To succeed, we must become comfortable with being uncomfortable on a daily basis.
What is a Comfort Zone?
A comfort zone is something you carry with you as you move through life. This comfort zone is very much like an invisible bubble of sorts that surrounds your psyche. And as you go about your day and encounter different circumstances, this bubble constantly expands and constricts depending on your situation. In other words, as you confront a situation your psyche is either free to do more in that particular situation, or it is in some ways constricted and therefore cannot expand to its full potential. And when your comfort zone cannot expand, your psyche is forced to do less than it is capable of doing. Ask yourself:
How do I tend to carry my comfort zone with me throughout the day?
How do I carry it physically?
How do I carry it emotionally?
We all tend to carry our comfort zones both physically and emotionally. It’s therefore sometimes physical objects that constrict us, while at other times it’s our emotional limitations — stemming from limiting beliefs and perspectives — that constrict us.
Have you ever known people who find comfort and security in physical objects? For instance a stuffed childhood toy or blanket can have a great deal of significance and meaning. It might have been something that the person turned to for safety as a child. And now today that stuffed animal provides that same safety and security it did so many years ago. This is an example of how we tend to carry our comfort zones with us physically. However, we also tend to carry them emotionally.
To carry a comfort zone emotionally means resisting certain situations that cause some kind of discomfort or fear. This discomfort or fear can often stem from a past experience that wasn’t particularly pleasant. This experience left a lasting impression on your mind, and as a result you are now psychologically hardwired to resist that experience.
Before we get into any more details about how a comfort zone evolves over time, let’s first take a look at an analogy that will help us to better understand the dynamics of a comfort zone.
The Analogy of a Balloon in a Box
Imagine for a moment blowing up a balloon within the confines of a small box. The balloon will certainly expand as you blow air into it, however it is constricted by the size of the box. It will therefore not expand any further outside the dimensions of the box, even though it has the potential to grow much bigger than the box itself. The box constricts the balloon in the same way that your comfort zone constricts your psyche. Likewise, the box prevents the balloon from reaching its full potential in a similar way that your comfort zone prevents your psyche from reaching its full potential.
In order for the balloon to break-free of the box, you will need to keep forcing more air into it. With more air there will be more pressure on the inside of the box. Eventually that pressure will be strong enough that the balloon will break the box apart — freeing itself to grow to its full potential. Alternatively, you could of course place the balloon into a bigger box. Here it would have more room to grow and expand. However, it might still outgrow the box, and you will therefore once again have the same problem you had within the smaller box.
As the balloon expands the inside surface area of the box starts putting pressure on this expansion process. The balloon senses this pressure, but of course it still desires to keep expanding. However to keep expanding within this small box is risky. The box might very well be too solid and stiff. Therefore to keep expanding means to risk bursting. Who knows, there might even be spikes on the inside edges of the box. If these spikes are real then they’ll certainly pop the balloon.
It just seems too risky for the balloon to keep expanding. It of course wants to expand and grow bigger. To grow bigger means that it can successfully escape this box and then have the freedom to grow more expansively within a bigger box. However, it all just seems too dangerous. There is just too much risk of popping. And therefore the balloon deflates to a level where it no longer touches the inside surface area of the box. This certainly feels better because there is no more danger of popping accidentally.
This analogy might not provide a comprehensive overview of what a comfort zone is, however it certainly does provide some context for understanding the effect that a comfort zone (the box) has on your psyche (the balloon).
Looking Outside a Comfort Zone
We all carry a comfort zone into every situation. In some situations this comfort zone will be more expansive, and in other situations it will be less expansive. Therefore in some situations it will allow your psyche to expand closer to its full potential, while in other instances it will limit the ability of our psyche to expand past a certain level. What this therefore means is that your ability to do anything in a particular situation doesn’t depend on your potential, it’s rather dependent on your comfort zone. You might for instance have more potential than anyone you know, however you will never live up to that potential if your comfort zone is constricting your psyche within critical situations.
Your comfort zone is of course a place where you feel most comfortable and secure. It’s a place where there is a great sense of certainly and predictability. Everything within the confines of this comfort zone is very familiar, and as such things seem easy and effortless to the extent that you don’t ever need to do anything that causes you any kind of discomfort. There’s just nothing new to learn and no new skills to develop. Everything you need to live within the confines of this comfort zone you’ve already mastered. That’s why life within this comfort zone feels so comfortable, warm, secure and cozy. It seems like a perfect little world where you can live out the rest of your days in peace and harmony. But then why are you so miserable?
