The curse of your comfort zone

How was your day today?

Was it more of the same old, same old or did you do something different? You may be like many who say they’re very happy with their life the way it is, thank you. These people often say things like “Been going to the same place to have my cup of coffee for years now. Why would I change? They make it exactly how I like it.” 

They tend to be very logical “I always drive exactly the same way to work or to see my friends. Why would I choose a different, longer route? That just doesn’t make sense.” 

And of course, they’re right.

It feels very comfortable to do what you’ve always done, even if you’re not getting the results you’d prefer. We have a saying for that. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”.

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And we nod our head in agreement at these wise words. They’re perfectly true aren’t they? 

I believe the only thing these words are perfectly true for is keeping you in your comfort zone, no matter how unhappy or bored or stifled you feel.

Life in The Zone

Here’s another common saying to guide us on our life’s journey “Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone”. What do we mean when we talk about our comfort zone? It can be your physical environment. Some older people only feel safe in their own home. That’s where they watch TV, especially the news. There aren’t many good news stories on TV. And if it’s on the news it has to be true, terrifyingly true.

The Media is Not a Good Guide to What’s Actually Happening

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In 2000, at the time of the Olympic Games in Sydney Australia, I backpacked solo around Italy for my 50th birthday. En route to my bucket list dream destination, the Amalfi Coast, I stopped in Naples to look around. 

Internet cafes can be difficult to find, but my luck was in. Sitting down and turning on the computer, I was gobsmacked to find a full inbox. Frantic family and friends warned me to avoid Naples because of the riots. “Avoid the riots” they emailed “it looks really bad there!” I was genuinely puzzled. Here I am in the middle of ‘riot-torn Naples’, with no riots to be seen. The only ‘mass of people’ were those crammed into cafes to watch the Olympic Games.

Do you remember the song ‘Scary movie right there on my TV’?

This song was about the 6.30PM news. It rang true because most news programs do report events in a sensationalist, scary way. Heck, nowadays we can just sit back and enjoy real wars streamed live into our lounge rooms. Death. Famine. Pain. Danger.

The world is a scary place, especially if you only experience it from within the confines of your lounge room.

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You may be wondering why this post is called ‘The Curse of Your Comfort Zone’. Operating in your comfort zone doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. You do what you’ve always done, which results in always getting great coffee and getting to your friend’s place on time. What’s bad about that?

You’ll Never Know What You Don’t Know

What if there was a place serving even better coffee and the world’s best chocolate cake? You’ll never discover that place because you’d rather stay with the devil you know. So the saying, ‘Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’ keeps us in the same old situation. We choose something we know over the unknown. When we continue to live out our lives this way, mediocrity and boredom set in.

That devilish saying is used many times in conversation and keeps people from being courageous. It’s used as a cop-out, as an excuse to stay safe, to not dare to try something different.

And it’s not even about staying safe sometimes. How many women have you heard complain about the way their partner treats them? Some talk of being physically or emotionally hurt, yet they still stay. These situations are complex, but often you’ll hear these women say, ‘Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.’

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Have you noticed this saying only offers us two choices, and both choices involve devils? Where are the angels in all this?

We’re All on Automatic

About 20 years ago, I attended my first two-week Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) certification course. Of the many course activities, one sticks in my mind. To start each day, every participant had to share one thing they’d done the previous evening. The tough bit was it had to be something we’d never done before. As we were at the course for eight hours each day, this was a challenge.

Most people struggled, as did I. You’ve picked the takeaway though haven’t you? 

We operate on automatic. This challenge forced us to see how very much on automatic we were. Sure, some things have to be on automatic: that’s a given for our survival. It didn’t take long to discover how set in our ways, how deep in a rut, our lives were. (Definition of a rut: a coffin with the ends knocked out.) 

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We all went to the same cafe for our coffee, and we always took the same route home. This is okay if you are happy with that rut, that same way of doing things. Walk around any city or suburb and tell me how many smiling faces you see? Yet we have a roof over our heads, clothes on our back and food in our fridge. Even so, the smiles are hard to find.

I’ve Got it All But I’m Still Not Happy

Some people have shared they feel guilty because they have everything they could want in life, but they’re still not happy. I tell them they’re delusional. If you truly have everything you want in your life, how could you not be happy? What’s missing?

If you decide you don’t deserve happiness, you’re right. Life works that way. We’ll never find out what’s missing if we stay in our comfort zone until the day we die. Remember, no one’s getting out alive, so when is the right time to make the best of the rest of your life?

Let’s revisit the truism ‘Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.’ 

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I cannot tell you how exhilarating it is to step out, to jump off that edge. But it sure takes guts to do that. Why is it we won’t make changes to our lives until the situation gets so painful, so unbearable, that we’re forced to take action? 

And I’m just like most others when it comes to putting up with living in the zone. 

My work situation had become untenable. Even though I enjoyed the security of a reasonably well-paid senior trainer position and a maintained company car, I was unhappy. Anyone who’s worked in an office has experienced the politics and games played for amusement and attention. The grim faces of many team members hinted at their deep levels of dissatisfaction too. 

My comfort zone was far from comfortable.

But it was doubtful a new employer would view a woman of 58 years favourably. Surely life had more to offer? Bravely, some said foolishly, I set out to start my own training business.

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Here’s another saying ‘One door closes and another door opens.’ The interesting thing is, that door was always there. I just couldn’t see it before.

Your Life in The Comfort Zone

So here’s the takeaway. Jump!

You’ll never discover your potential if you stay tightly curled up like a bud. You’ll never discover the flower you really are if you don’t allow yourself to blossom. Never! Don’t go to your grave regretting what you didn’t do. Life is an adventure. Take some risks. 

And finally “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.” – Abraham Maslow

Will you be stepping out of your comfort zone?