“We will not have better conditions in the future if we feel satisfied with what we have today,” said Thomas Alva Edison. Getting out of the comfort zone is essential for taking psychological oxygen. Outside of this area we expand our worldview, learn new things, test our strength and change our habits. In a word: we grow. Only one thing stops us: fear.
Why are we afraid of leaving the comfort zone?
The fear of leaving the comfort zone is the expression of deeper fears, which form a psychological tangle that keeps us tied to a situation that is not ideal for our growth and can also be counterproductive.
While it may seem contradictory, we sometimes prefer to remain in the known, even if it causes us pain, rather than explore the uncertain. The saying is “better an experienced evil than an unknown good” perfectly represents this way of thinking. Understanding what is holding us back, what are the fears that keep us paralyzed, is the first step in leaving the problems of the comfort zone behind us.
1. Fear of losing control. The comfort zone is a space where we believe we have everything under control. Getting out of that relatively safe space scares us because it means we have to learn to flow with the course of events and recognize that we have very little control over circumstances.
2. Fear of uncertainty. The control zone is a space where we can predict with certainty what will happen. Leaving that gap means jumping into the void, which generates fear and anxiety. When everything is possible, the number of possibilities available makes us dizzy. This is why the fear of leaving the comfort zone has its roots in the fear of uncertainty.
3. Fear of failure. Leaving the comfort zone carries risks, every time we take risks we are faced with the possibility of failure. The fear of failure can paralyze us because it represents a double blow to our social status and to the image we have of ourselves. That is why we prefer to stay in that area where we enjoy a certain degree of acceptance and guaranteed "success".
4. Fear of rejection. “Be obedient. She studies. Work. Married. Have children. Take out a mortgage. Watching TV. Apply for loans. Buy many things. And most importantly, never question what they've told you to do, ”said George Carlin. If leaving the comfort zone involves challenging the socially established path and the expectations that others have placed on us, it is normal for it to be scary. It is the fear of disappointing others, the opinions of others and, above all, of the rejection of those who do not understand us or do not share our vision of reality.
5. Fear of personal change. Sometimes the fear of leaving the comfort zone is due to an excessive attachment to our "I". We reject the new or the different because we fear that it damages the image we have formed of ourselves. We are afraid of losing everything we identify with, because it involves taking a step in a terrible direction: questioning ourselves, questioning our way of thinking and the beliefs on which we have founded our identity. This is why we prefer to stick to the stereotypes that underlie our self.
The downside of the comfort zone
The comfort zone is a more or less restricted space of behavior in which our activities and behaviors are adapted to a routine and pattern that minimizes the level of stress and risk. It offers us a state of mental security. There is no doubt. The benefits are obvious: an acceptable level of satisfaction, little anxiety, and relatively little stress. However, the disadvantages of the comfort zone are so numerous that it is not worth being trapped in that confined space.
- It prevents us from reaching our maximum potential. An experiment conducted in the early twentieth century showed that a state of relative well-being generates a constant level of return. But if we want to maximize our performance we need to slightly increase the level of anxiety to reach a state of "optimal anxiety", which is precisely outside our comfort zone. This state of "productive discomfort" is what allows us to grow and become the person we can be.
- It will be more and more difficult for us to manage the changes. As we become more and more comfortable with the known, the number of tools to cope with life at our disposal decreases, so it will be more and more difficult for us to deal with new and unexpected changes. Their impact will leave us increasingly scared and helpless. On the contrary, facing new challenges and actively seeking novelty will allow us to feel more comfortable with uncertainty and the unknown, so that we can better solve problems when they arise.
- We will close ourselves to new ideas and creativity. Creativity needs to feed on novelty. Even syneptics, a creative technique that involves combining known concepts to give rise to something new, requires being willing to open up to the new. If we close ourselves in our comfort zone, we close the door to creativity and prevent the flow of new ideas, hiding behind the walls of the old and known.
The comfort zone represents the past made present, it is a vain attempt to minimize the uncertainty of the future. Getting out of that space that we have built more or less consciously is scary because it means recognizing that we are not in control and that anything that does not fit our plans can happen. But staying in the comfort zone forever is tantamount to condemning ourselves to immobility. And this is worse. Because, as Hellen Keller said “life is a daring adventure or it's nothing”.
How to overcome the fear of leaving the comfort zone?
There are people who can leave their comfort zone by taking a big leap because they are able to manage their anxiety level. There are others that need to take small steps at a time. Regardless of the strategy you use to get out of the comfort zone, what's important is to expand your horizons.
The secret lies in finding a balance, so that the novelty generates a beneficial anxiety, an anxiety that is not harmful but gives us the psychological push necessary to dare to change. These exercises for getting out of the comfort zone will help you embrace the novelty. Remember that you can't become the person you want to be if you cling to who you are, to paraphrase writer Max DePree.