Sometimes when I’m teaching a class, I blurt. Someone asks a question and I blurt out something that then becomes SOMETHING. And people remember it. And because I didn’t write it down (I blurted, remember?) and because it’s so central to my way of being (doesn’t everyone know this?), I am often surprised that whatever I said has had any kind of impact.[Now it appears I am rambling rather than blurting.]
In some class or other one day or another a year or so ago, a student asked about “getting outside your comfort zone.” And my response apparently helped so many people who subsequently talked about it, that my friend Charlie Gilkey of Productive Flourishing suggested I write it up.
So here goes.
I would say that “Get out of your comfort zone!” is a phrase we’ve heard one or two… thousand times.
Especially from people who are anxious to do something risky and would like company. Or from folks who are conflicted about what they desire and want to normalize it by having someone do it with them. Or from self-proclaimed gurus selling their snake oil. Or from middle-aged men pressuring their naive twenty-something girlfriends. I’m just saying.
“Get out of your comfort zone” reminds me of the middle-school taunt: “You’re no fun! Stop being such a prude!” It’s a shaming, join-the-herd, peer pressure-y catchphrase.
And I dislike it intensely.
Friends, we have a comfort zone for a reason. And it’s good to know the what and why of yours, so you can take care of it – and you.
Sometimes the reason we have a comfort zone is integrity – our comfort zone is like an integrity bubble, and popping out of it may mean violating our own moral code.
Sometimes the reason we have a comfort zone is safety – actual physical safety. If you have a fractured foot, refraining from dancing for a month or so may be “no fun”, but it’s wise. And it’s safe. And it’s within your comfort zone.
Comfort zones can reflect your expertise. Fluency in Spanish, or C++, or the Part 36 rewrite – all may reflect the deep strengths in which you flourish.
Comfort zones protect and orient us, and that can be a good thing. But comfort zones can also become restrictive, if used as a excuse to justify inaction. You want to be safe, I know, but not so safe that you never learn, or grow, or change, right?
The idea of jumping clear of our comfort zone, as we are often urged to do, feels risky. It feels big. It feels icky. And so we don’t do it. And we beat ourselves up for not doing it. And we feel bad as a result.
And I am all for feeling good.
So to stop the endless cycle, just quit thinking “get out of my comfort zone” and start thinking “enlarge my comfort zone.”
That’s all you want to do.
Stretch it a little.
Grow it a bit.
Make your comfort zone just a teensy bit roomier.
When you make a consistent daily commitment to simply enlarging your comfort zone, you create consistent progress toward growing and learning. Each and every day, you make needed, small adjustments and make yourself some extra room.
Enough room, in fact, to be completely and fully yourself.
Which is, in fact, precisely what having a comfort zone is all about.