You are miserable because you understand that your world isn’t really that perfect. Yes, you feel comfortable, secure and familiar with your surroundings, however what you really want is “out there” beyond the confines of your comfort zone. You want “these things” because you see from afar other people enjoying “these things” every single day of your life. You therefore want to make “these things” also a part of your life, however in order to get to “those things” you will need to leave the confines of your secure world and step into the unknown and unpredictable world that lies just beyond your comfort zone.
Within this outside world there are a plethora of opportunities and marvelous things that you would love to bring into your world. However, you do have two major hurdles. First of all, you don’t know how to quite get to “those things”, or how to bring them into your world. And because you don’t know, this creates doubt and uncertainty. You worry about making mistakes, you reflect on “what if” scenarios, and you fear the unknown. And this is often enough to prevent you from moving forward.
Alternatively, you might know what to do. In fact, you might know exactly what it takes to bring “those things” into your world, however in order to get “those things”, you need to face certain challenges and potentially overcome specific problems that lie between you and the things you would like to acquire. And this all just seems too hard and arduous.
You therefore want “those things” beyond your comfort zone, however because you will need to go through some roadblocks and challenges along the way, this disheartens you from ever trying. You just feel as though the discomfort you will experience pursuing “these things” will just be too much to bear. You think to yourself that your life is good enough. You might not have everything you really want within your current world, however you have enough. You have enough to make yourself feel comfortable and secure, and that really is all that matters. Isn’t it?
On the surface these are the things that really matter, however below the surface you just want so much more in your life. You don’t want to be one of those people who regrets all “those things” that they could have done but failed to try. You don’t want to be one of those people that mull over “what if” scenarios:
What if I did this…?
What if I did that…?
What if I pursued that goal…?
What if I took that risk…?
How would my life be different today if I took those chances?
Stepping outside your comfort zone might very well mean risking getting hurt, risking failure, and risking making mistakes. However, what are you risking staying within the confines of your comfort zone? What are you really risking missing out on if you don’t take a chance on yourself?
The Components of a Comfort Zone
Your comfort zone can be broken down into the following components:
- The Habit Zone
- The Action Zone
- The Discomfort Zone (has many layers)
The Habit Zone is where you spend most of your time. This is the world you are most familiar with. In fact, you have the necessary knowledge, skills, talents, and experience to live very comfortably within this world without great discomfort. You have after all already mastered all the problems that exist within this world. Therefore, whenever things go wrong, you already know what to do and how to respond. Life is therefore easy, effortless and somewhat satisfying.
Over the course of your life you have developed certain habits, beliefs, psychological rules, etc, that define your life within the Habit Zone. There are for instance certain habits that you indulge in, things that you believe, and certain psychological rules that you live by that allow you to live comfortably within this zone. Now, of course this is fantastic, however, the things that give you comfort here, are the things that prevent you from moving into the other two zones. This is significant because a certain habit, belief or psychological rule that works well within the Habit Zone is simply not congruent within other zones.
Every zone requires something of you. It for instance requires you develop a new set of habits and beliefs. It even requires that you adjust the psychological rules you live by. It also requires that you develop a different set of skills, gain more experience, acquire additional knowledge and resources, and build upon your talents. Each zone also requires you make certain sacrifices. This might mean letting go of certain habits or changing your routine. And all this is necessary in order to synchronize your psyche with these new zones.
The Action Zone is the zone directly bordering your Habit Zone. It is a zone that feels somewhat comfortable, however stepping into this zone is risky because it means that you might need to tackle some new things that you aren’t too familiar with. Furthermore, there are some unknown problems bordering this zone. These are problems you haven’t successfully dealt with before. And as such they create some uncertainty in your life. This uncertainty of course doesn’t feel comfortable, and this automatically creates resistance within your psyche.
Given all this, you however do understand that you must make some tough decisions and take some form of action within this zone. Unfortunately these are things you can’t avoid doing as your livelihood depends on the successful completion of these tasks. So even though these things seem somewhat uncomfortable or unfamiliar, you still do them because you have enough reasons to take these actions. As such the Action Zone becomes somewhat of a Necessity Zone where you feel compelled to do certain things in order to support yourself.
