable Process
I’ve worked with a lot of clients over the last 10 years to achieve new heights in their life and expand their comfort zone. Whether they came to me because they were inspired to up-level an area of their life (get in better shape, start a new business or improve their relationship), or simply motivated by the pain of living in that dead zone was too much to bear. They found their motivation to take action – or we worked together to create the inner motivation that helped them take the first steps towards change.
Before I started making changes in my own life, I didn’t know there were common phases of the personal growth (or change) process. To me, and maybe you, I thought anything outside my comfort zone was just going to be a battle, a struggle, and that didn’t sound appealing.
Instead I’ve discovered there are steps you take along the way and things you can expect with each step. If you know the steps and you know what to expect, you can give yourself a greater level of certainty. Remember, your brain loves certainty so it can get on board for the change.
I’ll share some insights from my own life journey of personal development and as a success coach to many others. I want to help you see the phases in order to help you stay your course or take that first step to get started to expanding your comfort zone.
But first I want to be honest with you.
Change. Is. Not. Easy.
It’s definitely not always comfortable…but it’s sure worth it!
Seeing Failure as a Good Thing
As you might expect, I’ve seen clients over the years experience setbacks, discomfort and the messy-ness that comes when you’re trying new things. Learning what works and what doesn’t work. Some start to get down on themselves and the process, think of turning back or get frustrated things aren’t working out right away.
When that happens they’ve forgotten a fundamental law of life…
We learn by failing. We learn by trying and making mistakes.
This is really important. Re-read those two sentences to let that sink in.
Remember or imagine being back in kindergarten. As a child you weren’t afraid to fail. You weren’t uncomfortable when you made a mistake or things didn’t work out. You didn’t beat yourself up or stop trying. You just brushed it off and kept plugging on …especially if you really wanted that outcome.
Then you started to grow up and took on the behaviors of the adults you around. For most people that means you developed an ego, sensitive skin, and the irrational fear of “looking bad” in front of others.
You developed a belief that it was important NOT to make mistakes. Mistakes were bad. You may have even taken it to more of an extreme leading to perfectionism. You may have paralyzed yourself with having to do things perfectly because you became so afraid of making a mistake or doing something wrong.
You stopped trying.
You sort of gave up on achieving real happiness.
Comfort zone living crept in.
By believing mistakes, trying, learning were bad you also interrupted the process for creating inner happiness. When you’re learning you’re growing and when you’re growing you’re making progress and when you’re making progress…guess what…you’re happy.
Starting to see that being a little uncomfortable could actually be a very good thing?
What Lies Beyond Your Comfort Zone
Curious what could be beyond your comfort zone? Beginning to wonder what if you did start doing things a little differently? Trying something new or even hard?
Well, welcome to the unlearning classroom. In this classroom we are very curious. I also ask you to leave your old beliefs and behaviors at the door and remember how you enjoyed to learn and grow when you were a young child.
You learned and grew into your potential rapidly and were WAY more happy as a young kid before you started taking everything so seriously or believing mistakes were a bad tings.
Remember way back to first learning language or walking? You were marvelous at learning, because you didn’t try to do it perfectly. Little you just assumed you’d have some bumps along the way, make a few “mistakes” and eventually you’d be walking and talking. So you did.
Now it’s time to translate that so you see the myth; your comfort zone doesn’t lead to happiness. You are happiest when you’re growing and learning and realizing your full potential.
I believe you want happiness. Next, you’ll see how living outside of your comfort zone is where all the learning, the magic and the happiness you truly seek can be found.
This diagram below does a decent job of depicting the phases of what to expect when you move beyond your comfort zone.
The Phases of Personal Growth
At this point I’d like to give you my perspective as a coach of the phases of personal growth. Below are the three phases I’ve seen people go through, and I’ve been through myself many times, when taking steps outside our comfort zone.
Phase 1: GETTING STARTED
What to expect: Know in advance there are times it’s going to be hard, uncomfortable and won’t totally work out or go as planned. Expect it to be bumpy. It could even get worse before it gets better. Expect you’re going to learn something. You’ll be better off than if you did nothing.
What’s required: “Activation Energy” is the energy it takes to get things off the ground…to get started. You must get yourself to do what you’re afraid of, expect to be painful or hard. You need to get out of your head and get into action; one small step that leads to another and another. You must bring an open mind and a curious outlook. You must believe all possibilities exist for you.
What to remember: Fears are illusions. It’s worth it. It just takes small, consistent steps each day and eventually you’ll have a new reality. It’s never as hard as you’re afraid it’s going to be.
Mantra: Do it anyway.
Focus: What do you want most? Why do you want this?
Phase 2: KEEP GOING
What to expect: You’re going to do it imperfectly for a while. Expect to make mistakes as you try new things. You’ll have setbacks and challenges. You’ll also have some wins and learnings. You’ll gain more confidence and trust with yourself than any other thing you could do because you’re doing what’s hard and keeping your word to yourself. You’re building self-confidence a step at a time, but you won’t always feel confident.
What’s required: Persistence and Consistency – the mindset and personal energy it takes to do little things that will lead to your outcome even when you’re experiencing setbacks, getting your feelings hurt, not getting the results you want yet, or your motivation is wavering.
What to remember: This part is messy. You have made progress, but you’re still not at mastery and that’s ok. Think progress, not perfection. You just want to be a little better than you were yesterday.
