Break Free From Your Comfort Zone

Break Free From Your Comfort Zone

You’ve seen motivational quotes and YouTube videos that urge you to do something out of your comfort zone—learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable—but getting out of your predictable routine seems like so much effort, doesn’t it?! Believe it or not, there’s a lot of science that explains why it’s not only difficult to break your mold, but also why it’s good for you once you actually do. It only takes some understanding and some slight modifications to help you break away from your routine and do great things.

What’s Your “Comfort Zone,” and Why It’s Hard to Break Free

Simply, your comfort zone is a mental and behavioral space where your activities and cater to a pattern that minimizes the stress and risk you experience as a result. You feel mentally secure which produces some obvious benefits: happiness, reduced anxiety, and decreased stress.

The idea of the comfort zone goes back to a classic experiment in psychology by psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson who explained that a state of relative comfort created a steady level of performance. However, maximizing performance requires a state of relative anxiety— where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal (a.k.a.”Optimal Anxiety”). Anyone who’s ever pushed themselves to  the next level, trying to accomplish something challenging knows what optimal anxiety feels like.  However, there’s a balance between too much stress and pushing too much versus having optimal anxiety and achieving increased performance. Of course, when “enough is enough”, our natural tendency to return to a neutral, comfortable state, so you can understand why it’s so hard to get our mind beyond our box of comfort. 

The Value of Breaking Free

What’s the value you obtain when you’re willing to step outside of your comfort zone?

Increased Productivity. Comfort destroys productivity because without the sense of unease that comes from expecting more, we tend to do the minimum to just get by. Our drive and ambition to do more and learn new things is out the window. 

Greater Adaptability to Changes. Exploring the space outside your comfort zone when you choose allows you to experience risk and uncertainty in a controlled fashion which can prep you for life changes when you’re forced out of it.

Reduced Hesitation to Do It Again. Like most things, once you make the leap and start stepping out of your comfort zone, it’ll get easier each time. Your comfort zone adjusts. 

Improved Creativity. Seeking new experiences, learning new skills, and creating a space for ideas that inspire us and educate us affect us like nothing else can. Uncomfortable experience can help us brainstorm, notice patterns, and see things with a new perspective.

How to Break Out 

Be sure to remember that while there are pros and cons of breaking out, there’s still a very real difference between the kind of “controlled” anxiety we’re talking about and anxiety many struggle with every day. Everyone’s comfort zone is different.

Here are some ways to break out without going too far:

Adjust the Day-to-Day. Take a different route to work. Try a new restaurant without reading reviews. Go vegan for a few weeks. Be conscious of the perspective you gain from the change, even if it’s negative, and learn from it. 

Slow Down. Sometimes simply slowing down can make us uncomfortable. Try meditation. Observe what’s going on around you. Notice, don’t judge, and take your time to interpret and respond. Choose to act, not just react.

Start Small. It takes courage and strength to break out of your comfort zone. The same benefits can be reaped whether you dive into the deep end or just dabble your toes in. Identify what makes you anxious, and take things naturally, slowly, step-by-step.

Other ideas to stretch your boundaries may include: learning a new language, trying a new workout class, ordering a new dish at the restaurant you always order the same thing at, traveling, and introducing yourself to new people. The experiences you have on the journey may be mind-blowing or disappointing, but that doesn’t matter, you’re doing it!

-Health and Wellness Coach
Michelle C.