If there exists somewhere a hall of fame for worn-out motivational platitudes, then ”life begins at the end of your comfort zone” has got to be up there with the greats. Right up in between “quitters never win,” and something about drinking more water. One could reasonably deduce from all this that none of us was meant to ever be comfortable again. But that doesn’t make much sense, does it?
Don’t get me wrong, pushing yourself out there a bit, into what I call the “discomfort zone,” can be a tremendously valuable thing.
Intentionally pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone is a powerful tool for growth, success, and life satisfaction.
But just like with the other two hall-of-famers above, there’s a difference between embracing a good thing, and forcing it into an absolute. Sure, if you quit on everything you won’t make it very far, but quitting can also be an important success strategy. Drinking water makes your pee good or something (idk, not a doctor), but that doesn’t mean you should never not be drinking water.
Getting out of your comfort zone can help you make your life awesome. But there’s a right way to do it: intentionally, and with balance.
Why Should I Leave My Comfort Zone at All?
I’ve you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting the motivational platitudes hall of fame in person, here’s the quick rundown:
Your unique comfort zone is where all is familiar, easy, and comfortable. This could include your hometown, a sport you play and love, your mom, your collection of Lilo and Stitch DVDs. Nothing here threatens you, nothing is new or scary. It is a safe place.
But the trick is, humans are curious animals. As much as we like comfort, we also crave novelty, growth, and exploration. Some suspect this curiosity is tied to our evolution as omnivores.
While the comfort zone may be welcoming, it can also cause us to stagnate, and leave us with a restless longing for more. Conversely, the people whom we associate with success, and with deep life satisfaction, are known to often push the boundaries of their comfort zones.
So, what’s the solution then? If you want to be successful, you can never see your mom or watch Lilo and Stitch again? Of course not. Ohana means family.
Comfort Zone Vs. Growth Zone Vs. Danger Zone
Think of your entire world as filling three zones, with yourself in the middle. Every single thing falls somewhere in this picture – all of the people you know and those you don’t know, places, experiences, jobs, music festivals, The Star Wars movies (including prequels).
This concept is a lot easier if we get a little visual, so watch out, here come the snazzy graphics.
The comfort zone diagram above demonstrates the three zones: your comfort zone, your discomfort zone, and your danger zone. How they are divided up will be unique to you, but here’s how it works:
Your Comfort Zone
The innermost circle is your comfort zone. You know what this one is already; it’s familiar, easy, and safe.
- Watching TV in your living room
- A cup of coffee with a close friend
- Your collection of Lilo and Stitch DVDs
Your Discomfort Zone (aka Growth Zone)
The next circle is what I call your discomfort zone. Others have called it the growth zone or the learning zone, but don’t worry too much about the names. Things here are less familiar to you and might make you nervous, but are not out of your reach.
The stuff in your discomfort zone has potential to expand your world and give you new opportunities. It won’t necessarily, but you won’t know until you try!
- Meeting a new group of people for the first time
- Taking on a new responsibility at work
- A food you haven’t tried before
Your Danger Zone (aka Panic Zone)
Finally, the outermost circle is called the danger zone, or panic zone. Everything here is new and most of it is scary. This is the stuff that you’re simply not ready for. Maybe someday, but not today.
Stepping into your danger zone is more likely to lead to serious emotional distress than any meaningful growth. It is best to avoid your danger zone altogether, whenever possible.
- Working a job you aren’t qualified for
- Travelling to a new country alone
- Speaking in front of a large crowd with no experience
Again, don’t sweat these names too much, or the examples for that matter. All that matters here is that there’s the comfy-cozy spot in the center, the holy-shit-scary region on the outside, and the goldilocks zone in between. You will know what falls where for you.
Draw Your Own Borders
The most important thing about these three zones – comfort, discomfort, and danger – is that they’re not set in stone. They grow and evolve as you do. The boundaries between them are constantly being redrawn. And you hold the pen.
If you spend all of your time sitting safely within the borders of your comfort zone, then it will never grow, and may even shrink. This is what a rut looks like – slipping into a pattern of just a few safe, familiar things can deprive a person of joy and critical opportunities for a better life.
But, and you know there’s a but, you don’t just want to do the opposite either.
If you always force yourself into your discomfort and danger zones, then you will burn yourself out. These things use up serious emotional energy. New things require more mental processing.
The key, as always, is balance.
Get out there, explore your discomfort zone, and find new sources of joy and excitement. In time, many of these things will move into your comfort zone. Things that were once out of your reach, way out in the danger zone, will become less foreign and more accessible. And it’s always okay to come back to your comfort zone for a bit of rest and enjoyment. You’re entitled to that. Don’t let anyone bully you out of it.
Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Putting yourself exclusively into uncomfortable situations is no key to a happy life, but some uncomfortable situations might be.
So long as you still give yourself room to rest and recharge, and you know where your hard outer limits are, then pushing yourself to get comfortable being uncomfortable now and then is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
Have you ever gotten the weird advice to “picture everyone else in their underwear,” to help you get through an uncomfortable situation like a presentation or an interview? Toss that out. Next time, double down. Picture yourself in your underwear for a change, spice things up. Feel the thrill of being uncomfortable and growing your potential.
Experiencing discomfort grows your world and opens up new possibilities. Embracing it in a healthy way, rather than fighting it OR overdoing it, allows you to enjoy the journey all the way along. Use your comfort zone and your discomfort zone together, and breathe new life and joy into your world. It’s time to get comfortable getting uncomfortable.