Right away I should say that this is not a post about the benefits of a good morning stretch or taking a yoga class!
Instead, I want to talk about your ‘comfort zone’ and how, if you learn to understand what your own comfort zone is and how to ‘stretch’ it, you will be able achieve things you never thought possible. Yes, really!
I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, perhaps to you directly, that you need to “get out of your comfort zone”. But what does this really mean? What is the comfort zone? Why do we feel the need to stay inside it? How do we get out of it and why is this helpful?
What Is The ‘Comfort Zone’?
As humans, we’re hard-wired to avoid feeling unsafe, take risks or put ourselves in harms way. So when situations like this come up our instinct is to avoid them.
This is often referred to as the ‘fight or flight response’, a term developed by Walter Cannon in 1915 to describe the automatic response the body goes through when it detects possible harm or attack.
Today though, everyday threats of physical danger are greatly reduced but our natural instinct to protect ourselves from harm or, in modern society, embarrassment remains.
So when we’re in danger or in a situation which makes us uncomfortable we have feelings of vulnerability, fear, stress and anxiety. This is the body’s way of warning us that there is a potential threat.
As we age and develop as individuals we learn to avoid, or at least minimise, exposing ourselves to situations that cause these feelings. And over time we create activities, environments and relationships in which we feel safe and comfortable.
We call this our ‘comfort zone’.
Why Is It So Important To Stretch Our Comfort Zone?
Our comfort zone is individual to each of us, and yours is a direct reflection of your own life as it is now and what you have done to get to this point. It reflects where you feel comfortable, normal and protected about all aspects of your life, from the state of your fitness or relationships to your current job or financial situation.
This means if you want something different, or want to feel or experience something new, you need to step outside of that feeling of comfort and do something different. And it will very likely feel uncomfortable, maybe even scary.
“A Comfort Zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there”Unknown Author
But the good news is, being uncomfortable makes you grow. And the more you feel uncomfortable, the more your comfort zone will stretch, making even more things feel normal and achievable.
This means that to continue stretching, you have to find new things that make you feel uncomfortable. Before you know it, you will be achieving those things you never thought possible.
How Do I Stretch My Comfort Zone?
Now, I’m not suggesting that you need to throw yourself out of an aeroplane or go bungee jumping to achieve the things you want in life.
We’ve established that your comfort zone is unique to you, and being uncomfortable means something different to each of us. For some it could be saying hello to a stranger or learning a new skill, whereas for others it might be delivering a speech in front of thousands of people.
This is why understanding your own comfort zone is important. You need to understand where your comfort zone ends so that you can ‘stretch’ it and grow your abilities, but not push too far that you cause yourself more anxiety or panic, which is counter-productive.
So, when you want to stretch yourself and your comfort zone consider any activity against where it sits in the 3 zones below. The ‘stretch zone’ is the only productive area where growth happens.
If an activity sits within your ‘comfort’ or ‘panic’ zone you won’t grow, so make changes until it feels like it will stretch you.
This is the area where you feel comfortable in any situation. It feels normal and safe, and goals are achievable without the need to learn anything new. There is no real fear within the comfort zone, but there is no growth either.
This is the most productive place to be. It’s where real growth happens. Situations feel uncomfortable and challenging and you don’t know immediately how to achieve your goal or desired outcome. You may feel fear or anxiety. You have to push yourself forward to overcome obstacles.
This zone feels very uncomfortable but there is no growth here. Situations cause intense fear, panic and anxiety and your natural instincts take over. You are not able to learn and grow because you are unable to perform or overcome obstacles. You’ve pushed too far and need to rethink your approach and get back into the stretch zone.
How Are You Going To Stretch Your Comfort Zone?
Our comfort zone gives us an excuse to not achieve things. We tell ourselves and everyone else “I Can’t do that”, “I don’t have the skills”, “I’m not good enough”. The list goes on.
The reality is that we’re protecting ourselves from something we think will cause us harm. We’re living inside the comfort zone that we have created to keep us safe.
If you want to Live Your Ultimate Self and achieve your goals and dreams chances are you are going to have to stretch your comfort zone, a lot! And it may take some time.
But don’t be disheartened, growth is powerful! It creates its own momentum.
What is important is taking consistent action, and that action can start today with small steps.
Remember, your comfort zone applies to all areas of your life, so going to a new vacation spot, trying a new restaurant or picking up your first dumbbell all count as stretch!
So, let me know in the comments below how are you going to stretch your comfort zone today?
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