We’ve all read the countless posts telling us to get out of our comfort zones. The countless images saying your life will begin outside the comfort zone. It was about a year ago that I decided to test those statements. What does it mean, getting out of your comfort zone? What good or bad does it bring? I set out to answer those questions.
What is the comfort zone?
This is a repost of my first blog article in 2015 for archiving purposes. Due to the rebuilding of the blog, the old post is no longer existent. Visuals may not entirely fit the new layout.
To try and get out of my comfort zone, I decided to figure out what makes a comfort zone first. Wikipedia actually has a great answer here, saying that we experience a low level of anxiety and are able to deliver a steady level of performance with low risk. However, if we leave our comfort zone just enough, we get into what’s called the optimal performance zone. Anxiety actually boosts our performance, up to a certain level, after which we enter a danger zone. And that danger zone is actually quite hard to reach.
So what can we learn from this? That our comfort zone isn’t a bad thing per se, but that getting out means achieving more in life. When I’ve had a stressful period or just a really busy day I just need to relax for a moment, or as the saying goes: to recharge myself. We all have this need to do so. And it’s perfectly fine to want temporary relief from anxiety. But it’s really easy to get stuck in there, as low anxiety and a no risk situation is comfortable. And being stuck is never a good thing.
Comfort zone lay-out
There are tons of self-help articles out there that talk about the comfort zone. After reading a lot of them, I can say that it boils down to two general ideas on the comfort zone. Both have the same thing at the core, but they differ in execution.
- The Onion Model – This model has layers, like an onion. In the middle we have our comfort zone. Then, when we get a bit out of your comfort zone, we will start growing and become more confident in what we do. This is the learning zone. But if you get too far out of your comfort zone, you will not be able to do anything, because you are too alien in the situation. You will grow through getting out of your comfort zone a bit all the time and with that expanding your comfort zone.
- The Two Areas – There are two separated areas, one where the comfort zone is and one where the magic happens. They are separated and your comfort zone and the magic are will never overlap. Which implies you have to leave your comfort zone and then stumble upon ‘the magic’. It says you need a certain level of anxiety to get in the right zone.
If we go with science, we have to dismiss the second idea. It holds some truth, but it lacks the clarity of the first, where we have a clearly outlined onion model and an actual danger zone. It makes it much clearer what our comfort zone is and what expansion areas there are.
Other self help tips
Self-help articles on getting out of your comfort zone are written with good intent, but often with a great lack of insight in what people will actually do. There are definitely good ones out there, but some leave me lost for words. They give tips that people with a huge comfort zone might do, not just anyone. If you disagree with me, let me name a few that will make you at the very least frown. Please note that these are not my tips. And I’m not kidding, these are actual tips!
- Date a crazy person
- Make a fool of yourself
- Quit your full-time, safe job to start your dream job
- Write a book
- Take a trapeze class
Let's get out
So after seeing those crazy tips, I found that you can also do easier things to get out of your comfort zone. Having determined that stepping out of the comfort zone means doing anything which raises anxiety levels, I decided to try something myself. And this doesn’t have to be by much, it literally means anything at all. What I did was to analyse what I did whenever I felt uncomfortable and then took something away, thus breaking my comfort zone.
So around that time I got invited to a party where I knew I would hardly know anyone. And I went without my smartphone. This might sound silly and simple, but thinking of how often we grab our phones to check nothing is astounding. Especially in situations where we don’t know what to do. So I decided to not bring my phone to the party and what happened was that I engaged in conversation more with people I didn’t know.
And while just making conversation wasn’t the hardest thing to do, I didn’t have my phone to fall back to when I had nobody to talk to for a moment and nobody I knew to chat up. It gave me some moments where I felt awkward, just standing around doing nothing. I had to attend a few more social gatherings without my phone to truly get away from the anxiety, with it getting easier each time to have what I now call downtime.
I think that is a great example of how easy it can be to stretch your comfort zone and grow as a person. I felt like I got too comfortable checking my phone when I felt socially awkward for a second and decided to try going without. As a result, I feel more confident nowadays when standing alone for a second with just my thoughts, whereas I would’ve felt socially awkward before.
Now it's your turn
It became clear to me that stepping out of the comfort zone might seem like a daunting task, but that the results can be good and you shouldn’t be afraid to do so. Starting small, it’s easy to get more confident and make bigger steps later on.
Right now I’m curious on how you are doing with your comfort zone. What is the latest anxiety-inducing thing you’ve done? Let me know below, in the comments!