I spend most of my life in my comfort zone. I swim at Sinsheimer pool in San Luis Obispo two days a week. I’ve had my office at the same location since 1989. Most mornings my husband brings me coffee in bed.
Wikipedia defines a comfort zone as “a psychological state in which things feel familiar” and people feel at ease and in control of their environments.
When we’re in our comfort zones we know what to expect. Our stress levels are relatively low. Major decisions are on the back burner. We operate with minimal thought.
Comfort zones play an important role in psychological health. A key component of emotional stability is identifying those behaviors that bring us satisfaction, then creating a lifestyle where they happen on a consistent basis.
But comfort zones have a dark side. They can lull us into a state of mental torpor. Being too comfortable inhibits growth — it’s good to occasionally mix things up.
Life frequently provides the catalyst for change. Sometimes the events are predictable, such as moving into a college dorm or having a baby. At other times, the changes are cataclysmic, as in a house fire, the death of a loved one or a horrific diagnosis.
Whatever the scenario, the outcome is the same. We’re forced out of our comfort zones. We have to react and adapt to new situations. We learn and grow as a result.
I remember one friend relating that her cancer diagnosis was the best thing that had ever happened to her.
“It was a wake-up call,” she said. “I looked at my life and decided to fix what wasn’t right.”
Fortunately, we needn’t wait for the next Armageddon before stepping out of our comfort zones. We can do so in simple, controlled ways that still garner positive results.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit www.lindalewisgriffith.com.
How to expand your comfort zones
- Learn a new instrument. You’ll be a beginner, so you’ll hear inner messages whining, “This is hard,” and “I can’t do this.” Hang in there. Working past that initial frustration is part of the challenge.
- Take a different route to work. Figure out another way to go. Calculate the time and traffic. Pay attention to what’s around you. Enjoy the struggle and the new scenery.
- Sit with new people at your place of worship. Introduce yourself to folks you don’t know. Strike up a meaningful conversation. Repeat the process every week for a month. Encourage others to follow suit.
- Cook a new recipe. Eating habits can get stale. Try a genre of food that you’ve never considered. Go vegan for a week, or mix up a savory spice blend. Your palette and sense of creativity will feel the zip.
- Attend a political event sponsored by the opposing party. Listen closely to the speakers’ viewpoints. Understand what makes them tick. Observe participants’ behavior and reactions. Recognize that their votes count the same as yours.
- Embrace discomfort. Stepping out of your comfort zone is disquieting. That’s the point. Notice how it feels. You can always return to safety.