The final zone is the Discomfort Zone. This is the zone that lies beyond your Action Zone. This zone isn’t necessarily a part of your comfort zone, but rather borders the fringes of your comfort zone. Here you will find all the things that you haven’t as yet mastered. And because you haven’t mastered these things you cannot live within this zone. You can of course look at this zone from afar, however until you have gained the necessary experience, knowledge and skills that are a hallmark of this zone, you will be unable to stay there for extended periods of time. However, it’s not just about experience, knowledge or skills, it’s primarily about the mindset you are required to cultivate within the confines of this zone.
It’s difficult to spend long periods of time within the Discomfort Zone because you have all these habits, beliefs, perspectives, and psychological rules that are keeping you attached to another zone. And this other zone is like another world. What works well within that world does not very often transition well into another world. And that’s the main reason why you feel uncomfortable when stepping into the Discomfort Zone. This mindset simply isn’t synchronized with the mindset you need to live within this world, and this therefore creates resistance on your part. This resistance creates self-sabotage patterns that prevent you from living within the Discomfort Zone for extended periods of time. You sabotage yourself because you subconsciously believe that you don’t belong within that world, and instead crave for the certainty found within a world you feel much more secure and comfortable with.
The Dynamics of a Comfort Zone
The life you desire to have lies beyond the fringes of your comfort zone. It’s beyond these borders that you will find the relevant opportunities, people and knowledge you need to acquire the things you want in your life. However, in order to get to these things you will need to overcome some challenges that will make you feel somewhat uncomfortable.
You feel uncomfortable with these challenges because your psyche isn’t yet at a level it needs to be to tackle these challenges with confidence. However, as you find the courage to work through these challenges, your mindset will start to make the necessary shifts. You will for instance begin developing new beliefs and habits that allow you to tackle these challenges more successfully. This is important, because over time as you overcome more of these challenges you grow more confident, and as you grow more confident there is more certainty in your actions, and as a result you start feeling more comfortable. That is when your comfort zone starts to expand into these new areas.
It’s important to remind yourself that your comfort zone only expands when you successfully overcome your discomfort. This discomfort often comes in the form of a fear of some kind, or a resistance to doing something. Once this fear or the resistance has been overcome, that is when the balloon begins to expand beyond the confines of the box. And as the balloon expands, so does your reach. You are now able to reach farther than ever before, and this means that opportunities, people and things that were previously out of your grasp are now within reach — they are now within your expanded comfort zone.
Remember that as you push yourself into the Discomfort Zone, you will confront many unfamiliar problems that you may not have confronted before. These problems are the things standing between your present circumstances and the goals you are wanting to achieve. In fact, every goal you have in mind that lies within the Discomfort Zone has a set of problems attached to it. These problems are very much like a “rite of passage”. They are tests you need to pass in order to deserve to have this goal in your life. For instance, you can’t just expect to be able to jump from the base to the summit of a mountain. You need to climb the mountain, and climbing the mountain can be problematic. You might for instance sprain an ankle while walking up the trail. Or you might experience difficult weather conditions as you make your way up the mountain path. These are all tests. They are problems that you must face in order to get to your final destination.
Each of these problems come with lessons that you must learn. You must for instance adapt to the changing weather conditions, or you must learn how to look after your ankle to ensure that it doesn’t hinder you along your journey.
These tests force you to think differently, to adopt new beliefs and habits, to overcome fears, and to potentially alter your psychological rules. That is how changes are made, and that is how you must successfully adapt along your journey in order to eventually reach your end destination on the summit of the mountain. However, failing to adapt means that you will most likely sabotage your progress. You might for instance fail to adapt to the changing weather conditions, and as a result you fall ill and therefore can’t proceed further up the mountain. You think to yourself that this is just too hard and arduous, while longing for the comfort and security of your mountain cottage which rests on the base of the mountain. And so you give up on your journey, and wilt-away into your comfort zone once again.
Given all this, it’s important to acknowledge that all problems you confront lead to some form of growth and development. These problems come with hidden opportunities that can help you overcoming limiting beliefs, fears, and habits. Likewise these opportunities can come in the form of valuable knowledge and experience. These opportunities could also lead you down paths where you could meet new people that might provide you with assistance to further your journey. However, what if you don’t overcome these problems? Or, what if you neglect your problems altogether?
