The Benefits of Crossing the Threshold of Your Comfort Zone
Everyone wants to feel safe, comfortable and secure in their existence. According to Abigail Brenner, psychiatrist and author of Transitions: How Women Embrace Change and Celebrate Life, the comfort zone is:
“a psychological/emotional/behavioral construct that defines the routine of our daily life. Being in one’s comfort zone implies familiarity, safety, and security. It describes the patterned world of our existence, keeps us relatively comfortable and calm, and helps us stay emotionally even, free from anxiety and worry to a great degree.”
Stepping outside our comfort zone takes courage and it implies taking a certain amount of risk by opening ourselves up to the possibility of stress and anxiety.
It is no surprise that the word stress has gained negative connotations, but we must realize that there is a big difference between plain, ugly Stress, and Healthy Stress, as healthy stress can actually act as a catalyst for growth and provide a powerful motivation to act.
In 1908, psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of relative comfort creates a steady level of performance. In order to maximize performance, however, we need a state of relative anxiety—a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This space is called Optimal Anxiety, and it’s just outside our comfort zone. Too much anxiety and we’re too stressed to be productive, and our performance decreases considerably.
Staying in your comfort zone can result in consistent, steady performance, but by stepping out of it into a new and challenging task you can reach your optimal performance. If we take a minute and think about it, it is quite true that we achieve the most by stepping out of our safe bubbles.
Anyone who has ever tried to reach the next level, or to achieve something knows that when you really challenge yourself, you can obtain amazing results. However, pushing too hard can actually cause a negative result, and reinforce the idea that challenging yourself is a bad idea. That is why it is so hard to reach outside your comfort zone.
Nevertheless, our comfort zone is neither a good, nor a bad thing. It is, in fact, a neutral ground, a starting point. Leaving it means increased risk and anxiety, but also the chance to perform better and to gain new insights and experiences.
Optimal anxiety is that place where your mental productivity and performance reach their peak. However, the real question is: “What are the benefits of crossing the threshold of your comfort zone?”
- First and foremost, you will become more productive. When you don’t have deadlines and expectations, you tend to slack off and do just enough to get by. Comfort kills productivity because you begin to want to remain where you are and to avoid doing new things. By pushing your personal boundaries, you will become more efficient and you will learn new things.
- You will become more flexible. One of the worst things you can do is to pretend fear and uncertainty don’t exist. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, explains that by taking risks in a controlled fashion and challenging yourselves to things you normally wouldn’t do, you can experience some of that uncertainty in a controlled, manageable environment. This way, when life throws a curve ball at you, you will be prepared to catch it.
- You will become stronger. Practice makes perfect, but it also makes it easier. In the same article, Brené Brown explains that by regularly stepping out of your comfort zone, you will get used to that state of optimal anxiety. This state of being is known as “productive discomfort” and by stepping into it, it will become more normal and you will find it easier to stretch its boundaries. As you push yourself, your comfort zone expands, so what was previously difficult and anxiety-inducing, becomes easier as you repeat it.
- You will find it easier to access your creativity. It is a fact that by seeking new experiences, learning new things and opening the door to new ideas, we expand our view of life and we acquire new knowledge that can inspire and educate us. By doing all of these, we start seeing the world in a different light and we become more eager to learn and challenge ourselves.
Stepping outside our comfort zone can have a multitude of benefits that can last a lifetime. However, adaptation takes time, effort, strategy and determination. But with a solid plan in place and the courage to step forward, your results can be extraordinary. In the end, it is better to have tried and failed, than never to have tried at all.