Mantra: Correct and continue. Keep going. Never give up.
Focus: What’s working/not working? What’s next?
Phase 3: APPROACHING MASTERY
What to expect: It’s important to remember how far you’ve come because you may not have your outcome yet. You’re removing the training wheels, more accountable to yourself and less like you need external accountability. Things are clicking, you’re getting the hang of this – less mistakes and challenges…more success is coming and you’re seeing positive results.
What’s required: Inner certainty. Confidence you will achieve your outcome no matter what.
What to remember: Gratitude attracts faster. Be grateful for where you are and where you’re going.
Mantra: I’ve got this. I’m going to make it. “Thank you.”
Focus: Gratitude. The outcome you want.
Why You Must Break Out of Your Comfort Zone
Your comfort zone is where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk – where you perceive you’re in control. It’s what you’re familiar with.
It’s a state of certainty and security in your mind and your lower level consciousness (animal brain) loves certainty.
When you’re doing what you already know how to do your brain lowers the safety warnings. There is some level of satisfaction the brain derives from the familiar, putting less anxiety and less stress on you physiologically.
However, in order to maximize performance, to move closer to your goals, to experiencing more success or happiness, you need to put yourself into a state of relative anxiety — where your stress levels are slightly higher than normal. Moving from comfort zone to uncomfortable zone.
You begin by making small adjustments at first to step outside of your comfort zone and create sort of “optimal anxiety” – or stress – on yourself. If you put yourself under too much anxiety or or stress, you’ll actually reduce your productivity and effectiveness. This is often where people retreat back to old behaviors, or worse, give up. The ideal is just uncomfortable enough you’re moving forward, but not so extreme you stop.
Tips for Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone
Here are a few ways to break out of your comfort zone and lean towards your growth zone:
- Break up your routines – do common things differently. Take a different route to the grocery store. Try a new restaurant or eat a different dish. Eat with your non-dominant hand. Wash your feet first and move up when taking a shower. These seemingly small activities engage your conscious mind instead of leaving things to your unconscious programming.
- Give yourself quiet time to make decisions. It’s powerful to slow down in order to align your mental and emotional bodies so you make an empowered choice. Slow down, take stock of the situation, check in with yourself and then move ahead. This gives you time to line up your story about what’s happening or could happen and to remember what you want most. To remember your goal.
- Trust yourself and make quick decisions. Decisions that have less risk or impact are great opportunities to just make a spot decision and get moving. Just do it! This will help you jump start your activities and teach you to trust your judgement. You’ll begin to see the results of making both slow and rapid decisions. You’ll teach yourself to become a better decision maker.
- Start with small wins. Trying new things is awkward and can be hard at first. If it weren’t, breaking out of your comfort zone would be easy and we’d do it all the time. If your confidence is low or you’re afraid to make “big” changes in one area of your life, start with small wins in other areas. For example, if you want to lose weight, start making commitments to get to bed earlier, to talk to people on the phone vs texting or try that new dance class just because it could be fun. Once you have some wins in other areas, take a small step towards the area you want to such as getting yourself to trade a serving of carbs for veggies at dinner.
The point of stepping out of your comfort zone is to embrace new experiences and to get to that state of optimal stress in a tolerable and managed way. Again, this isn’t when you want to overly stress yourself out to the point you give up or beat yourself up for being scared.
Motivation to Expand Your Comfort Zone
What if you’re clear this is a process, understand what to expect, and even know how to get started but still you can’t get yourself to take action?
There are three reasons you’re procrastinating or putting something off. At some level you associate pain, fear or discomfort with the activity.
The next question you’re probably asking yourself or asking me is…
How do I motivate myself to do the things I know I should do?!
To overcome procrastination, understand that all of that pain, fear and discomfort is imagined.
It’s all in your head.
Actually, doing the thing you’ve been thinking about – the thing you know you need to do – is liberating. It frees you from your fear. It’s almost never as painful as you told yourself it was going to be!
The cure to your procrastination is taking ACTION.
Take an action towards your outcome. Make it small, make it seemingly insignificant so that you get yourself to do it.
Taking one action shows you won’t die, get hurt in any meaningful way, and you’re the type of person who can get yourself to do things you fear or struggle to do. Winning!
Each and every time you take a step towards an outcome you want – speak up in a meeting, tell someone something on your heart, say “no” and leave it at that, or put yourself first, these actions begin to build the momentum towards what you want. But, more importantly you are building your inner self-confidence.
Every small win, small step, is YOU making a deposit into YOUR inner self-confidence account. You begin to be accountable and keep your word with yourself. You start to trust yourself to do hard things. Do that enough times and your confidence will skyrocket.
To recap, comfort zones are an illusion of comfort. They’re really only where we keep ourselves because of our lack of ability to tolerate uncertainty and perceived pain. However, we now see that the pain of staying the same is more painful than the process of change. Break out of the illusion, stop settling for what you have because you fear what you may lose and begin to believe in what you could gain by making a change.
Begin living in the uncomfortable zone. This is you getting comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s is where your greatest growth and happiness can be found.
Remember, progress = happiness and you came here to be happy!
Living inside your comfort zone is not why you came here and I’m sure not where you want to stay. If you’re struggling to get yourself to do or stick to those things you need to do, let’s have a chat and see where I can help you.
Take the first step now…and sign up for your free phone consultation today.