How Much did You Pay for that Comfort Zone?

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Comfort zones feel good. They take the sharp edges off life. Comfort zones are a relaxing place to recharge, to heal, and to prepare us for our next adventure.

When my Son was small, my little family and I took many canoe trips into the wilderness. We would spend weeks exploring the middle of nowhere. Each day was an adventure of the body, mind, and spirit. And each day was a challenge to stay safe in sometimes violent weather, or on potentially dangerous alpine hikes. Nature wouldn’t bat an eye if we fell to our deaths or drowned in some river.

So at the end of each day, it was a quiet and profound pleasure to set up camp, cook dinner, and relax, swapping stories about our day on the water or in the mountains. Our evenings in camp were our comfort zones. We needed them and we enjoyed them. Our next day’s challenges were more rewarding because of our evening’s comfort.

But comfort zones can turn on you in an instant, and when they do…

Comfort zones will cost you dearly

A comfort zone carries a hefty price tag if you abuse it. Stay too long and you will miss the adventure, or worse — you will weaken yourself until you are no longer able to have an adventure. What begins as a physical, mental, and emotional recovery zone, quickly turns into a draining, lethargic experience that saps your spirit.

On our canoe trips, it would have been so easy to stay in the first idyllic spot we found, never venturing far from camp, spending more time relaxing than exploring. It would feel good for a while.

But we would have missed all the exhilarating highs we experienced after several hours of hiking up inclines much more suited to mountain goats than a family of three. And in hindsight, we would have dearly missed, even the sudden storms and heavy water that our adventures threw our way. I can’t begin to tell you how many wonderful, though risky, moments would not be ours to enjoy, to learn from, and to remember, if we stayed put.

So as tempting as it is to indulge your comfort zones, it may be costing you dearly. They could be blocking untold richness of experience and happiness.

Sure, it is scary to move out of a comfort zone. It takes a lot of effort to break camp and willingly put your body, mind, and spirit, through yet another day of uncertainty.

But it is the uncertainty of life that holds the promise of adventure. Discoveries are never made on familiar ground.

Is it time to leave your comfort zones?

How do you know when you have languished too long?

When my wife, my Son, and I, found ourselves in a beautiful spot that was difficult to leave, we would notice our feeling tone change. Instead of the nourishing charge and quiet peace of a proper comfort zone — the way it felt when it was doing us good to be there — we started to feel lazy and a little bored.

Soon, each of us in our own way began to look into the distance, wondering what was around the last bend in the shoreline we could see. Would we be able to paddle up the river that empties into the lake? What would that be like? Where would it take us? We would only have to glance at each other to know that we would be breaking camp and pushing on, all senses engaged and on full alert.

I try to remind myself of those times when I start to feel that fearful, sluggish, lazy avoidance, that characterizes my current comfort zones. Sometimes I think that I am tired of pushing forward into my personal unknown — but then I remember what I might be missing — the tales by the fire that will go untold if I don’t.

Ways to leave your comfort zone

Everyone knows that comfort zones can be bad for you. But how, when your senses have been lulled into a sticky sleep, can you muster the courage for your next adventure?

Just how do you rekindle that spark, that willingness to be brave and to suffer if need be, for something so uncertain?

There are no magic formulas to get you and me going again when we have overstayed our welcome in a comfort zone, but here are some questions to ask yourself…

  • What do you most want?
  • What are you most afraid of?
  • How happy are you in your comfort zone? Be honest.
  • Are you avoiding being present for your feelings, and accountable to your aspirations, by abusing drugs or alcohol?
  • Do you feel guilt tug at your insides because you know in your heart that you have been giving up on yourself?
  • When you think of your dreams, do you mostly feel sad?
  • Ask that “still small voice” inside of you — the one that knows the truth — is it time now to muster your courage and set out on your next adventure?

Just one step

Sometimes there are no obvious or easy routes out of a comfort zone. Sometimes we need to just begin.

