Comfort aka a lack of hardship is inherent in our current pursuit of happiness. Humans are creatures of comfort. We like it easy. We like our comfort foods. We like to feel safe.
But being uncomfortable could be our greatest ally in living a life well lived.
Comfort lulls us into routine that doesn’t require thinking and so a repetition of the same. Sure it’s nice to switch off but permanent auto-pilot means we’re missing our life entirely. After all, engagement is key to happiness.
Psychologists Andy Ryan and Dawn Markova identified three zones of existence – comfort, stress, and stretch.
Obviously all three zones have their relevance and upside. But if you want change, stretch is where you want to be. Comfort is “the realm of existing habit” (ie auto pilot) and stress is just too unproductive and destructive to be all the time. That’s “when a challenge is so far beyond current experiences as to be overwhelming”.
So how does getting out of our comfort zone engender change?
1 Be Present
Because the terrain of the “new” is unchartered, you have to be present to orient yourself and navigate. There is no fall back on familiar routines or operating on auto-pilot. Going to the edge keeps us on our toes.
When we are present, we are anchored in the Now, with a fuller scope of awareness and open to new opportunities. We connect to the truth and wisdom within so we can choose consciously. Choice changes up the whole paradigm.
2 Befriend Your Fears
Fears run the whole gamut of sizes and renditions. It is often shapeless and thus scary, built on a seed of experience long ago. It’s only when we look Fear in the eye that we begin to understand what it is that we even fear. By naming it and giving it shape, we can confront the core of the matter, rather than the amorphous shape-shifting mass we imagine. We become friends with Fear, and with ourselves. There is no battle with friends. There is only a way forward.
The key here is to engage the small fears, and not move into the stressful fight-or-flight mode that is triggered by big daunting fears. And embrace the “not knowing”. In the space of uncertainty and ambiguity lies potential.
3 Free Ourselves Through “Failure”
You cannot have innovation, unless you are willing and able to move through the unknown and go from curiosity to wonder.
No one likes to be a failure and most people aim to avoid it. But failures are underrated opportunities to rework and retool, and to finetune how we approach a problem, a challenge, and life itself. It’s about how we pick ourselves up that counts, not that we get tripped up. When we let go of judging ourselves on our failures, we untie ourselves just a little more from our fears.
“Failing” and knowing it is not a failure is freeing, and freedom. Freedom to go further, to explore, to try new and different, to innovate.
4 Be Awesome & Empowered
When we leave our comfort zone and try something new, it can be scary and ego-smashing. But when we make friends with fear and acquaint ourselves with the freedom within failure, we will most likely discover how capable we really are.
We always just figure it out, somehow. To know that we are okay when we didn’t think we’d be – that feeling is awesome and empowering. And we are ramped up for more.
5 Enjoy New Connections
Doing something new like taking a different route to work creates new pathways in our brain. Research shows that when we make new associations or challenge old assumptions, we stimulate our brain cells which not only leads to active nerve cells but new parallel pathways. Mental stimulation (which requires active focus) keeps neuron networks from shrinking. This keeps our brain plastic, flexible, and regenerating.
Not only do we make new synaptic connections, we are more likely to make connections with new people and new experiences. ie change.
To get you out of your comfort zone, baby steps, here are a few suggestions:
→ Take a different route to work/school every day
→ Join Toastmasters
→ Pull a Costanza (remember Seinfield?)- do the opposite of what you’d normally do
→ Try something new – a new restaurant, a new wardrobe colour, a new class
→ Connect with different people – say hello to strangers, volunteer, start a blog, join meetups
→ Wire your brain for joy
So when was the last time you did something for the first time?