Your comfort zones are a manifestation of gravity in your life. Each has a tremendous pull on you… “We’re caught in the tractor beam and it’s pulling us in!”—that kind of pull.
And it wouldn’t be so bad if the gravity were obvious, but comfort zones are sneaky. Sometimes it’s the “truths” we tell ourselves. Like:
“I’m an introvert. I don’t do well with big crowds.”
“I’ve never really been an athlete.”
“I have too many things on my plate right now to add even one more thing.”
“I can’t leave my job (even though I hate it). I have a family to support.”
And these statements may be true. But this isn’t really about truth, it’s about choices. You are choosing to accept your current circumstances, however crappy they are, however easy they are, however boring they are—instead of stepping into the fear of trying the unknown. Maybe you’re continuing to focus on email communication rather than pick up the phone or schedule a face-to-face meeting, even when the latter options might be better for the circumstance. Or you turn down your friend’s request to join her Ultimate Frisbee team, even though it might be a lot of fun. Or you decline that great volunteer opportunity. Or you keep slogging away at your day job and don’t really put the time into your side hustle.
My Comfort Zone: Introversion
I mentioned this in What Strengths Feel Like: I’m an introvert. Yes, I can play an extrovert on TV, but most of the time I’m content (read: comfortable) by myself or in a small group of close friends. For a number of years, that’s meant that my social circle has been pretty small: family, a few close friends, and a still-pretty-small group of acquaintances and colleagues. And I was okay with that. I didn’t really try to reach beyond the comfort zone of my small social circle to make new friends, to join new groups (“I’m not a joiner” has been one of my false truths for years…). I was comfortable with the small group of people I already had in my life. I didn’t mind making new friends, but I didn’t go out of my way to do it, either.
But last fall, that started to change for me—or perhaps I started to change. I started to realize that I didn’t have in my circles the kind of people I was striving to be myself—the kind of folks who were making their own way in the world, creating good works that changed lives and supported a lifestyle not of excess, but of comfort and freedom. Especially freedom. I realized that on my own, I didn’t know how to do what these folks were doing. Not just the logistical, business, online stuff, but the mindset stuff, the facing your fears stuff, the playing big stuff, the changing the world stuff. I didn’t know how to do any of that.
And neither did anyone in my circles.
I knew, then, that I needed to change how I approached being social, connecting with others, “joining”—the old way just wasn’t working for me, and I needed something new, and fast. The reasons were clear: my mindset was changing about the nature of work and business and changing the world, and I needed not only the tools to do that new work, but the support of like-minded folks to help me do it. I’d tried for years, unsuccessfully, to make some of these changes. I’d read a bunch of blogs, read a bunch of books, took a class or two… but nothing really ever changed. I was still the same ol’ me, no closer to that dream of being a champion of freedom and a heroic changer of peoples’ lives. If I was going to do this, I needed to do something different.
When Reasons (and Reason) Aren’t Enough
Okay, so I had my reasons, and they all made sense and sounded good. But I’d had them before, and they’d never gotten me to shift out of my comfort zone, and really make the change. So what did? What pushed me to escape the gravity of my introversion and start making new friendships, connecting with folks doing great work, and learning how to do that myself?
A couple of things did. The first was this build up of positive energy outside my comfort zone, that pulled me toward it…
It’s like this image of a kid sitting on a playground, happy with the swingset and merry-go-round he’s used to. So he keeps swinging, content with what he knows, and pleased with it, particularly when compared to the vacant lot that’s next door. But then the vacant lot becomes the home to a carnival, and suddenly the world outside his little playground is a lot more interesting, and he finds himself drawn to that bright spectacle.
The second energy for change comes from inside the comfort zone: when we compare our current circumstance to the new one we see outside, sometimes it sheds light on just how much we’ve let the old place go… Our playground boy begins to see that the swings are a bit old, the seats are worn, the paint is peeling, the merry-go-round is rusted and squeaks… So not only is the world outside more interesting, but it also sheds light on the flaws that are present in the insular world of the comfort zone.
That two-fold energy is sometimes enough to get us to escape our comfort zone’s gravity: the attraction to the colorful lights and whimsical sounds of the carnival, and the repulsion against the lackluster old world of the playground.