Your problems will never just disappear. Certainly, they may take on a different form or they might manifest in your life a different way, however they never quite disappear. As such, in order to achieve your goals you will need to confront and overcome these problems sooner or later. If you fail to do this, then you will just keep repeating the cycle all over again until you learn the lessons you need to learn to achieve the goals you are desiring to have in your life.
The major hurdle with neglecting or failing to overcome your problems is that it creates doubt in your mind. These doubts manifest in the form of fears and limiting beliefs. And therefore whenever you fail to overcome one of your problems this creates another reference that builds upon all your past references — making it even more difficult to overcome your problems the next time around.
The key therefore is to never be discouraged by your problems or setbacks. Instead, approach every problem with a curious nature. In fact, view your problems as challenges that you must learn from in order to grow and develop in ways that will allow you to make further progress along your journey. As such, everything you confront along your journey becomes a lesson that you must learn to master in order to deserve to have your goals in the end.
How Your Comfort Zone Constricts
Your comfort zone constricts and expands over the course of your life. At times this happens naturally as you move through different phases of your life, while at other times certain events and circumstances force us to do things or refrain from doing things depending on our perspective of the situation. Now, of course this perspective can be real or it might be imagined. In fact, we can make certain assumptions about things that shift how we view those things, and that alone is enough to alter our comfort zones.
Within this section, let’s specifically take a look at the reasons why your comfort zone might constrict.
The Six Human Needs
Your comfort zone might constrict as a result of your inability to fulfill all your six human needs. It will also constrict if you are satisfying one need to the detriment of other needs.
The need for certainty, uncertainty, significance, connection, growth and contribution are all an integral part of your life. In fact, every decision you make and action you take is done subconsciously because of your desire to fulfill one or more of these human needs.
When it comes to your comfort zone, an unfulfilled need might for instance mean that you are not learning and growing. This is why you are feeling dissatisfied within your comfort zone. You want to fulfill the need for growth, however to fulfill this need you need to step into the unknown, and yet your need for certainty is so great at the moment that you just couldn’t ever imagine taking that risk. Your comfort zone therefore constricts because you are resisting uncertainty (which is an unfulfilled need). You are overly satisfying the need for certainty, and this becomes a detriment to all your other human needs.
To free yourself from all comfort zone constrictions, you need to ensure that you are satisfying all your human needs as equally as possible at their highest level. Your comfort zone certainly satisfies the need for certainty, however it certainly doesn’t satisfy the need for growth and uncertainty. Likewise it might not satisfy the need for connection or significance. As such you will continue to be miserable resting within your comfort zone just because it doesn’t fulfill all your human needs.
A life with no comfort zone restrictions is a life where you are freely working on satisfying all your six human needs at the highest possible level. This would therefore mean that you take chances and risks to satisfy the need for uncertainty; that you build a comfortable environment and life to satisfy the need for certainty; that you regularly reach out and create emotional bonds with others to satisfy the need for connection; that you pursue your goals to satisfy the need for significance; that you try new things and learn from mistakes and failure to satisfy the need for growth; and that you consistently dedicate your time to helping others to satisfy the need for contribution. Only in this way will your life be fulfilling, and only in this way will you be free of all comfort zone restrictions.
This is quite an expansive topic that requires some explanation that goes beyond the scope of this article. I would therefore recommend having a read of Exploring Your Six Human Needs. This article will provide you with the background information you need to gain a clearer understanding of how the six human needs shape your comfort zone.
Whenever you experience any kind of uncomfortable emotion, this immediately suggests your comfort zone is in the process of constricting. You might for instance feel anxious about something, or frustrated, or afraid. No matter what the emotion is; if it creates discomfort, then this suggests that you are resisting something. And when you resist something, you are “pushing back” into the confines of your comfort zone.
However, where there is a limiting and unhelpful emotion, there is also an inspiring and helpful emotion that you could choose to experience instead. For instance, instead of feeling anxious you could turn your anxiety into calmness, excitement and self-assurance. If on the other hand you’re feeling frustrated you could instead choose to feel curious and encouraged. Or, if you’re feeling afraid you could instead choose to feel confident and courageous. These antonyms immediately put you into a different state-of-mind that pushes outwards rather than inwards. As such, instead of constricting your comfort zone, you choose to expand your comfort zone by experiencing these empowering emotions.