When I began this article a couple of hours ago I had no idea what my topic would be. I was feeling down and uninspired. So I wrote that, that I was uninspired, and as I wrote those thoughts I realized that I was uninspired because I was avoiding taking my next step. I was fearful, and it was far easier for me to languish in this not so comfortable, stale zone, than to move forward.

By just beginning this article, even with complete uncertainty, I was able to become clear about my situation. Typing that first sentence was a small, I thought meaningless, action. I think the sentence read, “I have no idea what to write.” Writing that seemingly useless thought though, has lead to the realizations I need to begin my next adventure.

So ask yourself those questions, and answer honestly. There is no one listening to your answers but you. There is no one to deceive, except yourself.

And once you have asked and answered those questions — take that first step, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to you. Just do it and see where it leads. Then take another step.

Change requires courage. You will trigger your fears and avoidance, in direct proportion to how high your aspirations are and how deeply entrenched you are in your comfort zone.

It can be tough to leave this once nourishing spot, to set out on your trip again. It may be difficult; it may dangerous; it may be exciting; it might just blow you away with wonder and magic.

It can be anything you imagine or anything you fear — but you will never know until you take that first step — out of your comfort zone.

Over to you now…

16 thoughts on “How Much did You Pay for that Comfort Zone?

  1. Lexi of Creative Energies

    I love your take on comfort zones! We do need enough, but not too much. Makes me remember our trips down the Smith River in Montana, 61 miles without a takeout. We would load rafts with all our gear and camp along the way, a great, but physically demanding adventure!

  2. John R. Post author

    Lexi, that sounds like a lot of fun. 61 miles without a takeout. Wow. I’ll bet you rested well each night.

    It takes discipline and no small amount of guts to do what you did. What a great adventure to remember and draw from.

  3. Lexi of Creative Energies

    John,
    We did it several different years, during April, May, or June. April was my favorite month to go, except the year the air mattresses seemed to have been stolen at a gas station on the way there. We did not notice their absence until our first campsite on the river.

    Life jackets are a dismal substitute for air mattresses…

    Blizzards were a hazard, but we escaped lightly with those. Worse was low water, sprained both knees one year dragging the loaded raft over low places. But the experiences overall were fabulous.

  4. John R. Post author

    “But the experiences overall were fabulous.”

    Lol — and in hindsight, probably as much because of, rather than in spite of, all the troubles you had to cope with.

    No air mattresses — ouch! One of the beauties of water trips is that you can bring such luxuries as air mattresses. I feel your pain ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Tabs

    I saw the words “Comfort Zone” and I cringed, then I read the first paragraph and thought how nice. But I hesitated and thought he is talking about something else… But you are not, you are talking about the comfort zone that made me cringe but you managed to wrap it nicely in fuzzy, warm coat, thanks.

    Everyone should print those question, the one you should ask yourself each day is “How happy are you in your comfort zone? Be honest.” if the answer is “No”, then it is time to get out of the Zone.

    Thanks for the great reminder, often time you don’t realize your are in the comfort zone rut.

    Cheers

  6. John R. Post author

    Tabs, Thanks for those comments, and for pointing out that the excerpt on the home page doesn’t firmly set out what I will be talking about. I might be recounting a trip rather than speaking about the pros and cons of comfort zones.

    I like your expression “the comfort zone rut.” You’re right — just when we think we’re in a groove — it’s quietly turning into a rut ๐Ÿ™‚

    I went to your blog and I enjoyed your article on developing guiding principals for your life. I am a huge fan of working with basics and foundational thinking. I hope more people read your article.

