How to Leave your Comfort Zone and Enter your ‘Growth Zone’
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“The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.” - Judith Bardwick in her 1991 work Danger in the Comfort Zone
In 1907, Robert Yerkes and John Dodson conducted one of the first experiments that illuminated a link between anxiety and performance.
Corresponding behavior has been seen in human beings.
This is true not just for more tangible types of performance such as being given a stressful new task at work, but also in many life areas such as understanding ourselves, relating to others, and so on.
The core idea is that our nervous systems have a Goldilocks zone of arousal.
When leaving the comfort zone, fear doesn’t always equate to being in the panic zone. As the above diagram shows, fear can be a necessary step en route to the learning and growth zones.
For many, self-actualization acts as a powerful incentive to leave the comfort zone.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs operates like a ladder, with the satisfaction of our ‘basic’ and ‘psychological’ needs being analogous to inhabiting the comfort zone.
As long as the decision to leave the comfort zone aligns with a person’s values, this shift is akin to making a bid for self-actualization.
Why is this important? For one, not striving for growth could mean falling into a state of inertia later in life.
“What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization.”
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s (2008) work on mindsets marked a paradigm shift in the field of positive psychology.
A habit of expanding our comfort zone equips people to handle change and ambiguity with more poise, leading to resilience.
While resilient systems bounce back to the same level after a shock, antifragile systems learn to grow from them, reaching new heights.
As outlined by Albert Bandura (1997), self-efficacy is the belief in being able to execute necessary actions in service of a goal.
Goals that lead to higher self-efficacy are specific, not too difficult, and short-term (Yailagh, Lloyd, & Walsh, 2009).
Leaving the comfort zone means a phase of trial and error, during which at least some level of success is inevitable.
Experiencing this success builds our self-efficacy, with belief in our ability starting to grow.
The cumulative upward spiral of achievement and confidence can become a potent asset for anyone.
Physiologically, there’s no difference between anxiety and excitement (Smith, Bradley, & Lang, 2005).
Both entail a ‘stress response,’ but whether they’re perceived as positive or negative is a matter of labeling.
Society tends to conceptualize all stress as ‘bad,’ but the idea of ‘eustress’ or ‘positive stress’ challenges this.
Eustress provides the energy to get through a public speech, go on a romantic date, and so on. These stimuli can be reframed as exciting, propelling us out of the comfort zone.
An essential step toward internalizing the growth mindset is to embrace neuroplasticity research. Once understood, less courage is needed to make the first move away from comfort because failure itself becomes integral to the journey.
At the core of Dweck’s theory is that humans are malleable and adaptable.
Occupying the comfort zone isn’t always detrimental. For example, it might be reasonable to stay in your ukulele-playing comfort zone but not your managing-personal-finances one.
The point is to identify bottlenecks: areas of life where being too comfortable does more harm than good. Encourage goal selectivity so you can focus effectively.
It’s okay to take small, methodical steps, as well as larger, bolder ones.
Leaving behind the comfort zone doesn’t mean recklessly throwing caution to the wind. Every step forward is progress.
Patiently fostering self-awareness while intelligently assessing each zone’s boundaries is a sure way to make the process as smooth as possible.
In everyday life, there are ample opportunities to challenge yourself.
Growing your skillset can foster creativity and refresh your self-confidence, as well as increase employability.
Skills like public speaking, negotiation, and leadership can represent a new challenge for many people.
Investing in them can build resilience, personal satisfaction, and open up more opportunities than ever.
Many people want to improve their diets and stop relying on ‘comfort foods.’ Doing so often means trying something new.
Sticking to a healthy diet can be as challenging as it is rewarding, with self-efficacy growing as you hit milestone goals along the way.
Similarly, many aspire to this goal. For some, it can mean running their first 5K, but for others, it might be completing a triathlon.
Aiming high with exercise is emblematic of leaving the comfort zone and a great way to get the ball rolling.
Creativity – anything from writing a poem to building a business – usually involves an element of risk.
Creative endeavors are about stepping into the unknown, with failing and subsequent learning as expected outcomes.
Exercising creativity is a good way to train yourself to have a growth mindset and let go of a need for perfection from the outset.
While exploring alternative perspectives can be uncomfortable, it enables growth and insight by challenging entrenched beliefs.
This might take several forms, such as reading varied book genres, diversifying who you talk to, and visiting new places.
It’s easy to get stuck in our ways, but this can lead to complacency – a hallmark of being in the comfort zone.
When employed sensitively, honesty can be a tremendous catalyst for personal growth.
Whether being straight with yourself in a private journal or telling someone close how you feel, honesty forces people out of their comfort zone.
Through honest communication, we can understand ourselves better and build deeper bonds with others.
All growth starts at the end of your comfort zone.
You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.
My comfort zone is like a little bubble around me, and I’ve pushed it in different directions and made it bigger and bigger until these objectives that seemed totally crazy eventually fall within the realm of the possible.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
Becoming is better than being. The fixed mindset does not allow people the luxury of becoming. They have to already be.
One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.
Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.
You have calibrated life when most of what you fear has the titillating prospect of adventure.
The level of effort you tolerate from yourself will define your life.
May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.
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Lawyer turned Artist Visionary Curator & Gallerist. Empowering self-love and joy through art. www.innerjoyart.com 💝 Instagram : dymphna.art
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