The magic happens outside your comfort zone. Life begins where your comfort zone ends. A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there.
We have all heard, and most of us have come to believe, that we need to step outside of our comfort zone to achieve greatness. Or at least, according to the inspirational quotes, to let the magic happen, to have life begin, or to grow stuff.
This sounds like nonsense to me, since most of my magical moments have nothing to do with stepping outside my comfort zone, life is happening all the time, whether we’re comfortable or not, and actually, in my experience, stuff tends to grow a lot better when it is comfortable.
So what does it really mean to step outside of our comfort zone? Our comfort zone is where we feel low anxiety and stress. When we start to feel anxiety and stress, there’s a good chance we’re moving outside of our comfort zone. Psychologically speaking, stepping outside our comfort zone can be good — stress and anxiety can actually help improve concentration and focus, and that allows us to perform even better, and to learn new things. But, step too far out of the zone, and anxiety levels will get too high — actually negatively impacting performance and ability to learn. That’s where we start panicking and losing it, so to speak.
Now mostly, when we see quotes like the one above, they are to encourage self improvement. To push ourselves to go for greater and greater things, by doing things that stress us out. We’re told that the more we do those things, the less they will stress us out, and the more they will become normal. Part of an expanded comfort zone, if you will. Which makes me wonder what we’ll end up ultimately having to do to find the magic, with this hugely expanded comfort zone.
As an introvert, the idea of having to step outside my comfort zone makes me really, really, well … uncomfortable. Many times over the years I have stepped outside my comfort zone, and let me tell you, the results were generally less than magical. Which has led me to believe that there’s more to stepping outside your comfort zone than the motivational quotes provide.
A lot of times, we figure we just need to do anything that makes us a little uncomfortable. So I tried group fitness classes. The very thought of those things strikes fear into my heart. The instructors are always cheerful and yelling and wanting you to yell too. Class participation! Give me a “woo hoo!” I want to give the middle finger. It’s a introvert’s nightmare. Like when I used to run (I use the term “run” lightly here, my fastest pace was more like a very slow jog) and people kept telling me I should run with a group and I couldn’t understand why everyone wanted to ruin running for me. Anyway, I figured I needed to step outside my comfort zone to make my life better, and taking group fitness classes was definitely outside that comfort zone. And the result was … no improvement. No magic, nothing grew, no great new insights on life. Just me hating the gym even more and being super thankful when the classes were over.
Why didn’t it work? Why didn’t I find magic? Did I simply pick the wrong activity? Did I not do it right, not try hard enough? Did I just not want it badly enough?
I don’t think so. I think it came down to the “why”.
I didn’t know why I wanted to step out of my comfort zone. Other than the vague promises of “magic” and “life beginning”, I just didn’t really know. I mean, I wanted to be in better shape and lose weight, but, as it turns out, I wasn’t super clear on the why behind the what. And by the “why”, I mean the feeling I was chasing. Mark Manson wrote a great article in which he talks about asking people what they are willing to suffer for. We all want to be happy, and as it turns out, being truly happy requires struggle. There’s lot’s crap along the way that we’re going to have to suffer for. If we’re clear on the “why”, we can decide whether we’ve picked the right comfort zone expanding activity, because we’ll be willing to suffer for it, if the why is compelling enough to us. We’ll be willing to do the hard work.
Now that I’ve gotten really clear on my whys — it has become a lot easier for me to figure out where I actually need to step out of my comfort zone, and where that will lead to real results, and not just misery and complaining. Although there will be misery and complaining — it’s just that it will be worth it.
So instead of just randomly picking something outside your comfort zone, ask yourself, how to do I want to feel? What feeling would make it worth the stress and anxiety of stepping outside your comfort zone? And try an activity that you think will get you there.
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By the way, asking you to do that put me outside of my comfort zone.