    John

  7. Monica

    I enjoyed your article here on comfort zones and it’s funny because during my most lethargic times I would have never thought I was in an overused “comfort zone”. In our most comfortable state, it would seem to be difficult to rouse the idea that we might be too comfortable…you know? The questions you posed are excellent and cut to the heart of the matter: is our Soul able to express itself in this “zone’? Thanks for another thoughtful and enjoyable read John ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Lindsay

    Nice post! I’m in the process of selling my condo and the next logical step is for me to buy a house, and be settled and stable and all that… but I am thinking of ditching my comfort zone and heading off to travel (walkabout style) for six months or so… I’ve never gone anywhere for more than three weeks, but I’ve deliberately set up and internet lifestyle where I can work from anywhere in the world, and I find myself wondering why I’m not taking advantage of that!

  9. Nivas

    great one john,
    i live with a Philosophy called “STRETCH”
    which means
    “If i can’t then i must”..

    not that “if i can’t jump off a cliff,then i must”
    ofcouse it includes “Intelligence” factor too…

    Nivas K

  10. John R. Post author

    Monica: Yeah, I think breaking out of lethargy and moving into some new ground creates a vital excitement and energy, especially if the new ground is positive territory. I think we need to give ourselves a bit of a kick in the butt to do something we haven’t done before, when we feel lethargic. Learn a new skill, start a part-time business…

    Lindsay: You can work anywhere in the world? That opens a lot of doors to you. Perhaps the trick in managing all those doors is to make sure you can take your fundamental goals in life with you, through each of them.

    I know many people who have done what you are considering, that have found a great life direction — and stability — through their experiences. Those are the ones who had a strong sense of their priorities, and a willingness to accept the consequences of the, “path less traveled.”

    Nivas:

    โ€œIf i canโ€™t then i mustโ€

    I like your philosophy of “Intelligent STRETCH.”

    Cheers,
    John

  11. Jean Browman--Cheerful Monk

    I’m not physically adventuresome, but I do know about comfort zones. I was lucky enough to be depressed when I was a kid, so I’m reasonable tuned into when I need to recharge my batteries and when life starts feeling flat and I need to stretch a bit. It’s a nice skill to have.

    Great post. Thanks!

  12. John R. Post author

    Jean, I love your remark about being lucky enough to be depressed as a kid.

    Depending on your mindset, pain and emotional troubles in childhood can either sensitize you, or it can cause you to become numb and distant. If it sensitizes, it either makes you a victim for life, or you can build empathy, understanding, and compassion from it — for yourself and others.

    Judging by your Cheerful Monk web site, it’s clear that you have made good use of your experiences as a child.

    Cheers,
    John

  13. Jean Browman--Cheerful Monk

    I decided when I was young that I didn’t want to be beaten down by life, to shut ourselves off in self-protection.

    I still remember where I was standing when I was 12 or 13 years old and read an article about highly sensitive people. The article pointed out that could be a gift if it made us more sensitive and compassionate towards others. That became a lifelong commitment for me. I still bless the person who wrote that and the newspaper that printed it. I really needed some help at that point in my life.

    I suppose that’s one reason we want to write…to try to pay back the gifts that others have given us through the written word.

  14. YogaforCynics

    “Comfort zones can turn on you in a minute”–how true. Then, I’ve often been amazed at how “comfortable” I’ve gotten in situations that weren’t nourishing or healthy to begin with, simply feeling that I knew the situation, knew what it was likely to throw at me, and that I could survive it, whereas, if I stepped out of it, I’d be dealing with the unknown….The relationship between fear and comfort seems a strangely intimate one….

  15. John Rocheleau Post author

    YogaForCynics,

    You said:

    “The relationship between fear and comfort seems a strangely intimate oneโ€ฆ”

    You nailed it ๐Ÿ™‚

    John

  16. NewEnglandDeb

    Wow! This is a fantastic post. Thanks for sharing how you had no idea about what to write when you started this post. Taking that first step–writing down that you’re uninspired, etc.–really will pay off in any area of life, not just in writing. Acknowledging/self-validating your feelings aloud, even though they seem random or puzzling usually opens the door to greater clarity and insight and even resolution of an underlying issue.

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