For much more information on how to manage your emotions more effectively, please have a read through the Emotional Mastery Series of articles.
Habitual Behavior Patterns
You might have certain habits-of-mind, behaviors and rituals that you consistently indulge in that prevent you from stepping outside your comfort zone. In fact, many of these behaviors and habits might actually constrict your comfort zone because they build upon the process of avoiding pain in order to gain pleasure. In other words, these habits and behaviors get you caught-up in instant gratification traps. They force you to runaway from pain and instead indulge in small yet seemingly insignificant pleasures that push you right back into your comfort zone.
Whenever you feel discomfort, you might for instance curl up on your sofa and read a self-help book. This gives you temporary pleasure, however it constricts your comfort zone because your are moving backwards rather than forwards. You are afraid to face your pain, and instead choose to read a book that might help you feel better about avoiding this pain. Now, of course reading self-help books is wonderful, however if that’s all you do whenever you’re faced with an uncomfortable situation, then these self-help books are doing nothing more than feeding your comfort zone.
The same of course can be said about any kind of behavior you tend to indulge that responds to an uncomfortable situation. Ask yourself:
What kind of habits or behaviors do I indulge in when I’m feeling uncomfortable?
Do I have any particular rituals that I indulge in habitually in response to discomfort?
Why do I indulge in these specific habits, rituals, or behaviors?
How are they constricting my comfort zone?
Your habits and behaviors are however only there because of the thoughts and perspectives you hold onto. Your thoughts and perspectives are therefore the culprits constricting your comfort zone.
The thoughts you have about something affect your perceptions of that thing. These perceptions then lead to certain conclusions and assumptions, which lead to specific kinds of interpretations you make about your life, people and circumstances. This is all well and good if your thoughts are working for your greater good. However, this is not good news if these thoughts are leading to false conclusions and assumptions that encourage you to indulge in unhelpful behaviors that constrict your comfort zone.
You might for instance assume that something is a certain way. And because you assume that things are this way and not another way, you will therefore take a certain action that is aligned with the assumption you are making. Now this behavior might of course be based on a false assumption, but you will never know that unless you consciously question the assumptions you are making.
Let’s say for example that you falsely assume that the way your boss was looking at you while you were giving your presentation means that they didn’t approve. You assume that they were judging you negatively, and now you’re afraid that you won’t get that promotion you and a few other candidates were offered the other week. As a result you begin talking to yourself in a very derogatory way — blaming yourself for the mistakes you made during the presentation. You now no longer believe you will get that promotion, and as a result you avoid confronting your boss at all costs because you’re concerned he will criticize your efforts. Furthermore, this whole process makes you feel uncomfortable, and so in order to alleviate this discomfort you call in sick and don’t show up to work for a couple of days.
In this example you have wilted away into your comfort zone because of a false assumption. Now, of course you don’t really know what your boss was thinking at the time of your presentation. Maybe he had a personal problem weighing heavily on his mind, and it therefore appeared as though he wasn’t impressed with your efforts. This too is of course an assumption, however it’s an assumption that works in your favor because you no longer have a “need” to avoid your boss at work, and you therefore don’t need to take a couple of days off work because you’re feeling uncomfortable. In fact, the days you took off work might actually cost you that promotion. Are you willing to take that chance?
As you can see, the limited thoughts we tend to indulge in and the resulting perspectives we hold onto dramatically affect what we do and how we behave. And it’s this behavior that works either for us or against us. When it works for us it helps expand our comfort zone and our opportunities. However, when it works against us it constricts our comfort zone and denies us access to critical opportunities that might help change our lives for the better. Ask yourself:
What opportunities am I denying myself by wilting away into my comfort zone?
What assumptions could I be making?
What unhelpful thoughts might I be indulging in?
How else could I view this situation?
What’s a more advantageous way to view this situation?
How might viewing things this way be more helpful?
While growing up you had numerous adult and peer influences that shaped how you thought and acted throughout the day. In fact, these family members, friends, colleagues, role models, and authoritative figures helped shape the boundaries of your comfort zone in specific situations. They did this through their actions, words, behaviors and instructions. In fact, they gave you the insights you needed that showed you how to handle your negative emotions most effectively, how to confront fearful situations, what to do when feeling uncomfortable, when to and when not to take risks, etc. All of these things and many other things were conditioned into your psyche.
