Counterintuitively, your comfort zone is uncomfortable. I know this sounds odd, but please hear me out. I have 33.5 years of experience and several pieces of evidence that I’d like to lay out for you now.
Original photo by Roberto Nickson
It seems odd that we’d call something a comfort zone if it were uncomfortable. I’m not sure where the term originated, but I don’t think it’s inherently wrong. I do, however, think this is one of those things that can be explained by the current state of the first world human existence and how un-evolved we are as a species.
Before I go much further, I guess I need to say that I have no idea how the human brain actually works. At least, on a neurological level. I do, however, have a brain that seems to either help me succeed or sabotage me at every single turn. And, if I’m being honest, I don’t think anyone comes to this blog for neurology innovations and research. (If you do, Google better.) But I do think you are here as a human being who wants to find ways to improve yourself.
So, if you read this post and you feel like something I say doesn’t sound like science, it’s because it’s not. It is, however, my experience. And I’m pretty unoriginal and absolutely not unique in any way, so you’ve probably noticed this in your life too.Your comfort zone is uncomfortable. Click To Tweet
So, with that, let’s talk about why your comfort zone is uncomfortable.
Your Comfort Zone is Uncomfortable
On the surface, yes. Your comfort zone is comfortable in the sense that it’s easy. You don’t have to try hard, and everything around you is familiar. It’s why we sit at home and watch the same episodes of Parks and Rec or The Office, but don’t go to the networking event we know we should attend.
It’s why we so easily fall into routines and find ourselves doing the same, easy things. It’s convenient, and honestly, you have to make like one billion decisions a day, so when you an autopilot something, or just let your guard down, then it feels good.
Your Comfort Zone Is an Old Pair of Yoga Pants
I have a pair of yoga pants that are seriously past their prime. I bought them maybe 5 years ago, and I’ve worn them to the grocery store, I’ve slept in them, and more importantly, I’ve done a lot of writing in them.
Sometimes I joke that these yoga pants are more integral to my writing process than the laptop.
But they don’t look good, and they are falling apart.
They’ve been washed and worn so much that the elastic around the waist has given up the ghost. If I wear them while I chase Rosie around the house, they fall down. The hem at the bottom is frayed and full of tiny holes from me walking on them. There are places where, if you hold them up to the light, you can see through them because the fabric has gotten so thin.
I shouldn’t keep these.
I don’t need to keep them.
But every time I think about throwing them away, I just can’t make myself do it. They’re easy to wear. I can just toss them on after work and cuddle up on the couch with Rosie while I write. And the more I think about them, the more I realize that I pretty much ONLY wear those when I’m home. It’s like as soon as I get home, I take off the work clothes and put on these stupid yoga pants.
It’s just easy. It’s the habit I’m in. And it’s comfortable.
But it’s not good.
Would I feel better about myself if I bought a new pair of yoga pants — maybe a pair that I could easily wear outside the house?
I think so.
And would I feel more put together if I weren’t wearing a piece of clothing that was falling apart?
On some level, do I think I’m disrespecting myself by continuing to wear these janky pants that are falling apart?
And that’s why your comfort zone is like my sad and worn-out yoga pants.Your comfort zone is like my sad and worn-out yoga pants. Click To Tweet
Your comfort zone is a place where you do the same thing over and over because it’s easy and convenient. It’s where you don’t have to try. It’s where you don’t show yourself the sort of respect and compassion that you always should. You can let it all hang out.
It’s not always a bad thing. But it’s not always the best thing.
It’s Kind of Like Comfort Food
My comfort food of choice is a chicken-fried steak sandwich with a side of onion rings. In fact, last summer I outlined a whole podcast series called The Steak Sandwich Sessions where I wanted to interview people on their failed coping mechanisms.
(It still might happen, but not right now.)
I never feel good after eating a chicken-fried steak sandwich with a side of onion rings. I usually need a nap, and I can feel my pulse increase to accommodate all the salt and carbs I’ve ingested. but it tastes good.
That’s the thing with comfort food, though. It tastes great, but it’s not good for us.
I don’t know anyone who thinks of raw veggies or fresh fruit as a comfort food. (If you do, please go away.) Comfort food fills a hole. Comfort food is a flawed coping mechanism.
