The comfort zone is a safe space where we don’t risk, but we don’t grow either. It is not simply a physical space but a psychological concept. It is not limited to a secure cord that we have built around us, but includes both our daily routines and our way of thinking. Therefore, it can become the perfect excuse not to do, not to risk, not to grow and, ultimately, not to live.
Magical things happen outside the comfort zone, change and growth take place, but there is also the dreaded panic zone, so it is important to find a fair balance in life based on a deep understanding of what life is. comfort zone and what can we find when we overcome its confines.
How did the concept of a comfort zone come about?
The comfort zone concept dates back to a classic experiment in Psychology carried out in 1908 by psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson, who discovered that a state of relative comfort generates a constant level of performance.
However, they also pointed out that to improve that performance we need to experience a certain degree of anxiety, go out and conquer a space where stress increases a little. They called that space “optimal anxiety,” and indicated that it is just outside the borders of our comfort zone.
Subsequent experiments confirmed his theory and specified that motivation and effort to achieve a goal increase until the expectation of success or the level of uncertainty reaches 50%, above that figure we begin to become demoralized, demotivated and the level of anxiety it is so high that it unbalances us and leads us to make mistakes.
What is the comfort zone where we live?
The comfort zone could be the sofa in the living room where we prefer to stay instead of going out to explore the world, the stores where we always shop, the job we have been in for more than 10 years or the tourist destination to which we return year after year. However, it is also our way of responding to criticism, the way of facing the opportunities that entail risks and even the way of relating to our partner and / or parents.
The concept of comfort zone refers to a psychological state in which we feel safe and experience no anxiety or fear. It is a “space” that we know from start to finish where we control everything - or almost everything.
The habits that we follow regularly are those that allow us to build that comfort zone since we know exactly - or at least we have the illusion of knowing - what we can expect at each step we take. By minimizing uncertainty, we feel like we have it more or less under control, so we think we are safe.
Therefore, the concept of comfort zone refers to a pattern of behavior that we follow to maintain a neutral level of anxiety. To do this, we resort to a limited repertoire of behaviors, beliefs and affections that allow us to maintain a stable and acceptable level of performance, without taking risks that may generate anxiety.
This means that if we want to stay within the comfort zone to avoid risks and uncertainty, we must assume a passive or avoidance attitude towards life. However, that feeling of security is paid dearly because we are also losing the incentives to live and we will soon fall into the clutches of monotony and apathy.
That is the reason why we stick to certain places, traditions, habits and / or people, avoiding any element that introduces novelty because it also means uncertainty and chaos. As a result, the comfort zone is a space that we have been conquering but that in turn has also conquered or subdued us.
Signs that we are stuck in our comfort zone
Since the comfort zone is a space that builds slowly over the years, many times we do not realize that we are trapped inside. We are so used to our habits and lifestyle that we do not realize how they limit our possibilities to grow and become the person we would like to be or dare to do all those things we have always dreamed of.
Some signs that indicate that you should leave your comfort zone are:
- You don’t grow emotionally and intellectually, but you experience deep apathy.
- You feel deeply unmotivated, no new project or plan encourages you enough.
- You shut yourself off to new ideas as they don’t fit your perfectly structured belief system.
- You are afraid to take risks, so you prefer to miss the good opportunities with the excuse that you could lose more than win.
- For months or years you have followed the same routine, so it has been a long time since you have experienced that incredible feeling of being alive that trying new things generates.
- You feel more isolated and you start to think that everything is meaningless since you don’t find anything stimulating in your daily routine.
- You do not learn anything new that can bring a touch of different color to your life because you feel that you are well like this, although deep down you experience a great emptiness, as if you need something else, although you do not know exactly what it is.
- Your vocabulary has been filled with words like “I would like”, “maybe”, “we are going to see” ... Those vague words that indicate a permanently delayed desire but that in reality are an expression of the fear of leaving the comfort zone .
- You procrastinate a lot, a sign that often indicates you don’t like where you are or what you’re doing.
- You say “no” continuously to all the new plans and ideas that are proposed to you and that imply a change in your routine or way of doing things.
7 good reasons to get out of the comfort zone
American writer Max DePree said, “ We cannot become who we want to be, remaining what we are today .” However, there are many other good reasons to be encouraged to get out of the comfort zone.
- It prepares you for difficult times. No matter how sure we feel in our comfort zone, that space will not protect us from problems, which usually appear in life unexpectedly, generating great uncertainty. If we are not used to changes, these problems can destabilize us and even generate psychological disorders. Learning to live outside the comfort zone, dealing with novelty, unforeseen events and uncertainty will make us emotionally stronger people who will be better able to handle adversity when it occurs.
