Expanding our comfort zones to keep youthful
I’ve probably mentioned “comfort zones” in a number of previous blogs, as it’s a concept I think about a lot. I lead a busy life across a number of different dimensions, including being a parent, an employee, a coach and a blogger. I find myself stepping (or leaping) out of my comfort zone on a regular basis, to stand a chance of getting through everything I need to do! This can range from something huge and scary (like doing a presentation in front of 100 people) to something I just don’t feel 100% equipped for (like a work meeting on an unfamiliar topic). This can apply to each different area of my life.
What do I mean by comfort zone?
A comfort zone is a psychological statein which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease and in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of anxiety and stress. In this zone, a steady level of performance is possible.
What does it feel like to be in our comfort zone?
When we are operating within our comfort zones, things are typically easy (for us) and there is low effort required, hence the “comfort”. It can feel safe, familiar and good – at least initially. Operating within our comfort zone could include doing something we’re skilled at (with our eyes closed) or if we’ve learned something new and become more used to it.
Essentially, we all have comfort zones, whether we’re aware of them or not. But there is no one size fits all.
Unique to me
Our individual comfort zones are a factor of our different skills, experiences and beliefs about ourselves and our capabilities. My own personal comfort zone could differ greatly from my peers, even with similar experiences and aspirations.
It would be very hard for a third party to make an accurate assessment of what is within or outside another person’s comfort zone, even someone you think you know really well.
Comfort zones can vary over time: they can grow as much as they can shrink. Growth, for example, could be based on our experiences and our ability to push ourselves. This could be voluntary and intentional, but could also be through circumstance and opportunity. On the other hand, our comfort zones could shrink based on our confidence levels or a negative experience. This evolution could be slow or extremely quick!
To the extent that comfort zones are a creation in our own mind, we could argue that any movements are within our control.
We also may have different comfort zones for different parts of our lives which may or may not be related. Things I find comfortable in a work situation, could be a huge stretch within a social context and vice versa. On the other hand, progress I make in one area, could also be transferred and used in another part of my life.
Is it OK to stay in our comfort zone?
Yes, it is absolutely OK. Ultimately, it’s your life after all. Some people have ventured beyond their comfort zones before and been burned. They prefer to stay here where it’s safe, familiar, with limited fear of going into panic.
I found this recent article called “Please stop telling me to leave my comfort zone” which covers this.
But there are risks associated with staying where we are for too long.
Why would we want to go beyond our comfort zones?
If it feels so nice to be operating within our comfort zones, why would we want to do anything to change this?
Doing the same thing could lead to boredom or complacency. This could further lead to making mistakes or resentment.
Essentially, we are not growing when we’re within our comfort zones. There is a risk if we stay here too long, that we become stagnant.
While we can always grow our comfort zones, it can get harder if we’re not in the habit of stretching them every now and again. Some people may even feel ‘stuck’.
There is also a risk that if we don’t do anything to push the boundaries of our comfort zones once in a while, they could naturally start to decrease.
What’s beyond comfort anyway?
The are two further zones: stretch and panic!
Outside the comfort zone is the stretch zone. This could be learning something new, adopting a new behaviour or trying a new experience. Being in the stretch zone is not always comfortable (although it isn’t necessarily uncomfortable), but it shouldn’t be painful either. We know that stretching is good for our physical muscles, but it doesn’t always feel good – especially if we do too much too soon, or without warming up first.
Benefits if we do venture out into stretch
- Our comfort zones grow in size and we grow as individuals
- We are more open to new and different experiences
- Just imagine what we could discover about ourselves if we venture out every once in a while
Panic zones are beyond stretch and really don’t feel comfortable. This is not a good place to be. We should be alert to where our boundaries are and where stretch might crossover into panic.
Possible consequences of spending any length of time in the panic zone include feelings of incapacity, anxiety, overwhelm or burn-out. These could ultimately lead to some more serious and longer-term impacts including excessive stress and loss of confidence.
Examples of where I’ve stretched beyond my comfort zone
I mentioned at the beginning that I’m frequently stepping outside of my comfort zone. Here are a few examples that spring to mind:
- Launch of my ALB blog in Mar-17 (and to a certain extent every time I publish my weekly blog)
- Skiing down some tricky slopes
- Completing a standard distance triathlon
- Delivering presentations and workshops
- Coaching assessment – 7 coaching sessions that were listened in on
- Facebook lives and videos
- Tumble turns in the swimming pool with my kids
How do I feel when I’m going from comfort to stretch?
Just before and during, I can experience a range of emotions, including nerves, vulnerability and apprehension, but often also a little excitement. Afterwards I may feel accomplished and relieved, and sometimes ‘high’ on adrenaline!
Why do I put myself through this?
In my mind, and maybe this has developed as I’ve got older and wiser, but its’s better to regret something I’ve done, than something I’ve not done. I also believe that development and growth helps to keep us youthful.
I pride myself on being quite rational and I think:
“What are the risks?”
“What is the worst that could happen?”
“What is the likelihood of that happening?”
I also ask myself “What if I don’t try?”
It could be a case of a missed opportunity. But if there is a problem, itmight not go away unless I face it. Or, I may be stuck where I am if I don’t step out – sometimes literally in the case of skiing!
Tips for expanding comfort zones
I have a few tips to share with you if you’re considering stepping out and ultimately expanding your comfort zone:
- Preparation – time and occasion permitting
- Act ‘as if’ you can already do something
- Try not to over analyse things, just go with it
- Look across your different comfort zones to see what transferrable skills or experiences could help you
- Practice small stretches over time to help you feel more agile and ready for when any bigger opportunities present themselves
Comfort zones are ultimately just in our own minds. They can keep us safe and comfortable, but pushing them can also help us to grow and develop.
I aim to periodically keep putting myself in situations that offer me the chance grow and do something different. This will in turn help to keep me youthful.
Thank you for reading. For more interesting articles, visit my blog at www.agelifebalance.com to learn more.