Dangerous comfort zones

(And how to avoid them)

Comfort zones. The places we relax and feel safe. Where life’s easy. Where it’s not necessary to think or work too hard…and where everything happens by habit. They’re the psychological equivalent of your mind’s favourite old couch – the place where you curl up and retire to when life’s just a bit too challenging.

Comfort zones have their place. You don’t want to be in growth on all fronts at once – life would be just too stressful. But the pattern for a good life is grow – comfort zone – grow – comfort zone rather than endless comfort zone dwelling. Here’s three thoughts to help you consider the dangers within these cozy places of our lives.

The first reality is that life within your comfort zone is more about existence and safety than anything else. Another way of saying it would be ‘boring.’ And whilst we’re comfortable labeling others as ‘stuck in the mud old fogeys’, we’re rather offended when the title’s applied to ourselves.

I’ve observed that the older you get the more conservative you become – and the more easily stuck in your comfort zone. Once you’ve started to prove yourself – in work, in relationships, in life – it’s easy to become content, and with contentment comes settling down. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless the edges of your life end up a little too fixed. And the only way to get beyond boring… is to choose to stretch yourself again.

Secondly, it’s worth noting that successful people step out of their comfort zones regularly. Yep, you ask any top level athlete whether they got there without making themselves uncomfortable. You won’t find a single one telling you they did. Same for CEO’s and entrepreneurs. Top level performers, whether in the entertainment industry, business, relationships or finance get where they are through hard work, constant learning and pushing beyond what’s been comfortable to reach new levels of achievement. If you want success in anything, you’re going to have to do the same.

A final thing I’ve noticed is that you can be in growth mode in some areas of your life yet stale and stuck in others. Work, especially, often forces us to adapt and step up. That’s great for companies and profit margins, but the challenge is we often compensate in other areas of our lives by doing nothing. How long since you stepped out of your fitness comfort zone? Your financial one? You decided to put some effort into your parenting? Relationships don’t often get much attention once they’re established, either. We settle into these comfort zones easily – and then cry foul when someone gets sick of that and walks!

If I’ve managed to convince that there’s potential negatives to sticking within comfort zones, great. Here’s a few ways to step out into exciting new change without falling on your face. Test them out this week and see if your life doesn’t feel a bit better.

Try a little something new regularly

We call this pushing the envelope, and it’s point is to help you become a little more comfortable with change. The challenge is to do something different to your normal on a regular basis – daily (yeah right!), weekly (maybe…) or monthly (more realistic!).

If you wanted to start with some conservative ideas, you might try taking a different route to work, changing the hand you pay money with, or buying someone you know a small gift ‘just because’.

Tim Ferriss – a man known for pushing the boundaries – has a few more out there ideas. He suggests you negotiate for a free cup of coffee, lie down for 10 seconds in a public space, or quickly hug a stranger to get used to being a little uncomfortable. I’m sure you can think up your own ideas, whether you prefer the safer or more daring ones. If you’re stuck, take a friend for a drink and ask them to suggest 10 things you could do in the next month. Just make sure you action them!

Frame it as learning

If you’re on the competitive end of life, you might hesitate to step out of your comfort zone because you hate the idea of failure. Rather than thinking in terms of win/lose, tell yourself the whole point is to have a go. That way, you’ll win even if you do ‘it’ badly. Which is fantastic, because until you can fail you’re never going to succeed.

Whatever you choose to do, remind yourself that all new activities and thinking include an element of discomfort. Don’t let the awkwardness shut down action. Whatever happens, you have a chance to learn something new, to help you do better next time. Grab the opportunity with both hands.

Keep it in balance

The final tip is to be conscious of what else is happening in your world and be wise. If you’ve got a big health challenge or a major work issue, maybe wait to enhance your relationships til next month. Or just mark time by taking on a small boundary stretch instead of a massive one. Do a different class at your gym rather than bungy jumping, for example. Then make a date in your calendar to try something bigger at a later time.

If this post’s motivated you to try for a bigger change in some area, fantastic! Go for it, but break it down into smaller, bite sized steps to get you moving toward your goal. You do best by stretching your comfort zones a medium amount at a time.

Change it up ideas

Other than taking a different route to work or learning a new language, you can also be deliberate in choosing which compartment of your life to stretch out of your comfort zone in. If you’re scratching your head for ideas, here’s a few to add to your drink buddy’s:

Dexterity – Use your mouse with your other hand. Eat a meal with the cutlery backwards.

People skills – Once a week, for an hour, count to 10 and wait before you answer anybody, even in conversation. It’ll help you learn to be a much better listener.

Relationships – Do something together that you’ve never done before (shared memories help strengthen significant relationships no end)

Parenting – If you have young kids, set up a meal where they act the parents and you act the kids. You’d be surprised at what you might learn! With teens, swap your evening activities for an hour. Get them to set you up on their social media and (if they choose) settle them down with whatever you’d normally do.

Health and fitness – Grab a friend and sign up for a class in something you’ve never done. Or be brave and go alone to a gym you’ve never been to.

Brain – Ask a work colleague for a book recommendation and go read the thing.

Beliefs – Find something to read about a faith/belief system you don’t follow. Or go to someone else’s church/synagogue/festival.

Whatever you do, a learning attitude will keep you safely avoiding the dangers of comfort zones and living a long and healthy life. Go think about your options for a while right now!