How to escape your comfort zone
What Are Comfort Zones? And Why Should We Escape?
We all have our comfort zones – havens of security, familiarity and comfort. But why, you may be asking, should we escape? Surely a comfort zone is our reward for hard work, the place we’ve struggled for so long to get to? The place everyone wants to be? And wants to stay?
These are good questions. But don’t be fooled – because there’s a lot more to comfort zones than meets they eye.
The first problem is that comfort zones are comfortable –at least superficially. And because they’re comfortable, they lull us into a false sense of security and well-being. Yet the very fact that you have started reading this book proves that, despite your ‘comfort’. You have a vaguely uncomfortable feeling that this may not be altogether a good thing.
That’s good! Feeling uncomfortable is a really good sign; it’s when we’re blissfully oblivious that we’ve got a real problem. It’s when we’re not uncomfortable that we aren’t motivated to confront our true feelings and simply run away from them – and are doomed to remain trapped in those Comfort Zones.
Slipping into a Comfort Zone is a simple process. When we are comfortable, our activities and behaviour tend to take on familiar patterns. Patterns become habits; habits become routines; and before we know it those routines become a rut. And the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth of the excavation!
Of course, the most obvious of all is the material Comfort Zone. It’s one of the easiest to get trapped in, and one of the most difficult to escape from. After all, it’s the embodiment of the Great American Dream; the pursuit of success and wealth and all their external symbols. Perpetuated by movies and soap operas and reinforced by advertising, the material Comfort Zone seems, for most people, to have become the very purpose of life.
But there are also many other less obvious Comfort Zones. I’m talking about the invisible prisons of social and parental conditioning, of societal and cultural norms, of systems and rules and conventions, and a thousand other factors that are all just bricks in the walls of the prisons that surround us and prevent us from growing.
If we look at them objectively, Comfort Zones are almost inevitably states of limbo, secure castles in which we have imprisoned ourselves or allowed ourselves to be imprisoned by others. We perpetuate – and grow – those high walls by not being aware of them, or by refusing to recognise that they’re there. And so we compromise and rationalise and convince ourselves that it’s simply our ‘fate’ to be in our current situation… and, after all, we could be worse off, couldn’t we?
Mostly, we don’t even realise we’re in Comfort Zones. And so we simply shut off any ideas of the alternatives, of the options that lie outside our own narrow existences. Because it feels so safe and comfortable within, even to think of venturing outside our castle (and I’m not necessarily talking about a physical escape) seems foolish and risky and scary.
And the fact is, it is risky and scary. But definitely not foolish. Recognising that we are trapped in a Comfort Zone – and that there’s a whole lot more to life beyond the walls of our self-imposed limitations – is the first step towards escaping it and gaining mature wisdom and insight into our lives. Like the alcoholic, whose healing process can only begin once he has stood up in front of his peers or looked into a mirror and admitted that he is an alcoholic, so we can only begin to escape our Comfort Zones when we admit that we are trapped in them. Until that moment of honest self-confrontation, nothing can happen.
A second important step is accepting the fact that risk and pain are essential and inescapable components of this escape, as they are of any change or transition. In its most trite form it’s a question of ‘no pain, no gain’. Until we confront this fact, and until we muster the courage to leave behind the temporary and unfulfilling ‘myths’ of security and familiarity and material possessions (and they are myths, no matter how real or vital they may seem to you now), we can never begin the process of discovering our true selves and leaning what is truly meaningful and fulfilling and worth while in life.
The Honesty to Confront Your Self in the Mirror of Truth
It’s all about honesty. Honesty with those around us, but most of all honesty with ourselves. In order to become our true selves, we must have the courage to be ourselves and follow our own dreams. If we can’t do that, then the life we’re living isn’t our own. Isn’t that a terrible admission – that the life you’re living isn’t your own? How can we ever be self-fulfilled or at peace when we are lying to ourselves?
Real honesty also means bridging the gap between ‘Who I am’ and ‘What I do’; and between ‘Ought to be’ and ‘Is’. It is being what you believe in; letting every action and behaviour be an expression of who you are inside. And you simply can’t do that until you recognise and realise to what extent your life is being restricted, and how many of your actions are motivated by external forces rather than internal desires.
Only you can admit that you are trapped in Comfort Zones. But, like the alcoholic who can’t begin to be cured until he has the honesty to confront that fact and commit himself to doing something about it, you have to go through the same process in escaping your Comfort Zones. And, unfortunately, nobody can do it for you – even though, as you’ll see later, there are people who can lead you to the water (as this book does), but then it’s up to you to decide whether you want to drink.
How Do We Recognise These Comfort Zones?
There are many different types of Comfort Zones and, as I said earlier, most of the time we aren’t even aware that we’re in them. And you can’t solve a problem until you know exactly what that problem is. So, how do you recognise your own particular Comfort Zones?
You already know about material Comfort Zones, and they’re fairly easy to identify. But let’s look at another simple example.
You may be trapped in a dead-end job, hating every moment, resenting your boss, your circumstances, your pay package. And yet you just carry on from one dreary or stressful day to the next. You win of dreaming the sweepstakes or hitting that huge jackpot, and walking into the boss’s office, telling him his fortune, and walking out into a new life – perhaps retiring to a desert island. (Don’t we all have these dreams some time or another?)
Problem is, your chances of winning the sweepstakes or hitting that big jackpot are about as remote as your Fairy Godmother appearing, or a Knight in Shining Armour arriving on a white steed to rescue you, or any of the other unrealistic fantasies we invent to make our realities tolerable.
