There is an uncomfortable truth lurking in the shadows of our comfort zones: they are more self-made prisons than the personal playgrounds or protective bubbles we like to think.
Despite its name, your ‘Comfort Zone’ isn’t necessarily a comfortable or happy place. Some people are comfortable residing in a space of intolerance, anger or self-pity; others even seem to thrive in an environment of high stress. Many refuse to leave such spaces despite being miserable.
So, why does recognising the boundaries of our comfort zones matter? Self-esteem.
We are not born with self-esteem, we grow it through positive risk-taking adventures. Through babyhood, childhood, teenage and for the rest of our lives.
As babies, children and young adults we need to be nurtured – ‘encouraged to grow’. We need to be encouraged to take those risks to reap the rewards of discovering our own abilities and to do so knowing that we have support, such as going to nursery for the first time, making a new friend, holding a scary snake or petting a big dog for the first time, auditioning for a play, trying a contact sport, riding a bike and so on.
So the same for adults – we need peer and familial support and new positive risk-taking adventures.
When we are not nurtured or simply refuse to be nurtured as many do, and put up barriers or ‘defences’, we end up walled in to a comfort zone of fear. We think the walls protect us but they simply keep us captive to our own demons.
We cling to our comfort zones typically because therein we have familiarity and predictability. Even if what is familiar and predictable is uncomfortable – anyone who has been stuck in an abusive marriage for years will tell you exactly that… they were ‘stuck’.
So some force is needed to overcome the stuck-ness. This is why the decision to take a risk is crucial. The risk is the force needed.
Everything and everyone we love changes or leaves at some point or at many points, and so do we. From leaving a job, town or relationship to changes of career, lifestyle or mindset. So why stay ‘stuck’ expecting things to remain familiar? Surely this only can lead to anxiety and resentment? Loss is difficult but also a necessary part of growth beyond those comfort zones. Read more on how loss creates space for gain.
There is a difference between being uncomfortable and being in discomfort. Bring uncomfortable suggests there is something with agency poking at or harming us in some causal way and to be in discomfort suggests a lack of that which comforts us. Ironically, they both hold space for the illusion of a comfort zone.
Until we move, take a risk and see what’s beyond our boundaries we won’t recognise either the agency responsible or what we lack, and we will continue to be our own captors.