(And when is it actually more harmful than good?)
When I think of my comfort zone, I think of a nice cup of tea, a cosy blanket and my dog snuggled up beside me. This is my place of relaxation and calm. I love retreating to the sofa after a busy day to unwind. It can also be a place of escape, where I can avoid what I think may be stressful and challenging situations.
Where is your comfort zone?
We all have our own comfort zones, and they are important for our wellbeing. A comfort zone isn’t always a location, it can be a place we go to in our minds which feels familiar and safe. Old habits, routines and deep rooted beliefs are centred here. It sounds lovely, right? So why would we ever want to leave this warm and welcoming place?
Is it OK to stay in your comfort zone?
The risk of remaining here is high because it feels easy and we are generally not stretching ourselves to move forward. When we aren’t challenged, we don’t build confidence, and this in turn can lead to lethargy, low self esteem and a lack of energy. I am sure you all know that feeling when you ‘ve been on holiday for a week and by day 4 you are already worried about going back to work. We can feel anxious we’ve forgotten how to do our jobs or that we won’t be able to return to a faster paced life.
Our comfort zone can serve us a place of relaxation and calm, but if we spend too long here, it can actually deplete our energy and drain our motivation. We also feel so safe and secure here that we don’t need to concentrate or focus fully on tasks. This can cause us to feel less present in our daily lives. Almost like we are operating in permanent autopilot mode! (I often observe this in clients with burnout – they feel unable to operate in the stretch zone at all.)
How do I leave my comfort zone?
There are three leaning zones. Surrounding our comfort zone is our stretch zone. This is where learning happens and we are positively challenged. It may feel demanding but if we can persevere and feel able to keep going, our confidence builds and our energy boosts. We feel alive, lightened, engaged and present. Our focus and attention is required. As we move further out of our comfort zone and into the stretch zone, it’s vital that we don’t move so fast as to land into the panic zone! This is where we feel unable to cope, focus or operate effectively. It feels scary, dangerous and often makes us immediately want to run right back to our comfort zone and stay there!
Small steps are key
The ideal way to navigate these zones is to take small steps into the stretch zone. We gain confidence and energy, then return to the comfort zone for short amounts of time to rest. We can then push further into the stretch zone, and as we have developed more confidence and skills. Then we can challenge ourselves more without going into the panic zone. If we can move from comfort to stretch and back regularly and avoid the panic zone completely, we are allowing ourselves to grow steadily.
So it’s Ok to stay in your comfort zone for short periods of time. But don’t allow the cosiness and comfort to keep you there for too long!