In my example, the repulsion was feeling like I was missing out on something important, something that could really make a difference in my life and in the world. Another was anger at myself if I let yet another opportunity to change pass by without taking action. If I did nothing differently, wouldn’t I be here in the same place, five years from now? Would I regret losing that time, not achieving things I want to achieve, but instead staying safe, risking little, and being comfortable?
And on the other side of my playground fence was the shiny carnival of new friends to meet, new information to absorb, new experiences to take part in, and the possibility of truly changing myself to risk rejection and produce something that was truly me, introversion be damned. That was the draw—the lights of the carnival just outside; I only had to get off the swing and hop the fence to the no-longer-vacant lot, to get to the carnival.
Momentum > Gravity = Liftoff!
Both types of energy can fuel a change. But it’s only when there’s enough fuel to overcome the gravity of the comfort zone that we reach lift-off, that moment of decision, that point of action. And I believe it’s those two things: the decision and the action. A decision without the action is like the boy sitting on the swing, saying to himself, “I’m going to go join that carnival, just as soon as I finish swinging here.” And the next time he looks over, the carnival is gone—packed up and moved to the next town. An opportunity lost.
But if that boy decides to go to that carnival, jumps off that swing in mid-flight (just like we did as kids), and runs over to the fence, he’s already built momentum—forward motion. Even if the fence is tall, and it takes him several tries to get over, that initial action can spur him forward.
It’s important to note: the decision is not a rational thing. It’s not made with your mind. It’s made with your heart, your emotions. You can have all the rational, intellectual reasons for making a change (even a small one), but it’s not until you commit yourself emotionally to a particular course that you can make that leap.
Why? Because staying in your comfort zone is a function of fear. And fear comes from and feeds your lizard brain, your demon, your resistance, your gravity—that primal part of you that causes you to run away or shut down when faced with a threat. And you don’t fight your demon with intellect. Your lizard brain can’t be reasoned with. It takes the emotional power of excitement, of possibility, of hope, to fight off the drag of gravity. All the analysis in the world won’t get you to leave your comfort zone. Only the energy from your emotions will do it.
As I started my push out of my own comfort zone, I was fueled mainly by excitement—at the prospect of truly changing for the better, of doing great work, of being free of the rat race and the false promises of the American Dream, of being true to myself and brave enough to show that truth to others. Another emotion that provided fuel, though, was anger: anger at losing so much time and not making more progress in my change, anger that I still felt weak with fear at the prospect of reaching out and showing my true self to the world. And the last was resolve—I didn’t want to waste another ten years and have nothing to show for it but regret.
Let’s Play a Game
One thing your intellect is good for, however, is a little game you can play that helps you trick your lizard brain. (Yep, you can’t reason with your demon, but you can trick him…).
This game is called “What’s the Worst That Can Happen?” In it, you use your brain to walk all the paths you could take out of your comfort zone, asking yourself “What’s the worst that can happen?” and then “If that happens, then what?” I think you’ll find, as I have, that often times the fear we were feeling about taking the step was about some unknown… and once we pull it out (kicking and screaming sometimes) into the light and really look at it, we see that the horrible fate we thought we’d experience really isn’t that bad, and that we can handle it!
Escaping Gravity Means Using Our Full Selves
So in the end, pulling free of the gravity of our comfort zones—whether it’s for a small change like organizational systems, or for a large change like leaving your job to strike out on your own and become an entrepreneur, writer, designer, inventor, you name it—requires our full selves. It requires our mind to analyze the situation, our body to take the actions necessary to propel us outside our comfort zones, and our heart/spirit/emotions to power ourselves with the desire for change and the energy that possibility brings.
This blog is one of the results of my own struggles in pulling free of my comfort zone. Serving as a local host for my Live Your Legend Local group is another. Now I’m trying to figure out how to start a revolution (maybe just a little one at first), and change the world for the better through the power of word and story and emotion. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
I hope you find this helpful in breaking free of your own comfortable prisons, and taking flight to leave your own mark on the world.
And if you need some more fuel to power and advice to guide you on that journey, I recommend:
[I don’t get any kickbacks, monetary or otherwise, for linking to these guys or their books. I purchased my own copies, and encourage you to do the same. Or at the very least check them out at your local library.]