In this recent episode of The Mindful Steward Podcast, I analyze the comfort zone, what it is, and what is exactly is so comfortable about it? My conclusion is simple, the comfort zone is a myth, and here’s why.
For years of my life, I lived in my comfort zone. Even in the areas where I expanded, I did so mostly from good fortune, by poking around the outer regions of my comfortable space to see how much I could experience while remaining deeply within my personal boundaries. I had no desire to expose myself to the real world, and all the potential fears and failures that came along with it. Although I was comfortable, the harsh reality was unsatisfied. It took me years to realize this, and even more years to break free of it.
The comfort zone is not comfortable at all. It is a place filled to the brim with “what if’s”, fears and most detrimentally, regrets. For myself personally, the comfort zone was a place where I constantly thought about what my life would be like if I said yes to all of the things I was constantly retreating from. I was completely consumed by the considerations in my mind, instead of the end goal of the lifestyle I wanted. I listened to every doubt, I listened to every excuse and every complaint. This mental chatter is what dictated how I was living, my decision making seemed to have no say in the matter of what I was creating. The comfort zone was not comfortable, it was only risk-free. At the ripe age of 28 years old, I have finally come to realize how different these two things truly are. Comfort is much more closely related to ‘satisfaction’ that is it to ‘safe’, and there is no satisfaction in living a life where you back away from your dreams and hopes. It is in the trying, and the experiencing of challenge where true satisfaction is created.
As outlined in the episode, I was once an incredibly shy child. It was something that haunted me for years. It crippled my confidence and held me back in so many aspects of my life I probably couldn’t even count them on all my fingers and toes. It took me a very long time to understand that this tendency to be shy, to be quiet and to be reserved was nothing more than a choice I was making. I chose, accepted and believed the story that I could not talk to people. I allowed this to dictate my life until a set of books and readings finally created a fresh perspective in my mind: that my beliefs and thoughts were nothing more than a habit. That I could reprogram my subconscious mind to interact with people in the way I had always wanted. I had social anxiety, and I got rid of it through practice, through affirmation work, and through consistency. As human beings, we are creatures of habit in nearly every way. To create successful results in our lives we need to go all the back to our biological roots and create successful habits that will allow a given success to occur. This is the approach I took, and here are the steps I followed when I chose to overcome my shyness. I was never easy, but it was worth it in nearly every way.
I started small.
When first starting out, I chose to leave my comfort zone through small but consistent actions. For me, this meant speaking to strangers often. In the beginning, just saying hi to one new person a day was a win. Over time, I upgraded this goal consistently to the point where I was having small but easy conversations with strangers in grocery stores, restaurants or at the bus stop. What I learned was that as I made a simple habit of being open to conversing, the entire experience became easier. As it became easier, it simply became second nature. Saying hi to my waiters eventually led to saying hi old ladies in the condiment aisle. Soon after, I would initiate conversations with these same people. To make a small story short, we don’t need to torture ourselves with discomfort to progress toward our goals. Small but consistent action will manifest incredible results if we are dedicated.
I ignored my mental chatter.
Like many of us, what held me back most, was the tiny voice in the back of my head that constantly provided me with an imaginary case where the worst possible situation could occur. Rationally, this is probably not going to happen very often, but as humans, we often allow the hypothetical chance of something occurring to control our reality in the present. Although developing enough confidence and resilience to put this step into action required a lot of self-work on its own, this is a key to success. What to nearly all high achievers like Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Gates have in common? They do not have the habit of hesitating. They act, they create, they base decisions off feedback from the moment, and not on worst-case possibilities. They are profoundly related to reality in ways mental chatter could never interrupt. When the little voice in the back of my head started telling me not to talk to that person, I did it anyway. I developed a craving for those moments where I could beat my own doubts. The habit of facing fear head-on is one that turns us from passively mechanical beings into warriors.
Whenever my growth slowed down, I took a leap of faith.
Personal development is a process jam-packed with ebbs and flows. Eventually, times hit us where we have two choices: to stagnate where we are or do something drastic. These moments are both inevitable and important. The key here is to be aware of our internal state of affairs. Drastic results will certainly require drastic measures. When I felt my conversational skills were no longer improving, I did something crazy, I got a job where high-pressure interactions were critical to my success. When I hit my next social flatline, I did something crazy. I started publishing my conversations with strangers online, and launched my podcast. Both of these experiences were terrifying, but they forced me to grow in ways I could never describe, and I am incredibly grateful for both their lessons and proud of the courage I had in taking those actions. Giant leaps are how we hack truly exponential growth in our lives. These experiences are never comfortable, and neither should they be. To stand out in this world, we have to go through processes and experiences that stand out too. Our outer world is nothing more than a reflection of internal world. It is a simple rule that governs the universal reality we live in today.
“The comfort zone is a psychological state in which one feels familiar, safe, at ease, and secure. You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
― Roy T. Bennett
Although there is a case to be made about living comfortably, the case for living abundantly, filled with excitement and passion for the future is likely doubly as strong. Pushing the boundaries of our human experience is simply a pre-requisite for a life filled with adventure and fulfillment. It is necessary for the internal satisfaction that truly ignites the human spirit. With that being said, I know from experience that the comfort zone can be a very difficult place to escape from, especially for someone who has made a habit of resisting the unknown such as the younger version of myself. The comfort zone is not something we have to leap out of in order to be competent. True growth is slow, and it is steady. It is in a commitment to improving ourselves that these potentials live. A fluid mix of accountability, discomfort, leaps into the unknown and small actions are a recipe for change with powerful results. Living mindfully and with our intentions for the future in mind is the cornerstone of true fulfillment. With these in mind, growth is simply inevitable.