- You will be more productive. Comfort kills productivity because without that small dose of anxiety that accompanies deadlines and expectations we have the tendency to do the minimum necessary to achieve mediocre results. In short, the comfort zone leads us to mediocrity, to content ourselves. Another possibility is that we fall into the “job trap,” pretending to be “too busy” as an excuse to stay within our comfort zone and avoid new things. Going a little beyond our limits can help us regain the necessary momentum and improve our productivity in a thousand possible ways, including through creativity.
- Your limits will be wider and wider. Once we set foot outside our comfort zone, it expands, which means that we become more open to change. Adopting this attitude allows us to be able to deal with “optimal anxiety” without it bothering us, on the contrary, we learn to use it to our advantage, taking advantage of the energy it brings us.
- It will increase your creativity. The comfort zone represents everything we know and know. Outside is another world to discover. In the comfort zone there are no great ideas or great discoveries, it is necessary to go out of the known to find the inspiration that spurs creativity. Only then will we be able to generate new ideas, see old problems from a different perspective, and establish original connections. In fact, a study carried out at the University of Florida found that students who spent just one semester outside their country obtained better scores on the creativity tests than those who had stayed studying at the same university.
- You will gain self-confidence. Getting out of the comfort zone is a little scary, but when we do it and achieve our goals we experience an incredible feeling of empowerment. In practice, when we are able to deal with situations that frighten us a little, we understand that we are much stronger than we think, which reinforces our self-concept. In addition, as we overcome obstacles, we gain skills that become part of our backpack of tools for life.
- You will feel more alive. When leaving the comfort zone we meet new people and live new experiences. Some of those experiences will not be positive, but others will become a driving force that gives us new energy. We will soon discover that this feeling of emptiness disappears, simply because we learn to enjoy life more.
- You will age better. A study conducted at the University of Texas revealed that getting out of the comfort zone helps us retain cognitive abilities as we age. Keeping the mind active and facing new challenges is essential since they represent an important source of stimulation both mentally and socially. Therefore, staying within the comfort zone means being outside the improvement zone.
How to get out of the comfort zone without entering the panic zone?
Once we know what the comfort zone is and the problems it can cause to become too attached to known habits and things, it is evident that it is necessary to get out of that vicious circle that we have entered. For this we must assume that experiencing a little anxiety from time to time is positive because it keeps us alive, strengthens us and helps us to grow.
However, it is also important to keep that level of anxiety under control, which means that there is no need to jump into the void without a parachute, we can get out of our comfort zone one step at a time, stopping when we feel that anxiety or fear begin to grow in intensity.
There are people who can get out of their comfort zone by taking a big leap because they can manage that level of anxiety. There are others who need to take small steps at once. The important thing is not how you do it or the pace you carry, but rather that we are able to expand our horizons more and more.
In any case, the secret lies in finding a balance in which that anxiety for the new and unknown generates a positive state, it should not make us feel bad. To do this we must ensure that we stay in the growth zone.
On the contrary, falling into the panic zone can become paralyzing and terrifying, causing us to return frightened to hide in the original comfort zone. In the panic zone we experience a deep sense of lack of control and fear of losing what we have achieved.
There are those who affirm that a step beyond the panic zone awaits us a magical zone, but the truth is that it is not essential to experience that space that can cause us so much discomfort if we make sure to continuously expand our growth zone. These exercises to get out of the comfort zone will allow you to expand your growth zone without experiencing too much anxiety.
It is not convenient to live eternally outside the comfort zone
It is important to get out of the comfort zone, but it should not become an obsession either. We must keep in mind that we cannot live outside our comfort zone all the time. From time to time it is useful to return to that space where we feel safe to calmly process our experiences.
In fact, if we make the mistake of completely forgetting about that comfort zone, we fall into the risk of suffering what is called “ hedonistic adaptation ”, which means that new things and experiences cease to impress us and no longer make us feel alive. We have become used to the adrenaline rush they produce. That is the reason why the incredible becomes ordinary in no time.
Therefore, we do not have to see the comfort zone as our enemy, as many gurus of Personal Development affirm, it is an opportunity to grow but also a space where we can comfort ourselves.
Finally, this video explains in an educational way what the comfort zone is and how to get out of it. It is worth every minute.
Park, D. et. Al. (2014) The Impact of Sustained Engagement on Cognitive Function in Older Adults: The Synapse Project. Psychol Sci ; 25 (1): 103-112.
Lee, CS et. Al. (2012) On the Cognitive Benefits of Cultural Experience: Exploring the Relationship between Studying Abroad and Creative Thinking. Cognitive Psychology; 26 (5): 768-778.
Yerkes, RM & Dodson, JD (1908) The relation of strength of stimulus to rapidity of habit formation. Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology ; 18: 459-482.