Comfort zones are funny places. We create them to keep us safe and happy–places we come back to again and again when the world lets us down. How many of us have curled up with a bowl of ice cream after a bad day at work, letting the rich, chocolate taste melt all the stress away? No wonder we call it a comfort zone. After all, what could be better than that? Of course, there is only one problem. Actions taken in the comfort zone seldom solve any problems. In fact, they usually contribute to them. Yet we keep returning, hoping that somehow everything will be alright once we are safely cocooned in the comfort zone.
We create different comfort zones for different parts of our lives. We have them for work, for relationships, even for health. Anywhere we might be challenged is a an area we create a place to protect ourselves. It’s not surprising, though. As a species, we are designed to maintain the status quo–it’s the way our brains are wired. We like to stay with what we know, because a change could signal danger or even death. That may be a bit dramatic now that most of us aren’t watching out for sabre tooth tigers during the morning walk, but you get the idea. It may not be a tiger that could change our lives. Perhaps now it is a new job, or a new career.
The idea of change is subconsciously so intimidating we back away from it, retreating into the familiar comfort zone. Given this information, it isn’t surprising that comfort zones should be viewed more as comfort prisons–cozy places designed to keep us safe, happy, and numb. Places where we are pleasantly paralyzed, all the while wondering why we can’t seem to reach that new goal we say is so important.
How do you know if your comfort zone is really a jail holding you back from continued change and growth? There is one easy sign. If you can list a million reasons why something isn’t going to work–why it doesn’t even make sense to try–chances are you have built up some pretty big barriers to reaching your goals and created a comfort prison.
It’s not an unusual event. I often see this behavior when first talking to clients. Oftentimes they find me because of a health scare such as high blood pressure or the onset of diabetes. We begin to explore ways to alter current behaviors to create long-term healthier lifestyles and the client suddenly throws up a roadblock, explaining why that couldn’t possibly work for them. A few minutes later, another roadblock comes up–and then another. It is ironic that the one area the people most want to change is also the area they are the most willing to protect.
As a coach, part of my job is to help people face change and overcome fears on the road to a healthier, happier life. In order to do that, we must identify the comfort zones holding us back and look for ways to dismantle the walls those zones inevitably build. It is not an easy thing to do. Losing the comfort of that bowl of ice cream can be like losing an old friend, but that is an indication that perhaps losing the ice cream is something that needs to happen.
If you are feeling stuck in your life, wanting to change but not sure how to go about it, you might want to look at your comfort zones. Look at what you want to change, then listen to the voice inside your head telling you all the reasons it couldn’t possibly work. The louder the voice, the greater the chance you have hit an area that needs attention. Write down what the voice says–every detail. Then take a breath and begin to write all the reasons it can work, and what will happen when it does.
This is the first step on breaking free of your comfort prison. Once you do this, you just may discover your comfort zone wasn’t quite so comfortable after all.