The comfort zone is a safe space in which we do not risk, but neither do we grow. It is not simply a physical space but a mental concept. It is not limited to a security cordon that we have built around us, but it includes both our daily habits and our way of thinking. Therefore, it can become the perfect excuse for not doing, not taking risks, not growing and ultimately not living.
Outside the comfort zone magical things happen, change occurs and we grow, but there is also the panic zone, so it is important to find the right balance in life based on a deep knowledge of what the comfort zone is and what we can meet when we cross its borders.
How did the concept of the comfort zone arise?
The concept of the comfort zone dates back to a classic experiment in psychology conducted in 1908 by psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson, who explained that a state of relative well-being generates a constant level of performance.
However, they also pointed out that to improve performance we must experience some degree of anxiety, go out and conquer a space where the stress increases a little. They called this space "optimal anxiety" and indicated that it is just outside the confines of our comfort zone.
This is how they created what is known as "Yerkes-Dodson's Law", which can be better understood in this graph:
Subsequent experiments confirmed their theory and stated that the motivation and effort to reach a goal increases until the expectation of success or the level of uncertainty reaches 50%, above that level we begin to become demoralized, we lose the motivation and the level of anxiety is so high that it destabilizes us and leads us to make mistakes.
What is the comfort zone we live in?
The comfort zone could be the living room sofa on which we prefer to stay rather than going out to explore the world, the shops where we usually buy, the work we have been doing for over 10 years or the place where we go on vacation every year. But it is also our way of responding to criticism, of dealing with opportunities that involve risks and also the way we relate to our partner and parents.
The concept of a comfort zone refers to a psychological state in which we feel safe and do not experience anxiety or fear. It is a "space" that we know as the palm of the hand and in which we control almost everything.
The habits we follow closely are those that allow us to build our comfort zone because we know exactly what we can expect from each situation. By minimizing uncertainty we believe we have everything more or less under control, so we believe we are safe.
To stay within the comfort zone we must avoid risks and uncertainty, this means that we adopt a passive attitude towards life. That feeling of security is expensive because in this way we also lose vital stimuli and fall into the clutches of monotony and apathy. This is why we cling to certain places, traditions, habits and people, avoiding any element that introduces novelty, because they also mean uncertainty and chaos. Therefore, we can say that the comfort zone is a space that we have conquered but which in turn has conquered us.
Signs that we are stuck in our comfort zone
Since the comfort zone is a space that slowly builds up over the years, many times we don't realize we're trapped inside. We are so used to our habits and lifestyle that we do not realize how they limit our possibilities for growth.
Some signs that you need to leave your comfort zone are:
- You no longer grow emotionally and intellectually but you feel a deep apathy
- You feel deeply unmotivated, no new project stimulates you enough
- You close yourself to new ideas because they don't fit your belief system
- You are afraid of taking risks, so you prefer to waste good opportunities with the excuse that you may lose more than you could earn
- You've been following the same routine for months or years, so it's been a long time since you've experienced the incredible feeling of being alive that from trying new things
- You feel more isolated and you start to think that everything is meaningless because you do not find anything stimulating in your daily routine
- You do not learn anything new that can give a touch of different color to your life because you feel that you are fine like this, even if deep down you feel a huge feeling of emptiness, as if you need something more
7 good reasons to leave the comfort zone
American writer Max DePree said: "We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are". There are many good reasons to be motivated to leave the comfort zone.
- You prepare yourself for difficult times. As safe as we feel in our comfort zone, that space will not protect us from problems that usually appear unexpectedly and generate enormous uncertainty. If we are not used to changes, these problems can destabilize us and even generate mental disorders. Learning to live outside the comfort zone, dealing with novelty, unforeseen and uncertain events will make us emotionally strong people, who can better handle adversities when they arise.
