It’s killing you slowly. And it’s often untraceable.
It’s your comfort zone — and stepping outside of it is key to discovering your passion, accomplishing your goals, and finding happiness.
But it’s not so bad, right? I mean, you’re comfortable, so you must be happy?
If only it worked out that way. Unfortunately, the longer you stay within your comfort zone, the less happy you tend to be.
So, why do we stay within our comfort zone then? Because it takes energy to move something into action. That’s a simple fact of life. Science uses the word energy to describe the process in natural things, but when we talk about ourselves (humans), we usually just use the word motivation.
Without the proper motivation, we’re willing to stay in a situation that doesn’t make us completely happy, for fear that the discomfort we’ll feel by stepping outside of our current circumstances will be greater than the discontent we feel now, however unfulfilled we are.
But by not stepping outside of your comfort zone, you’re costing yourself three of the greatest gifts life has to offer.
3 Reasons Your Comfort Zone is Killing You (and How to Beat It)
One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.
– Abraham Maslow
1. It’s keeping you from growth
In life, you’re either growing or dying. That might seem a bit exaggerated — and it is — but it’s not meant to be taken literally.
The primary ingredient for a happy life very well may be progress, as recent positive psychology studies have pointed towards. Shawn Achor, positive psychologist and author of The Happiness Advantage, refers to happiness as “the joy you feel moving towards your potential.”
That’s the key word here: moving.
Growth is about progress.
Progress is about movement.
And movement is about stepping outside yourself.
So long as you’re sitting within your comfort zone, you’re not growing because you’re not moving. Growing is about becoming more than we are now, and the only way you’ll ever be able to become more than you are is by experiencing what is outside of you. This requires you to step outside of your comfort zone.
2. It’s keeping you from trying new things
Perhaps the most important effort of our life is to discover what we have a passion for, and to devote ourselves to the mastery of it. We do this both for the good of ourselves and to make a positive difference in the world.
Some of us, the lucky ones, discover what we’re passionate about early on in life. We know in our heart we’ve found what we love and can dedicate the rest of our life to the mastery of it – and enjoying every minute of it.
However, if you’re anything like me, you spent the first 20-30 years of your life experimenting and having little but a vague idea of what that thing might be. For most of us, it takes time to discover what we love and have a passion for. This is perfectly okay and natural. That is, so long as you’re trying new things and actively discovering what you like and don’t like.
The problem is, so long as you’re within your comfort zone, you’ll rarely if ever try new things (and often only if you’re forced into it).
This stops the discovery process altogether and keeps you from finding what you have a passion for. And this keeps you from being truly happy.
3. It’s conditioning you to settle
If you continue to live within your comfort zone until later in life, something else happens that seeks to threaten your growth and happiness….
At some point in life, if this discovery hasn’t yet found its way to you, we grow tired and settle for what we have. This is perhaps the worst fate of all. Because while you’re technically still alive, you go on to live as if you were dead, settling into a life which doesn’t truly make you happy and never taking any chances.
Worse, at this point in your life, when you are posed with an opportunity, you’ll begin to pull back (often unconsciously) for fear of losing access to your bubble of comfort. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it perfectly:
“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 refuse to do it because 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 of the spirit.”
How to beat your comfort zone
Despite the power that your comfort zone holds over you, with the right effort and some patience, it’s quite easy to develop the habit to step outside of it. You just need to know the right way to do it.
When I was younger, I had this old pair of shoes I’d wear from time to time. They were completely tattered, with one of my big toes occasionally sticking out, and wearing them attracted the inevitable glances and funny looks. But I didn’t do it as a fashion statement. I did it because it made me feel uncomfortable. The more I wore them, the more I got comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Why is this important?
The trick to beating your comfort zone, to making it a habit of stepping outside of yourself and growing consistently, is to lower your resistance to doing the task.
When an opportunity presents itself, it’s fear that holds us back. That’s what we’re facing when we come up against our comfort zone.
However, if you do the first small step, you’re more likely to then take the next step – even if it’s something bigger. This is what I mean by lowering your resistance to taking action.
The cool thing is, you don’t even need to do anything associated with the task. It just has to be something small that gets you revved up. As long as you’re stepping outside of your comfort zone, you’re building up confidence. That’s all that matters.
3 steps to beat your comfort zone
Try these 3 basic steps for developing the strength to step outside of your comfort zone –habitually:
- Make a procrastination list: Make a list of tasks you’ve been procrastinating on. Making a doctor’s appointment, mopping the floor, or asking someone a question. Anything, however small, you’ve been putting off for a few weeks or more.
- Do one (or more) of the smallest items on your list: If you’re afraid of calling someone and telling them how you feel, take one of the smallest tasks on your procrastination list that you’ve been putting off for the past couple weeks and do it immediately. It could even be something as simple as mopping the floor — just so long as it’s something you’ve resisted doing for some time (a sign it’s outside of your comfort zone). No, seriously, stop reading and go do it now. I’ll wait.
- Keep taking steps: By doing that simple task, and stepping outside your comfort zone ever so slightly, you gain the energy and confidence necessary to take a bigger step forward and step further outside of your comfort zone. Once you’ve done this, pick another item on your list. Do this until you feel confident enough to finally talk to that person (or whatever that thing is for you).
Stepping outside of your comfort zone can be built up like a muscle – the more you do it, the easier it becomes (becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable).
Keep taking these small steps and, with time, you’ll make stepping outside of your comfort zone a habit. This is the goal.
By continuing to step outside of your comfort zone you build the confidence to go after your goals with vigor and not let anything hold you back.
So, what’s your first step?