– n. a situation or position in which a person feels secure, comfortable, or in control.
According to the Collins English Dictionary
We all climb that hill or ladder in life trying to reach our own version of a comfort zone. Whether it be professionally, financially, personally or within our relationships. If we are lucky, most of us find our comfort zone. Unfortunately, some of us feel so comfortable in that zone we resist and refuse to ever leave it. We become like huge oak trees with deep seeded roots. When change comes, and it always does, we stand against it hoping our branches won’t break or fall. Praying the ferocious wind won’t uproot us.
Change is inevitable and not always a bad thing. The problem with our comfort zone is we often stop growing and instead we just exist day after day, week after week, month after month. We stop being active participants in our lives. We simply go through the motions and watch it pass us by, while deep down we question if this is it? We simply stop sprouting new branches. Regardless of age, experience or time, most of us reach this point — sometimes more than once.
The answer is, no. This isn’t it. It’s just time to shake off those dead branches, come out of dormancy and allow new buds to grow. So where do you begin?
Face Your Fears
Frequently what holds us back is our fears. We are afraid of being embarrassed, afraid of failing or afraid of being rejected. What we don’t realize is our fears are much larger in our head than in reality. Feeling embarrassed really only lasts a minute or two and it is never as bad as we’ve built it up to be in our heads. In fact, we probably laugh at those embarrassing moments now when looking back.
No one wants to be rejected, but occasionally we learn great lessons by being rejected. Sometimes we are better off because we find something far superior than what it was we thought we wanted. I’m reminded of Garth Brook’s song “Unanswered Prayers” where he sings, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”
Every now and then we have to fail in order to succeed. Most people who reach huge success had to fail multiple times before they ever succeeded. Facing our fears one at a time, no matter how big or small can only help us cultivate our dreams. So, take your fear of public speaking and start by preparing something small for your friends or take a public speaking class that will force you to speak in front of a group. What is the worst that will happen? You’ll freeze up for a few seconds, stumble through to the end in front of people you hardly know and will not likely see again? Embarrassed for a moment, but you’ll likely walk away more experience and more self-confidence because you conquered a fear. Take your fear of heights and start with the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier and graduate to the Ledge at Sears Tower. I guarantee you won’t fall. Who knows, you might feel inspired to take it a step further and go sky diving. You never know how tall you can grow until you allow those roots to branch out and support you.
Weird? I’m not talking about running down the street naked or anything that might get you arrested. I’m talking about doing something that is totally out of character for you. Do something your friends/family might be shocked to hear when you tell them. If you are a couch potato, do a 5k run. If you are not musically inclined, take guitar lessons. If you are a five star hotel type person, go camping. Or if you are a camper, stay at a five star resort. If you are an avid movie watcher, read a book instead. If you can’t stand to get your hands dirty, plant some flowers. Don’t like people making a fuss over you, go to the spa for a massage, manicure and pedicure (this is not just for women). The point is to do something you’ve never considered doing before. You might gain an entirely different perspective by stepping out of the box you put yourself in.
Stagnation is often a result of us not learning anything new. We finish with our schooling and settle into life not realizing there’s still so much to learn. Consider taking a class to learn a new skill such as woodworking, pottery or painting. You might also think about exercising the muscle in your head by taking a philosophy or literature class. Dancing, fencing, boxing or yoga classes are always a great way to use all your muscles to discover something you may have never known you love.
If you’ve always had a soft spot for animals or maybe you’ve felt a need to give back, volunteering can be like sticking your big toe in the water before jumping. You might find that soft spot wasn’t as soft as you thought, but you also might find a hidden passion that will point your life in an entirely different direction. You never know until you try something new. There are plenty of organizations out there looking for volunteers in a rainbow of different flavors. You may not have the patience to teach someone to read, but you might have the perfect social skills to chat with an older adult while providing them with a nice meal. Who knows, your love for playing the piano could inspire you to volunteer your talent for churches, schools, or nursing homes, leading you to an entirely new group of friends.
We all have a routine each day whether it is dictated by our jobs, our family or ourselves. Routines are great, they keep us organized and on time. However, occasionally our routine becomes so automatic it is as if we’re on autopilot. How many times have you driven home and not really remembered stopping or turning? Try living through an opposite day. Do the opposite of everything you normally do. You’ll be surprised how fun it might be to attempt brushing your teeth with the opposite hand, eating dessert before your meal, leaving your cell phone at home, choosing not to iron your clothes or listening to silence instead of music in your car. Call in sick and go to a movie on a Wednesday afternoon, eat breakfast for dinner or set the alarm earlier than normal and watch the sunrise. Breaking up our routine can take us off autopilot and put some excitement back in our lives.
Traveling somewhere we’ve never been before is an excellent way to break out of our comfort zone. We are forced to navigate our way through a new town, a new language and new customs. From city to country life, from trains to airplanes, from chain to local restaurants, experiencing new and different ways of living and traveling can forge new pathways in the brain.
Chances are you didn’t get to where you are today without breaking out of the box you were once in. You’ve been uprooted before and successfully transplanted in different stages of your life. Think back to the times you did leave your comfort zone. It might have been scary and you might have asked yourself, “Why am I doing this?” But you made it. You told yourself, “Why not?” And you are most likely in a much better place because of it.
Research & Community Education