If someone stopped you in the street and asked you to sing in front of thousands of people tonight, the chances are you would probably say no! Now this is of course an extreme example, but beneath the surface it alludes to a powerful concept in Psychology – the Comfort Zone. We as humans have developed an intense tendency to gravitate towards safety, both consciously and subconsciously avoiding scenarios that could put us at risk. Importantly, this risk does not have to be physical; it could be fears of being judged, ridiculed or made to feel embarrassed as well. As a result, we will often go through life cruising in a space we feel secure, firmly in the middle of our comfort lane! According to psychologists, the best way of defining what’s become known as the Comfort Zone is “a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease and perceive that they are in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of stress and anxiety”. In short, our Comfort Zone is the range of behaviours we feel capable of performing without subjecting ourselves to emotional distress. Nobody likes the feeling of being overwhelmed or crippled by pressure, so surely we should strive to remain within the boundaries of this comfortable space…?
You’ve probably guessed we don’t believe the above statement to be true and we have psychology to back us up on this! In 1907, the limits of the Comfort Zone were neatly explained in the Yerkes-Dodson Law of performance. Don’t worry this sounds scarier than it actually is… Put simply, it highlighted how our abilities can be enhanced by moderate levels of stress, known as arousal. When we experience too little arousal, we plateau and eventually become fatigued by our under-stimulating environment. Too much arousal however and you enter the ‘panic’ zone, where stress and anxiety takes over. The art is finding the perfect balance between passively seeking comfort and actively seeking danger, adopting a mindset that revels in the face of challenges and is willing to take calculated risks. Whilst we may feel at ease functioning at a comfortable level, we are also starving ourselves of the satisfaction, self-discovery and fulfilment that comes with personal growth. This is not to say remaining in your comfort zone is a bad thing because there are times when this may be the sensible option. If you don’t feel you are ready to embark on a task for example, then it makes sense to calmly prepare in a familiar space. Issues arise however when you find yourself creating excuses in your mind, convincing yourself valuable opportunities are unsafe! If you always allow your doubts and fears to hold you back, you’ll find you end up living a much less fulfilling life…
Besides the opportunity for personal growth, stepping outside of your comfort zone carries with it a host of other psychological benefits. Whether it's self-actualisation, whereby you realise your true potential, resilience in your ability to deal with change, or maybe just helping you to become a more grounded individual, exposing yourself to new experiences is vital. The more we submerge ourselves in unfamiliar territory, the more opportunities we are given to learn, develop and grow. What’s more, the further we step outside the boundaries of what we feel comfortable with, the wider we expand our comfort zone as a result. We will all go through peaks and troughs in life, impacting our willingness to say YES. But try to remember how important it is to broaden your horizons and maybe sometimes just give it a go!
Taking a step out of your comfort zone is no easy feat. But when you push your boundaries and widen your perspective, you’ll find there is a lot more to you than what you might have previously thought.
THE COMFORT ZONE SERIES
To help guide you on your journey outside of the Comfort Zone, we’ve collected several activities for you to try. By implementing some of these techniques throughout your daily lives, you will find yourself grabbing hold of opportunities and achieving more than you think.
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Blog Author: Ben Oliver - Feb 8th 2021