Of course over the years, you have successfully overcome some of that early conditioning and therefore freed yourself from the confines of your comfort zone in some situations. However, there are probably other situations where your fears for instance might be getting the better of you. It’s within these situations where the boundaries of your comfort zone remain at the same level as they were many years ago. And this is where your challenge lies.
The behaviors that pull you right back into this comfort zone are working on autopilot because of a lifetime of conditioning. In other words, you do certain things just because you were conditioned to do these things in a particular way. And because these habits and behaviors just come naturally to you, you tend not to resist. You just accept that things are the way they are and as a result there is no motivation or urgency to change. You are therefore stuck — you are stuck in your old ways and you don’t have the necessary perspective to dig yourself out of this situation.
There is however a way out of this conditioning trap. But it will require that you learn more about the Perceptual Influences in your life.
How to Expand Your Comfort Zone
Expanding your comfort zone is a process that takes time and some patience. To transform old habits, thoughts and behaviors is not a straight line with a beginning and an end. It’s more of a climb up a mountain.
When you climb a mountain hardly ever will you consistently climb upwards for the entire journey. Sometimes you need to climb down for a period of time before ascending once again. And this is true of the changes you would like to make to your comfort zone. This journey is not going to be a straight path up the side of the mountain, it’s rather going to be a journey of ups and downs. Sometimes you will make your way along smooth paths, while at other times you will encounter obstacles that you will need to work around. But it really doesn’t matter how your journey unfolds, as long as you maintain your focus and clearly understand the coordinates of your target destination.
This comfort zone expansion process involves the following steps:
- Pre-Contemplation Stage
- Contemplation Stage
- Preparation Stage
- Action Stage > Relapse Stage > Contemplation Stage
- Maintenance Stage
When you get to the Action Stage you will either progress onward ascending up the mountain onto the Maintenance Stage, or you will fall back descending down the mountain into the Relapse Stage, which then feeds directly into the Contemplation Stage. This is in essence the cycle of moving up and down the mountain sporadically along your journey as you make your way towards your final destination. It of course doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going backwards. The mountain has ups and downs, peaks and valleys, as do the changes you are attempting to make. You must just take things in stride and stay focused on the big picture — the goal you’re working towards. As long as you don’t get off course, you have nothing to be concerned about.
Let’s now delve into each of these steps in a little detail.
The pre-contemplation stage is the time before you even realize that change is necessary. Here you simply go about your days holding onto your comfort zone without even considering the possibility that your life could be any different. Yes, you have goals and aspirations, however they are nothing more than fleeting dreams that you don’t believe are possible to achieve.
You have no motivation to take any action whatsoever to move outside your comfort zone because you are a slave to instant gratification. Right before your eyes your life is stagnating, but you are none-the-wiser because you are nothing more than a slave to the cycles of pain and pleasure in your life.
Here is when you begin to feel rather uncomfortable and restless within the confines of your comfort zone. You look outside your comfort zone and you begin to see endless possibilities and opportunities. It dawns upon you that there is a whole world of incredible experiences waiting for you outside your comfort zone. In fact, this is where you begin to think about the goals and objectives you would like to achieve. You come to the realization that they are no longer dreams, but rather possibilities if you can just muster enough motivation within yourself to pursue them with passion.
Given what exists outside your comfort zone, your current life just doesn’t seem so satisfying any more. As such, you desire to have more in your life — you desire a life that is more fulfilling. In fact, the amount of certainty you’re experiencing within your comfort zone is getting rather boring and uneventful. You now crave a little more uncertainty and adventure. You also crave to grow and learn something new and different. As a matter a fact, you want to challenge yourself in new ways and stretch your horizons… Well, at least you’re thinking about it.
You think and reflect upon your goals by asking yourself:
What would I like to change?
What would I like this change to lead to?
What concrete goals would I like to achieve?
What will these goals allow me to do, be and have?
As you reflect upon these goals, you feel a rush of excitement coursing through your veins. You now come to realize that life could be so much more than it is today. There is another world out there with endless opportunities and possibilities, however your comfort zone is still the one obstacle standing in your way.
This stage is all about preparing yourself and your life for the changes you desire to make. However, in order to take action, you need to create leverage. And the way to create leverage is to utilize the pain and pleasure principle to your advantage.