The reality is that you have to get real.
You have to realise that you are the Knight in Shining Armour, that you are the Fairy Godmother who can miraculously change your life for the better. And you can only do that when you can see things in true perspective. You can see the lush green fields and mountains of the world that lie beyond your Comfort Zones only when you have broken down the high castle walls that imprison you. Yet most people find it more comfortable simply to remain where they are, to make excuses and compromises.
But why do you put up with a life of compromise? Why do you continue to suffer, escaping only in day-dreams? The truth is that although you may be unhappy and unfulfilled, this discomfort is relatively more comfortable than the alternative – like waking up one morning and walking into the boss’s office and handing in your resignation.
You are afraid of the void beyond – the unknown world. WHAT ELSE WILL YOU SO? Will you find another job? What will it pay? What will your friends/family think? That’s why, even if actually offered another job, most people still find it very disconcerting and disturbing to actually ‘take the leap’, to find the courage to leave behind their Comfort Zone and accept the risks and unknowns of a new job. And even when they’ve decided, they often have difficulty taking the step of actually doing the things necessary to implement the change: writing the letter of resignation, telling the boss, making a firm and final date for leaving.
Being stuck in a lousy job is only one example trapped in a Comfort Zone. There are many other examples: an unhappy or stagnant relationship, an unfulfilled marriage, restrictive religious or social norms, a smothering small town with no future, an inhibiting, aggressive, over-competitive city.
The fact is, unless things become completely intolerable, or until you are fired or retrenched or dumped and forced to do something about it, it’s more comfortable for you to stay where you are than to face it and risk change. And so you stay put. And become more and more trapped.
Perhaps your own particular Comfort Zone is mainly a psychological one or emotional one; perhaps you are inhibited from progressing in your life by some past, often long-forgotten incident or traumatic experience or parental reproach or religious rule or societal norm.
For example, you may have been brought up in time when pre-marital sex was considered taboo by society. Entrenched by what you heard in church. Made more real by someone you know becoming pregnant and being ostracised by family and friends. And twenty or thirty years later, even though the attitudes of society have changed dramatically, even though your parents and teachers and church ministers may all be dead, your attitude and behaviour is still governed by an amalgam of all your past lessons and entrenched beliefs. And this may be inhibiting your entire life, affecting your relationships with members of the opposite sex, preventing you from making a full and satisfying attachment…leaving you trapped in your Comfort Zone of loneliness.
Invariably, each Comfort Zone is unique to each individual and very complex in its uniqueness, being an amalgam of many factors interacting powerfully with one another. And even once you recognise your own particular Comfort Zones, and realise that you’re trapped, why don’t you simply escape? Unfortunately, it’s a lot harder and a lot more complex than it seems – and for these reasons you don’t simply walk out on your lousy job.
Although you may be lonely and unhappy and unfulfilled, the truth is that the discomfort that you feel is relatively more comfortable than the alternative – that is, asserting yourself against everything that you have based your past behaviour, changing your entrenched beliefs to fit the new changed you within a changed society. In short, simply being honest with yourself in what you really want and desire in life, and having the courage to go out and get it.
But Why This Obsession With Change and Growth? Why Can’t We Just Stay Where We Are, Secure In Our Comfort Zones?
Many people asked me this question when I first started working on this book and exposed them to my ideas. They asked me how I could be so arrogant as to expect everyone to think as I did – namely, that growth is the most important and worthwhile task we all have in life, and that stagnation is therefore the most worthless.
My answer is that these are not just my subjective thoughts and opinions – they are in fact universal truths. This is my reasoning:
Everything in the entire universe is in a constant process of movement, of process and growth. Decay and death are not only valid parts of this eternal and ubiquitous process – they are essential aspects of it….for only through decay and death can new birth begin.
And yet man, with his rational mind capable of contemplating his own destiny, seems to have the dubious talent and desire consciously to suspend or delay or manipulate this process in himself.
For example, medical science prolongs an often fatally diseased physical life; social mores and the institution of marriage often prolong fatally diseased relationships; psychological hang-ups and defence mechanisms such as rationalisation perpetuate and prolong fatally diseased emotional, material and spiritual wastelands – those most insidious of traps that I call Comfort Zones.
Unless we recognise the fortresses we have built around us, unless we confront our own honesty, unless we recognise that risk and pain and death of the familiar and the comfortable are essential companions to the inescapable process of growth and rebirth, and should therefore be welcomed and embraced, we cannot even begin to break down the restraining walls and lower the drawbridge to a new and fuller existence.
I think Morris West expressed it perfectly in his book The Shoes of the Fisherman:
It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment or the courage to pay the price… one has to abandon altogether the search for security and reach out to the risk of living with both arms.
One has to embrace life like a lover.
One has to accept pain as a condition of existence.
One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing.
One needs a will stubborn in conflict but apt always to total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying.
That’s what escaping Comfort Zones is all about – to abandon altogether the search for security and reach out to the risk of living with both arms.
If you’re not prepared to do that, if you’d prefer to keep your security bubble of rationalisations and illusions and self-deceptions intact rather than confront the truth and your own honesty, if you’re not prepared to take the risks and face the consequences, then burn this book now. Because once you’ve begun the journey, once you have taken the blinkers off your eyes and your mind and soul, you will never be able to fool yourself again. You will either have to continue the journey, or live forever with the knowledge that you are living a compromise.
And that is the most uncomfortable Comfort Zone of all.
Authors Details: How to Escape Your Comfort Zone – From – The Secrets of Unbundling Your Life – By Lee Johnson with Albert Koopman