Sitting in our comfort zone is a natural instinct. It makes us feel confident, relaxed and safe. You can do your job on autopilot, and you don’t need any social battery with friends you’ve known for years. It’s familiar and anxiety-free. But sitting in your comfort zone all the time doesn’t lead to growth, or the discovery of new things that make you feel good. You might not know how much you love cycling if you put off doing it through fear of being uncomfortable. So what is your discomfort zone? And how can you break out of your comfort zone to embrace it?
The Science Behind Our Comfort Zone
Our comfort zone is our natural state (or personal bubble) where stress and anxiety are at their lowest because everything is familiar. Our brains seek out and sit in this zone to avoid anxiety and uncertainty, preferring the safety of the known as a survival mechanism. But this very instinct also keeps us from experiencing growth and learning new things in the modern world, where the dangers it was intended to protect us from no longer exist.
The idea of comfort and discomfort zones is rooted in research that developed the Yerkes–Dodson Law, which states that performance increases as stress increases, and performance decreases as stress decreases. It's basically safety and stagnation on one side, and potential growth and anxiety on the other.
What are the 3 'Comfort Zones'?
There are three main zones: comfort zone, discomfort zone and panic zone. In some theories there are a few more than this: comfort zone, fear zone, learning zone and then growth zone.
Comfort Zone - Your personal chill zone, where everything is familiar and easy. Like your daily routine that runs on autopilot. You don’t feel stressed or anxious.
Discomfort (Learning) Zone - The space outside your comfort zone. It feels a bit uneasy but achievable and exciting. You continue in this zone for growth and can work towards new goals and achievements.
Panic Zone - This is where challenges exceed your current capabilities or you don’t have enough external support, leading to overwhelming stress and a decrease in performance and happiness.
Aim to navigate from your comfort zone to your discomfort zone without veering into the panic zone for optimal growth. It can be tricky to know exactly where the boundaries of these zones lie, which is why you should set small goals that push you into the fear zone a little.
It’s not easy. As humans, we’re wired for survival and naturally shy away from perceived ‘threats’ as much as we can. And we can talk ourselves out of doing things that make us uncomfortable - “what if I’m rubbish at cycling?” or “what if I make a mistake my interview”. By talking ourselves out of doing things through a worry of not doing it perfectly, or not being very good, we wouldn’t try anything new.
Moving into your discomfort zone requires facing some uncertainty, and a little bit of fear, but will lead to personal growth, resilience, and maybe even discovery a new passion. Plus, our brains grow when challenged - trying new things can literally make you smarter and happier.
How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone Into Your Discomfort Zone
Our best advice? View challenges as opportunities, not threats. You may not enjoy something outside your comfort zone, but you’ll learn something new by giving it a try.
Make a plan: Break down your goal into manageable steps that push you out of your comfort zone gradually.
Small steps - If you’ve never ran a 5k before, try running for 30 minutes at whatever pace you can. Then try a little longer or faster next time. Don’t put yourself in the panic zone by doing too much too soon.
Take action and adjust: Start working towards your goal, recognising when you're pushing past your comfort zone, or falling back into it. It's about finding balance, not pushing into panic.
Reframe a fear as an opportunity. Shift your mindset to see each challenge as an opportunity to learn something new about a topic or yourself.
Remind yourself no-one’s watching - In reality, strangers don’t really care if you’re new to something, such as going to the gym. They’re only focusing on their own routine so don’t let yourself be put off by thinking people are judging.
Find a buddy or community - Everything’s less daunting with a friend or in a community. They can encourage you, and you can learn together.
Celebrate wins - Celebrate each thing you do that gets you out your comfort zone, whether that’s 30 seconds of cold water therapy or a 2km run.
Some examples of things you can do to step out of your comfort zone. One thing to remember is
Stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t about being inviting stress for no reason; it’s about growing. Understanding the dynamics of comfort zones, and actively choosing to step out of them, equips you to tackle new projects, goals, and adventures with confidence. Embracing a little stress and discomfort can boost your adaptability and self-confidence in the process.
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