The comfort zone is a phase where we find ourselves in a comfortable environment, and we know precisely the situation we’re getting into. Adventuring out of this frame of mind might seem scary, but science has discovered that it could have benefits on our mental health. Read along on the advantages of breaking out of your comfort zone and follow our quick guide to start immediately.
It’s easy to find routines comfortable. Knowing what we have to do and when we have to do it, gives us a certain level of confidence that things will result in the way we want them to. But doesn’t that make life boring?
Given the amount of opportunities that we can make for ourselves, it should be easy to break out of a routine, but the fear within new adventures makes us slow down and play it safe.
And let’s be clear, taking a risk doesn’t necessarily mean scheduling a bungee jump tomorrow. It could be a small task that takes us out of our everyday routines, such as trying out new food, a new fashion style, or a different movie genre for once.
The point is picking something new and maybe a little bit scary that startles the brain out of a monotonous day. Do you know where your comfort zone lies?
What is the comfort zone?
The comfort zone is a behavioral space where activities and actions fit a routine and pattern that reduces stress and risk. When discussing the subject Brené Brown, psychology author, speaker, and research professor at the University of Houston says: “Where our uncertainty, scarcity, and vulnerability are minimized—where we believe we’ll have access to enough love, food, talent, time, admiration, where we feel we have some control.” As it is a state that provides us with a certain amount of mental confidence, we can imply that it is the natural state that most people lean-to.
And let me make something clear, the comfort zone isn’t a good or bad thing, nor it is holding us back in life. The word ‘comfort’ is there for a reason, and it exists as a state of mind where our stress and anxiety levels are the least while performing a particular activity.
The perks of staying inside this state are rather obvious ones: regular happiness, low anxiety, and reduced stress. Of course, every level depends on the person, as both our anxiety and stress are different from everyone else’s.
Back in 1908, psychologists M. Yerkes and D. Dodson explained that a state of relative comfort created a steady level of performance, hence the “comfort zone.” They experimented using mice and found that stimulation improved performance up to a certain level. When we pass that level and experience too much stress, performance deteriorates. This is what they called a state of “optimal anxiety.”
In search of Optimal Anxiety
Optimal anxiety is a headspace where the stress levels are slightly higher than normal or that feeling that we’re just outside of our comfort zone.
When stepping out of our comfort zone, we may start to feel anxious and uneasy with the situation. Now, we must face two options about how to respond to this anxiety: suppress it or embrace it.
Sure, we can go ahead and think that we will not do well in that new taekwondo class; or that our precious story draft will be uninspiring and bland. But why not use this energy to improve rather than diminish our work? We can always shift attitudes and use this drive as fuel to perform better!
According to the “Yerkes-Dodson Law,” performance increases with physiological and mental stress, anxiety, or arousal feelings. Additionally, research states that it’s easier to focus on these unknown tasks because of the challenge. Thus, we can use the extra motivation of doing something new and exciting even if it’s nervous energy!
The main objective is to get to a level that forces an improvement in skills. We will eventually become comfortable with that recently acquired level of anxiety. This is what Alina Tugend defines as an “expanded comfort zone.” The new routine to follow is a “productive discomfort,” which helps to gradually decrease the scary sensation of trying different things until it eventually disappears.
Always keep this in mind: new and challenging tasks will keep us engaged easier. Just be sure not to go way overboard with the stress & anxiety of these new tasks, as it may diminish, instead of improving performance. Remember the rule of thumb: nothing in excess.
Escaping the comfort zone
Reaching that peak of mental productivity and performance brings certain benefits along, such as making us more productive; helping us to deal better with new and unexpected changes; making it easier to push our boundaries, and finding it effortless to exploit our creativity.
Of course, the personal benefits go further, taking into account that the new activities and skills we get into will upgrade our self-improvement. As you can see, there are way more benefits to breaking that comfort zone than staying in it, so let’s get into it and start broadening our horizons!
In case you need some guidance in how to push our boundaries, here are some suggestions for you:
Take baby steps: Little by little is the way to go. Having a plan in place takes us to have crucial action. If your goal is to run a marathon, start with an achievable goal of a daily walking routine, and gradually step it up until you’re ready for those 42 K!
Be curious: Start researching new hobbies to get into or experiences to go for. Begin taking a baking course or start painting! Being curious to learn further opens lots of doors.
Give up control: Letting someone else take the lead is a great way to apply Optimal Anxiety. Not being in control of crucial decisions or agreeing to something we wouldn’t normally consider will take us out of the comfort zone.
Have a plan: Keep a list of growth goals, write down a step-by-step guide where you go from the easiest to the more complicated stuff, and be sure to keep it close by. When we get in the habit of reading our goals, we become more accountable to them.
Keep yourself accountable: This is a critical step because the idea of telling what we have achieved to people around us keeps us motivated. Also, when somebody else knows about our plans, they might help with that ‘push’ we need and make it hard to quit.
Taking creative risks
Taking a creative risk is a practice that can help us find the real magic of creativity. Of course, one of the main characteristics of creative people is that they are risk-takers in the way that they like to challenge their thinking. They are not afraid to change their practices or being taken out of what is usual and known to them; hence they live way far out a comfort zone.
To take creative risks means not minding what others think and having excitement to put out innovative ideas of their authorship into the world.
So, because creativity is about something where we can’t anticipate or guarantee a specific outcome, being creative turns out to be all about taking risks. Talk about a risky and adventurous activity!
Just thinking about creativity immediately transports us out of a “safe zone.” And that is great for challenging our boundaries, for taking risks, and for being free! Don’t think too far. These creative risks can be as simple as attending a ballet performance, dancing, taking a creative writing course, joining a book club, learning to play a new instrument, or joining a watercolor workshop!
Remember that creativity means different things to different people, and the needs and results vary a lot. Just be sure to understand YOUR needs and the situations that will help you take the creative risks you look for.
In conclusion, pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone makes us challenge ourselves while helping us grow and taking new risks. Being somewhat uncomfortable for a moment can force us to achieve goals we never thought we would.
Finding something new that’s not easy for us can be challenging, but the rewards will surely be worth it! Once we start stepping out and achieving new goals, we will realize that the comfort zone isn’t so comfortable after all.
Nevertheless, always remind yourself that while it’s great to break out of our safe zone, it’s also good to be able to go back whenever one needs to.
And now I ask you, when was the last time that you tried doing anything out of your comfort zone?
Do you think people in your workplace could get more out of their comfort zone by trying something new, such as a watercolor workshop that could help them relax and help them unleashing their creativity? Click here to request (more info on) a company watercolor workshop!