- You will be more productive. Convenience kills productivity because without that small dose of anxiety that accompanies deadlines and expectations, we tend to do the minimum necessary to achieve mediocre results. In short, the comfort zone leads us to mediocrity, to content ourselves. Another possibility is to fall into the "work trap", pretending to be "too busy" as an excuse to stay within our comfort zone and avoid the novelty. Going a little beyond our limits can give us the necessary push to recover and improve our productivity, also through creativity.
- Your limits will always be wider. Once we step out of our comfort zone, it expands, which means we become more open to change. Adopting this approach allows us to be able to deal with optimal anxiety without it bothering us, on the contrary, we learn to use it to our advantage, taking advantage of the energy it gives us.
- It will boost your creativity. The comfort zone represents everything we know. Outside there is another world to discover. In the comfort zone, great ideas and discoveries do not appear, it is necessary to leave the known to find the inspiration that stimulates creativity. Only then will we be able to generate new ideas, see old problems from a different perspective, and make original connections. In fact, a study conducted at the University of Florida found that students who spent even one semester abroad scored better on creativity tests than those who stayed at the same university.
- You will build confidence in yourself. Getting out of the comfort zone is a little scary, but when we do it and reach our goals, we feel a tremendous sense of power. In practice, when we are able to face situations that scare us, we realize that we are much stronger than we think and this reinforces the concept we have of ourselves. Furthermore, by overcoming obstacles, we acquire skills that become part of ourselves.
- You will feel more alive. Leaving the comfort zone, we meet new people and live new experiences. Some of these experiences will not be positive, while others will become a driving force that will give us new energy. We will soon find that the feeling of emptiness disappears simply as we learn to enjoy life more.
- You will age better. A study conducted at the University of Texas revealed that stepping out of the comfort zone helps preserve cognitive abilities as we age. Keeping the mind active and considering new challenges is essential as it represents an important source of stimulation both mentally and socially. Therefore, staying in the comfort zone means staying outside the improvement area.
How to get out of the comfort zone without hurting ourselves?
Once we know what the comfort zone is and the problems caused by excessive attachment to known habits and things, it becomes clear that it is necessary to get out of this vicious circle that we have entered. To do this we must assume that feeling a little anxiety from time to time is good because it keeps us alive, strengthens us and helps us grow.
But it is also important to keep the anxiety level under control, this means that there is no need to jump into the void without a parachute, we can get out of our comfort zone a little at a time, stopping when we feel that anxiety or fear they begin to increase in intensity.
There are people who can get out of their comfort zone in an instant because they can manage anxiety. Others need to take baby steps slowly. The important thing is not how you do it, but that you are able to expand your horizon more and more.
In any case, the secret lies in finding a balance in which anxiety for the new and the unknown generates a positive state, we must not feel bad.
In this graph we can see that the growth zone is where we can reach the best of ourselves, facing new challenges with an acceptable level of anxiety. In the growth zone we can learn new things, enrich our points of view, change our habits and experiment.
Conversely, falling into the panic zone can be crippling and terrifying, leaving us afraid to return to the original comfort zone. In the panic zone we experience a deep sense of lack of control and the fear of losing what we have achieved.
There are those who say that a step beyond the panic zone awaits us a magical zone, but the truth is that it is not essential to experience that space that can generate so much discomfort if we make sure to continually expand our growth zone. These exercises to get out of the comfort zone will allow you to expand your growth zone without feeling too much anxiety.
It is not worth living eternally outside the comfort zone
Leaving the comfort zone is important, but doing so doesn't have to become an obsession. We must keep in mind that we cannot live outside our comfort zone all the time. From time to time it is useful to return to that space where we feel safe to quietly process our experiences.
In fact, if we make the mistake of completely forgetting the comfort zone, we fall into the risk of suffering what is called "hedonistic adaptation", it means that new things and experiences cease to impress us and no longer make us feel alive, because we we are used to the adrenaline rush they produce. This is why the incredible becomes ordinary in a very short time.
Therefore, we must not see the comfort zone as an enemy; as many personal growth gurus say, it is an opportunity to grow but also a space to comfort us.