There is for instance absolutely no reason for you to step outside your comfort zone if it’s too comfortable inside it. You must therefore make your comfort zone feel rather uncomfortable if you want to trigger the process of change in your life. And the best way to do this is to associate as much pain to staying within your comfort zone, and as much pleasure to stepping out of your comfort zone and pursuing your goal. Furthermore, the benefits of change must outweigh the costs of making this change in your life. In other words, you will ultimately lose some things as you instigate this change. If these things you’re losing are more important than the things you’re gaining, then there may not be enough motivation to make this change possible.
To put all of these elements of your decision into perspective, it’s important you conduct an internal and external reality check. You must determine whether this change will ultimately improve your life for the better, or whether you’re just in a state of wishful thinking. In other words, this change must feel good, be good for you, be good for other people (people involved in this change), and also serve the greater good. If you can tick all these boxes while also making the pain and pleasure principle work for you, then you will have the recipe of positive “change” in your hands.
To begin with, let’s conduct an internal reality check. This all about ascertaining what impact this change will have on your personal life. Ask yourself:
What will I gain by making these changes? What are the benefits?
What is good about my current behavior? What would I like to keep as is?
How can I keep the good aspects of my behavior while making this change?
What am I likely to miss out on if I don’t make this change?
What am I likely to lose by making this change? Do I need to make any personal sacrifices?
How does this change fit into my life as it is at this very moment? Is it congruent with my life?
What are the negative consequences of making and of not making this change?
Am I willing and ready to pay this price in order to make this change in my life?
In order to make this change successfully, you may need to make some adjustments to your life, beliefs, values, priorities, etc. This is important because making changes takes some sacrifice. You can’t realistically keep your life as it is and expect to make this change successfully. That’s wishful thinking, and it will only lead to self-sabotage behavior. You must therefore commit yourself one way or the other way. You must either commit yourself to making the necessary sacrifices, or commit yourself to your comfort zone.
Now, take a moment to conduct an external reality check. This is all about ascertaining what impact this change will have on your environment and the people in your life. Ask yourself:
How will this change affect my environment?
What potential problems could this change bring about?
How must I adapt to minimize these problems?
How will this change affect other people?
Does this change go against their values and beliefs?
How are other people likely to react? Does it matter?
In order to make this change possible you may need to make some tough decisions about your environment and about the people in your life. You might for instance need to change aspects of your environment or maybe even the nature of your relationships with other people. Without these adjustments you might find that making lasting change will be difficult to do.
Having completed your internal and external reality check, it’s now time to look at this change as a whole. Ask yourself:
Will this change feel good? Why?
Will this change be good for me? Why?
Will this change be good for others? Why?
Will this change serve the greater good? Why?
If you answered “yes” to each of these questions, then you are on track towards making some positive changes in your life. However, if you honestly can’t tick all these boxes, then you need to do some more work and move through the internal and external reality check once again. However, please do remind yourself that at times a positive change in the short-term may not have a positive impact on your life in the long-term. Therefore always be vigilant of both short and long-term consequences of any change you desire to make.
One other additional point to keep in mind is that if you are struggling to find balance with your decision, then you either need to make some additional sacrifices, or you might simply need to alter the goal you are pursuing. This is after all the only way to create the leverage you need to make this change successfully.
Finally, during the preparation stage it’s also important to consider building a support network of individuals that can hold you accountable for your actions. In fact, make a public commitment to these people that you will make certain changes in your life. They will then be responsible to ensure that you stay on track and follow through with the changes you promised you would make.
Here you have already created enough leverage to commit yourself to making this change. And it’s now therefore time to move forward with this change step-by-step. However, following through with your change may not be easy because you have all of these old habits and patterns of behavior that are associated with your comfort zone. Patterns such as limiting beliefs, habits and thoughts will not be easy to break. As such you must bring to every action step you take a positive mental attitude that focuses your mind on the most important things you need to do to follow through with this change. You must for instance feel comfortable saying:
I am comfortable with feeling uncomfortable…
I can do this, and if I can’t, I must…
The questions you ask yourself throughout this process are also of paramount importance. They are important because questions direct your focus and attention while also supporting the attitude you bring into every situation. When you ask the right kinds of questions your mind will be directed towards things that can help you move forward. However, if you ask the wrong kinds of questions, your mind will lead you astray and you might actually end up sabotaging yourself time-and-again.
