People talk about comfort zones all the time. We often hear that we need to leave our comfort zone in order to get what we want, create a new life, or have new experiences. Especially in the personal growth world, there’s an assumption that comfort zones are bad – and that getting out of your comfort zone will and should feel hard and/or painful. The meme below has been circulating the internet for years, and I want to use it as a starting point. While some part of me agrees with it, there’s another part of me that’s irritated because there’s some missing context.
Our comfort zone feels good.
We may not all feel this way, but most of the people I speak to do: our comfort zone feels like a good place to be. A lot of us believe that everything outside our comfort zone is painful—and it has a lot to do with how we define comfort. When we think of the word “comfort,” it’s usually associated with feelings that make us happy or safe. So, when we apply that context to the comfort zone, we subconsciously relate it to all of the “happy” and “safe” things in our lives. The “magic zone” would also imply that it’s an unsafe or miserable process—which isn’t always the case.
Chaos – like a raucous party – is outside of my comfort zone. However, I know a lot of people whose comfort zone is in chaos. They thrive in loud spaces, with many people and a lot going on because it’s what their nervous system has grown accustomed to throughout their life. Just as chaos is out of my comfort zone, some people can find that calm is out of theirs. I watch people have a very similar response to the peace and quiet of nature, with no distractions, as I do to chaos: discomfort. While our “magic zones” may be different, what’s similar is that it’s a place we are unfamiliar with.
Comfort Familiar Zone
While it doesn’t have the same ring to it, a more accurate replacement to “comfort” would be “familiarity.” I went through a period of time in my life when almost everything was in upheaval. Being a single parent of two children, there were a lot of struggles and challenges that I had to face. Once I finally created a healthy relationship, was making good money, had no major challenges in my day-to-day life, and a wonderful home – I found myself with this habitual anxiety. I had to remind myself that everything was actually OK, and the uncomfortable energy I was feeling was really just unfamiliar. My nervous system had gotten very accustomed to being under stress, so ease was unfamiliar. It didn’t need to be harsh or painful. All I needed to do was allow for the magic that was outside of my familiar zone to enter.
It’s Ok for Things to Be Easy
During this time in my life, I made a mantra when I found myself waiting for the other shoe to drop: It’s safe to feel good. Actually allowing for peace, calm and pleasure are outside of many people’s comfort. While we may not like certain struggles, they’re comfortable because they’re familiar.
When we assume that magic lies beyond our comfort zone, there’s often a subconscious motive to seek pain and challenge for the sake of finding “the magic.” Sometimes, the challenge really is outside the comfort zone. For instance, it may feel uncomfortable to share something that we’re good at. To say “hey, I do this thing and it’s amazing” can be very challenging for many people to say to themselves—let alone anyone else. But, we don’t always need to make leaving our comfort zone hard or painful.
Leaving our comfort zone can mean loving ourselves and treating ourselves kindly, if we have a habit of treating ourselves harshly; or being treated kindly by others if we have grown accustomed to neglect or abuse. If we’ve had a habit of being in relational dynamics that aren’t kind to us, being treated kindly or being cherished can almost feel dangerous. But, there’s magic to be had in being treated well.
Crap Stinks, But It’s Warm
The people I work with would almost all rather be the givers than the takers. There’s a shared fear of being potentially indebted to somebody that keeps us from accepting generosity. It can be uncomfortable to think that we’re the “taker” in our dynamic relationships.
A lot of times we’ll settle in uncomfortable situations because it’s familiar to us. But when we look deeper, magic requires us to welcome the unfamiliar—which may mean allowing for what is good and what is easy in our lives. Being willing to be in that space is outside of our comfort zone—and there is absolutely magic there. My invitation to you is to notice where you become most uncomfortable and note where they are. You may find that an honest look in the mirror will allow you to recognize what really makes you uncomfortable vs what is just unfamiliar to you. That kind, yet honest self-reflection can do so much for allowing ourselves to begin to relax in those places. We are able to expand our capacity to feel comfortable in situations we haven’t felt before—and we don’t lose our contact with magic just because our capacity expands.
For a more in-depth conversation about this, watch my video on the topic.