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…