To get into the habit of asking more effective questions, please have a read of How to Ask Better Questions.
As you take action towards your desired outcomes, it’s important to maintain a confident physiology no matter what kinds of setbacks you face. Remember that “motion creates emotion”. Therefore the motion of your body can either create positive energy, or it can rob you of your energy.
For more information about how to make full use of your physiology, please have a read of Developing a Physiology of Excellence.
Relapse Stage > Contemplation Stage
It’s very possible that as you move through this process that you are likely to relapse into old habits and behaviors that push you right back into your comfort zone. This is in fact normal and a natural part of the process of change. It’s therefore paramount that you are prepared to learn from these moments in order to rebuild the momentum you need to move forward once again.
When you experience a relapse, ask yourself:
Why did I relapse?
What motivated me to fall back into my old habitual patterns?
What triggered these behaviors? Limiting beliefs? Fears? Unhelpful thoughts?
What can I learn from this experience?
How can I use this experience to do better the next time around?
It’s important to keep in mind that there might very well be old habits, beliefs and patterns of behavior that will push you right back into your comfort zone. These are the things you must be most vigilant about. And they are also the things that you must successfully work-through if you desire to make these changes in your life.
If for instance you have a number of unhelpful thoughts or limiting beliefs holding you back, then it might be worthwhile spending some time reframing this “relapse scenario” in a different way that might make it more advantageous for you moving forward. Ask yourself:
What is good about this relapse? About this belief? About this behavior? About this thought?
How is it advantageous that I fell back into my old patterns of behavior?
What positive opportunities does this now present me with?
How could I view this experience in a more helpful way?
These questions might not get you the answers you are after every single time, however what they will do is stimulate your imagination and get you thinking about things in a different way. Therefore instead of feeling guilty or indulging in victim mentality, you now free yourself to consider other perspectives and ways of viewing things that might work to your advantage. For more information about the process of reframing, please have a read of How to Reframe Your Thoughts.
When you relapse it’s also important that you disassociate yourself emotionally from your experience, especially when things are not going your way. This of course may not be easy, however it is important because disassociating yourself will remove all emotional attachments, and as such you will be free to think more objectively about your situation.
To help disassociate yourself emotionally, focus on the process of change, and not on your end goal. Also be mindful of the moment and get yourself back on track one step at a time. You might even need to return to the contemplation stage once again in order to rethink your strategy moving forward. And this is perfectly normal. Take your time and be flexible in your approach. And above all else remember that every failed attempt is another step closer to your desired outcome.
Finally, as you return back to the contemplation stage, you might realize that you simply don’t have enough knowledge, experience or the necessary skills to move through this change successfully. Ask yourself:
Am I lacking any knowledge or experience that could help me here?
Would acquiring some new skills be helpful?
What other resources and tools might I need to help me do better next time?
Whom could I ask for advice and assistance?
Sometimes all it takes is a little knowledge and guidance to help you find your way once again.
The maintenance stage is where your comfort zone has successfully expanded into new territories. What previously caused you discomfort no longer feels uncomfortable because it is now part of your new expanded comfort zone. However, this process can take some time. After all, it normally takes four or more weeks of consistent effort to establish a new habit that feels comfortable and manageable.
You need to of course become very familiar with solving new problems and handling circumstances that lie outside your comfort zone before this comfort zone successfully expands into new territories. And this does take time. However, with commitment, dedication and effort on your part, you can certainly make some incredible positive changes in your life. And with that in mind, I wish you the greatest of success on this incredible journey.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 3 Creative Ways to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone @ Entrepreneur
- 3 Small Habits that will Help You to Move Out of Your Comfort Zone @ The Positivity Blog
- 6 Reasons You Should Love Stretching Your Comfort Zone @ Pick the Brain
- Breaking Free from Your Comfort Zone @ Psychology Today
- Do You Want Comfort or Growth? @ Steve Pavlina
- From Comfort Zone to Courage Zone @ Psychology Today
- How Comfort is Killing You @ A Daring Adventure
- How to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone and Try Something New @ Wise Bread
- Why Fear of Discomfort Might be Ruining Your Life @ Zen Habits
- Why Frequent Trips Outside Your Comfort Zone Are So Important @ Michael Hyatt