Your comfort zone is the boundary in which you operate on a daily basis, doing things you know how to do and have typically done before. Outside that zone lie all the unfamiliar and perhaps scary experiences – the things you avoid because you can’t do them.
Imagine your own comfort zone as a circular area; everything inside it is familiar and comfortable, everything outside it is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. The reason it’s unfamiliar is that you don’t go there.
As an example, where would your comfort zone boundary lie in terms of standing up and presenting in front of a group of people? Are you comfortable in front of 5 people? How about a room full of 30 people?
Picture the scene – the hall is filled with 500 people and they’re here to see you. You step up onto the stage and they all go quiet and await your words. From the stage, you look out across the sea of faces and prepare to say that opening sentence. If your heart rate has risen at the thought of this then, like the majority of people, this is outside your comfort zone. Perhaps a long way outside! It’s been said that the fear of public speaking ranks higher than the fear of death itself to many people – which is pretty strange when you think about it.
The thing about your comfort zone is that it’s as big as you choose to make it. As soon as you have the courage to do something outside your comfort zone, your comfort zone grows that little bit bigger. If the biggest audience you’ve spoken in front of is 20 people and you speak in front of 5 for 10 minutes, chances are you’ll then be comfortable to do that again. For some, it may take two or three occurrences before you feel truly comfortable, but you get there.
One of the greatest joys in life comes with expanding our comfort zone. It’s a lot about confronting and conquering our fears. For most people their first driving lesson is a scary experience – or at least the thinking about it beforehand and getting in the car feels scary. By the end of that first lesson, and certainly after passing the driving test, your comfort zone expands and the fear goes away – replaced by a sense of freedom and accomplishment. And actually increased confidence also.
In many ways the emotion of fear and the emotion of excitement are one and the same, it’s just our thinking that accompanies them. When you recognise that you feel fear in relation to your comfort zone, you can choose to experience it instead as excitement. This may seem an odd concept to some, but give it a try. If you decide to do your first parachute jump, focus not on how scary it is – which usually means thinking about what could go wrong! Think about the exhilaration, the freedom, the amazing views… and how, when you touch safely and lightly on the ground, you’ll inevitably say “Can I do it again?”.
Living within your comfort zone makes for a very dull life. The true feeling of living life to the full and achieving the most will come about by continually expanding your comfort zone. But it has to be a personal choice, and it’s sensible to take things one step at a time – expand in comfortably uncomfortable steps – if that makes sense? One of my favourite sayings is that “Everything you ever wanted is right there waiting for you – it’s sitting right there, waiting for you – just outside your comfort zone.”.
I make a habit of continually expanding my comfort zone. The fears that keep us inside are unreal, they evaporate as soon as you take the risk and step outside. Yes, there may be some small consequences, but they’re often better than the alternative. If you go for that big promotion or apply for a new job you might get rejected, but you might not! The only thing worse than being rejected is not to even try. As Susan Jeffers famously said in her book “Feel the fear and do it anyway”.
I highly recommend that you think about your comfort zone, or rather the places outside of it, and nail them one by one. Take that course that you don’t think you can complete. Start that new hobby. Apply for that promotion. Learn that new skill. Take that scary/exciting trip of a lifetime. Make a list and tick them off. In a word, “live”.