Getting a Bigger Comfort Zone

How big is your comfort zone?

Is it a comfortable box to live in?  Have space to move around and stretch and play?  Or, it is so confining you can barely move without feeling anxiety.

Ice-cream cone kitty brimeth over

Our comfort zone is born of what is “known” to us.  Once we’ve experienced something once, our mind learns that it had a resulting experience. Our mind then maps the result to the action.  Once it has been experienced once, it is not purely an Unknown experience.  Things that are Unknown, that we’ve never done before, feel unsafe to the subconscious mind.  When we have no past experience to rely upon, we cannot possibly know the result, and then we feel it is not safe.  If we constantly operate in our known realm of known things then our minds become habituated to expecting that level of comfort.  We start to feel more anxiety when we are doing something outside our worn patterns of “normal for us”.  Over time, we feel comfortable tolerating less and less anxiety from situations where we are not expert.  As a result, our comfort zone shrinks.  As each day passes that we only do what we have successfully done before, the zone gets smaller and smaller. Our mind continually tries to convince us to only stay where it is safe and known, where we know that we are capable and proficient, because we’ve done it a hundred times before. Patterns are considered safe, because they are known.

But they are also boring.

Close your eyes and take yourself back to when you were a child.  Young enough that you hadn’t yet been judged for being ‘not enough’.  Back when the world was simply nothing but possibility.  The world was there to be explored.  That is it. Just explored.  You wanted to try new things.  The trying WAS the objective, it really wasn’t about how good YOU were AT it.  It was about the doing of it, the experience of it, the sensation of it, the challenging yourself to grow and expand under new stimuli.

Did you learn to ride a bike to win first place in a bicycle skills contest? No, you wanted to experience speed, and balance, and the wind against your face.  Wind that you created with applying nothing but your own body and muscles to create it.

Did you learn to swim so that someone would praise you for being a graceful and efficient swimmer?  No, you wanted to experience the deep end – to suspend yourself in the weightlessness of having nothing solid below your feet for the first time ever.

We had to learn how to do these things.  We failed at them for a long time before we succeeded at them.  I remember being driven and excited to grow these skills as a child, but I don’t remember ever being afraid of being judged about “looking stupid” while I did them.  E.g. I wasn’t projecting my experience THROUGH THE EYES OF SOMEONE ELSE. No, I simply immersed in my own experience. There was nothing in my awareness outside of what it would FEEL LIKE to DO it – present tense sensation.  Yet, as we age, we start putting half our focus on the external – of how we’ll look while doing it, how we’ll be perceived while doing it, how we’ll be judged by others while we are doing it, e.g. how we’ll be judged by others after we’re done. [Projecting into the future AND being outside of ourselves).

But somewhere along the way we stop doing things just for the experience.  We start focusing on judgments and achievements.  Specifically, we seek “good” judgements.  We want to feel confident that our performance will be “good” – and we can only feel that confidence if we’ve already done it before.  Doing things outside of our comfort zone becomes scarier, because… we have more to lose.  As if not being good at something is a reflection on our character.

When we were a child there was no “bad” result. We simply kept doing whatever it was we were inspired to do.  Either we kept at it until we got better (because, turns out, it is inevitable to get better at something as long as we keep doing it – it is intrinsic to our human hardware and abilities), or, we got bored with it and wandered on to something else.

I challenge you to take a look at your comfort zone and your daily patterns. 

Try to explore the FEELING of discomfort that comes from breaking out of a pattern.  Noticing this discomfort is important – discomfort doesn’t mean “this is bad or dangerous”, it actually only means “unknown and different”. Your subconscious doesn’t have a recording for this – so your brain is going “off script” – and you are feeling that sensation.  Exploring and noticing these sensations on harmless activities is vital to disarming the power they have over you when you’re trying to make meaningful changes in your life.

Start with harmless things, and have some fun with it!  Three random ideas:

  • Try brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand
  • When you first wake up, get out of bed and walk straight outside … in bare feet and all … without stopping to do anything else (provided, of course, that you don’t sleep naked!)
  • If you are going into a dark room to grab something, and normally you’d flip on the light – Don’t.  Take the extra time to let your eyes adapt, and use your other senses to navigate yourself to your item.  (Be careful! Go very slow to not trip or stub something of course!) [As an aside, if you do this enough, your night vision will actually improve. Use it or lose it, as they say ;)]

And think of your own challenges! The idea here is to find a pattern (I always brush my teeth the same way, I have a morning routine in the bathroom and kitchen before I ever step outside, I always turn on a light to find something in a dark room) – and then break up the pattern.  You’ll find that breaking up these ‘harmless’ patterns will create space to start thinking about other things in your life differently as well. Who knows, you may next feel called to embark on building a new skill or talent, like learning guitar or public speaking!

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