Staying within your comfort zone doesn’t necessarily mean you are happy there.
Fear is one of the biggest barriers to living a joyful and fulfilling life. If you are living life from a place of fear, you are not free to take risks or pursue your dreams. If your energy is expended in avoiding failure or rejection, then that energy is used to stay safe, instead of being available to create the life you envision.
Through evolution, we are hard-wired to respond to fear with intensity. For our evolutionary precursors, the fight-or-flight response was a valuable survival mechanism. It’s not as useful when triggered by modern-day fears. In addition to affecting the autonomic nervous system, the hormone cortisol is released in higher quantities than normal. Cortisol helps the system react and normalize once the threat has passed. However, chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels have adverse effects, including impaired cognitive performance, suppressed thyroid function, blood-sugar imbalances, higher blood pressure, and increased abdominal fat. It can also compromise your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness.
Most fears are not based on our current reality. They are the product of imagined fears conjured up in our minds—the product of our own fantasies. Of course, if you are walking alone in a desolate parking lot at 2 AM in the night, you may have every reason to experience fear. That fear is going to propel you to your car, keys ready in hand, as fast as you can move. However, the other kind of fear—the fear that has no basis in reality—is one of the biggest things that keeps people from pursuing the life they desire. Fear of meeting new people or trying something new. Fear of success or of failure. Fear of leaving a job you hate, getting out of a bad relationship, or moving to a new city. Fear of defying convention. Fear of change.
Don’t be afraid of change, life itself is change, change is growth, and regardless of how painful it may be, change is needed. Change will take you to a place full of new things, blessings and satisfaction, everything is for better. Just focus and only live your present with passion, focus on the things you want and what make you happy. Just believe in yourself, be open minded, open to change, be simple, flexible and take action.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
Comfort zones provide us with the ‘easier, softer way out’—until it no longer feels like that for us anymore, which is when change can happen. When we get stuck in a comfort zone, it’s like getting used to clothes that are just too small for us—until that magnificent moment when we realize we have outgrown them. But until that time, we continue to practice our learned behaviors in order to protect ourselves from the perceived potential pain of evolving and growing.
Two types of Pain
What many people don’t understand is that there are two distinctly different types of pain: there is the pain that goes on and on, and the pain that has a light at the end of the tunnel. When we choose to remain in a comfort zone, we are ultimately choosing the former because if we keep doing the same things, we keep getting the same results. As the profoundly wise saying goes, if nothing changes, nothing changes. Although that choice can appear easier, it will only feel like that in the short run. In the long run, the pain continues.
All addictions are comfort zones. If you are struggling with any form of addictive behavior, you are using it in an attempt to shield yourself from the harsher realities of your life. As understandable as this coping strategy may be, addiction is ultimately a twisted form of self-care—with ‘twisted’ being the key word. There is nothing self-caring about hurting yourself over and over again just to be able to keep your eyes closed and stay in denial. That will only serve to create the kind of pain that never ends.
Yes, You Can Come out of Your Comfort Zone
I don’t always agree with everything good ol’ Dr. Phil says, but every once in a while he comes up with something great. An example of this is the question he inevitably asks almost every one of his TV guests:
How’s that been workin’ for ya?
Interestingly, virtually every time I ask this question with my clients, I get the same response: “Not so well.” And when that is the case—when we finally recognize how stuck we are—the next question that needs to be asked is:
Are you ready to try something different?
As suggested earlier, when we decide to raise the bar for ourselves and choose a healthier behavior, most of us will immediately experience an overwhelming feeling of fear. This is a reasonable response because we are basically giving up an option that has felt like a security blanket or a best friend. We need to be gentle with ourselves when we make this courageous choice—we need to allow ourselves to vent, grieve, cry our tears, and then get on with facing reality outside of our comfort zone.
And let’s remember to pat ourselves on the back for being so brave!
It might help you to know that the second experience you’ll have is a marked increase in your self-respect—and in my opinion, nothing is more valuable than that. Once you have made the choice to actually feel your fear and embark on the journey of recovery from your comfort zone anyway, you will automatically feel better about yourself, even if you are still a little scared. You will undoubtedly recognize that you are now on the right track, even when this decision leads you into growth periods that make your hair stand on end. We all have times like that, whether we stay in addiction or choose recovery from our unhealthy coping behaviors. During these times, we need to remind ourselves of the two distinct types of pain and re-commit to being on the higher path, the one that will ultimately lead us to freedom from our addictions.
Staying within your comfort zone doesn’t necessarily mean you are happy there. It’s just what you are used to. Your willingness to expand your comfort zone allows you greater experiences and freedom. To move outside your comfort zone, you have to be able to manage fear. Here are some simple steps to move beyond the shackles of fear, and create the experiences and circumstances to which you aspire.
- Instead of resisting it, acknowledge your fear. For example, “I am afraid I will fail” or “I am afraid I’ll be rejected” or “I am afraid I won’t make enough money.”
- Identify the “gloom and doom” movie you are running in your mind. Ask yourself, what am I imagining will happen?
- Do a reality check. Figure out if your fears have any real basis. In fact, be as methodical as you need to be.
- Replace the gloom and doom movie with one that supports your goals—focus on the movie of the future state you want to achieve.
The truth is that you alone are responsible for making the decision to leave your comfort zone and take these simple steps—but the good news is that you don’t have to do the inner work this requires by yourself. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for the help you need. There is no shame or stigma in needing help from others—the real tragedy occurs when we try to protect our pride and our egos by not asking for assistance. I have needed help many times over the years, and I still reach out for it today when I need to. I deeply appreciate so many people who have been there to help me, and I am profoundly grateful to be able to pay it forward with others who come to me for this.
Will you choose to opt for the pain that will actually end?
Are you ready to live the amazing life of freedom that awaits you at the end of your comfort zone?