Sure, there’s nothing wrong with food on it’s own. There is no moral quality to a meal. It’s just fuel that our bodies burn as energy.
However, comfort food tends to be put up on a pedestal in our minds. It’s something that we know we shouldn’t have every day for health reasons, and it’s something that we treat ourselves to on special (or very sad) occasions.
We know how to deal with comfort food. But comfort zones?
We wallow in that shit as much as we possibly can.
What If We Called It the Complacent Zone?
I will never tell anyone that they shouldn’t take a weekend off. If you need a couple of days at home in your jammies to just binge Netflix, then do it.
I will never tell anyone to up and leave an unfulfilling job. I know you need money, and I know it takes time to find a new opportunity.
I will never tell anyone to call it quits with their partner. If you’ve got history with someone, it’s hard to leave them, even if you aren’t happy.
But that’s the thing, isn’t it?
We get so complacent in situations that aren’t good for us. We aren’t in imminent danger, so our brains tell us we’re safe. And when we feel safe, we don’t act. That’s where our lack of evolution comes in. We still have this brain chemistry that comes from our days of running from wooly mammoths (or something) and fighting off packs of neanderthals (I think).
But we live in a world where we can click an app and have a stranger bring our favorite restaurant meal to our door while we watch multiple episodes of a dating show on Netflix while the A/C blows cool air on our faces.
We’re safe a lot.
But the things that stress us out? Like social interactions and new experiences? Our brain reacts to those the same way our ancestors brains reacted to bears attacking.
It’s a really intense feeling, and you aren’t crazy for not wanting to feel stress. But you do have to tell your brain that there are no bears at this job interview or first date.
(I mean, unless we’re talking big, bearded men, and then I would think your brain would feel really excited and not stressed.)
So you have to ask yourself if you’re staying in your comfort zone because it’s easy, or if you really want out.
Here’s the Discomfort
I once stayed at the worst job I’ve ever had for far too long, just because it was paying me a lot to do nothing. I didn’t acknowledge how depressed I was, or how much weight I gained while working there. I kept telling myself it was a paycheck, and I should just quit complaining.
It was terrible, make no mistake. The entire department I was in spent the majority of our day complaining about how terrible it was to be there. We took the new hires out to lunch to let them know what a shit hole that company was.
And I did apply for jobs — I went on so many interviews (and claimed they were for doctor’s appointments) that my boss actually said to me that I sure must have something wrong with me.
(If that company burns to the ground, it won’t be enough to cleanse the world.)
But I kept staying and got lazy and stopped looking. It was money. Up until that point, it was the most I’d ever made at a day job. Why would look elsewhere?
And that’s the problem. Our comfort zone is just familiar experiences. And I was familiar with that terrible situation. So my brain told me I needed to stay at that job because it was easier than finding something that would be unfamiliar.Our comfort zone is just familiar experiences. And I was familiar with that terrible situation. Click To Tweet
So I spent two miserable years at a job that functionally got me nowhere in life because it was easier than finding something else.
But I finally left, because I realized I had come too far to only come that far. I also realized I had to stop being my own safety net.
And Now, for the Big Finish
I’m not telling you to jump out of a plane or make your home in a foreign land you’ve never seen before.
I’m just asking you to take a look around. Are you wearing some shitty yoga pants and downing steak sandwiches? (Or, you know, an equivalent thereof?)
If so, maybe it’s time to do the hard thing. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge how your comfort zone is uncomfortable.
I can always tell when I am too comfortable and have been too complacent in my daily life. Typically I become restless, agitated, irritable, and not too pleasant to be around. Basically the past month or two. I like being comfortable when I need to be, but I also like doing things that are outside my norm. It breaks up the monotony and the routine. Nothing wrong with routine, but sometimes it needs a good shakeup.
I completely agree!
Comfort zones are things built by our minds to portect us…from what? That danger is long past in some cases. When i started to read i said…right yeah no way. When i finished I said ummmm. Food. Space. Ac on summer. Heat on winter. Inside not outside. Staying in not walking or riding that 118speed bicycle. I for sure have found a zone and camped out in it. It is time to move out…pull up the tent grab the backpack and hike onwards. Thanks….
Good luck on new ventures, John!
New venture…a novel written this season