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No Growth in Comfort, No Comfort in Growth
Have you heard that saying before? "There's no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone." Think about it for a moment, and you realize just how true it is.
Growth is a terribly uncomfortable experience; it's the process of pushing yourself beyond where you've been before. In the same way that we get growing pains as kids, we feel an internal pain every time our limits are exceeded – whether it be our social, physical, intellectual, or emotional limits.
But whoever said an easy life was worth living? Oscar Wilde said, "To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all." If we want to be people who really live instead of just surviving, we're going to have to get out of our comfort zones.
(And we're going to have to do this on a regular basis!)
If you feel a growing sense that your life has become stagnant – that you aren't doing your best or reaching your potential – I'm here to unpack the psychology behind those feelings and, most importantly, find out how you can escape them for good.
Let's talk about it.
Personal Growth is a Proven Satisfaction Booster
We saw some exciting research come out in 2022 that essentially proves the life-changing benefits of stretching your perceived limits.
There were two groups involved – the control group just had to keep a journal of their activities, but the test group had to spend two weeks doing something outside their comfort zone. They had complete agency over choosing the activity, but it had to be out of the ordinary.
By the end of the study, there was a distinct difference between the groups; those who had challenged themselves to try something new felt significantly more satisfied with their lives.
We can trace this back to a few likely factors:
The participants could choose their activity, so they felt ownership over their choice and therefore had a greater sense of agency.
There was a sense of fulfilment in achieving something they hadn't considered or felt confident to attempt before.
They were able to break down some of their limiting beliefs and see beyond their self-imposed limits.
We are an evolved species for a reason; we're not built to stagnate. Humans should be in a constant state of learning, growing, and exploring beyond our horizons.
But if we know it's good for us, why do we stay still?
When Comfort Leads to Stagnation
There's a reason why we call it the 'comfort zone' – it provides total comfort. At least, it provides comfort at first.
Let's look at this through the lens of an example most of us can relate to: staying in a mediocre job.
When you stay in a job you've been in for years, there's an element of comfort keeping you there. You know the people. You know the tasks inside and out. You're comfortable and confident in what you're doing.
It's perfectly fine to stay in a job you enjoy. But what if you don't actually enjoy it anymore? What if there's a toxic team member bringing you down, or the work simply isn't challenging enough?
Sometimes, the comfort compels us to stay regardless. The thought of starting all over again is daunting. Why leave when you're coping well enough here?
This is where comfort becomes a double-edged sword. Too much of it, and it begins to work against us. That same job that was so comfortable at first slowly turns into monotony; boredom sets in, and our productivity suffers as a result.
The Psychology of Staying Put
On a neurological level, we are hardwired to avoid pain. We're not built to embrace it by default.
By pain, I'm talking about all aspects – not just physical pain but anxiety, heartache, disappointment, depression, sadness, discomfort, anger. All of it. Since pain of any kind is our body's way of saying, "Hey, this is dangerous!" it's no wonder we try to avoid it.
It's not wrong to do so, either; in fact, research shows that pain avoidance is a part of our survival instinct. Without it, we'd be unable to protect ourselves from harm and survive as long as humans have done for centuries.
But we're at a point in our evolution where we need to bring a level of logic and reasoning into this. It's not as simple anymore; for instance, anxiety can arise from situations that are in no way threatening to our survival.
We need to confront our fears and anxieties head-on, see where exactly they're coming from, and then make the conscious choice to move forward anyway.
The Role of Self-Limiting Beliefs
A huge element that plays into all of this is our self-limiting beliefs. Yes, we are mostly trying to avoid pain and discomfort wherever we can – but sometimes, we don't even believe in ourselves enough to try.
How often do you get partway into a new workout schedule and drop it altogether? How many times have you vowed to start a meditation habit, only to give up after a few days?
On a more serious note, how many relationships have you avoided because you don't believe you're worthy or prepared to receive that love? What jobs have you failed to apply for because you "probably won't get it anyway"?
It's crazy to think that, as humans, we're capable of pretty much anything. It's the narratives we tell ourselves that actually stop us from reaching new heights.
Where Self-Limitations Come From
It's completely understandable that you're skeptical of this concept – after all, nobody likes to think they're the one holding themselves back.
The truth is we all have stories and beliefs about ourselves that are ingrained in us since childhood. Those formative years end up writing the stories we tell ourselves down the track.
If you didn't get the love and support you needed from your caregivers, it's not unusual to feel unworthy of love as an adult. If you were told from a young age that you wouldn't amount to much, everything might feel out of your reach.
This is where shadow work and inner child therapy are incredibly helpful. When you trace your limitations back to their source, you'll start to wonder – could I actually move past these blockages? If they're just a narrative, what's stopping me?
Why You Must Leave Your Comfort Zone (At Some Point)
Being free to make your own choices is a blessing and a curse. No one is in your ear telling you what to do – but that means no one is going to push you unless you do.
Why should you push yourself, then? What's the prize for making yourself uncomfortable on purpose?
Well, as we saw from the study discussed earlier, you'll always be happier in that sweet spot just outside your comfort zone. Here, you'll find the fulfillment of trying something new and the joy that comes from achieving it.
You'll also start to see just how capable you are – that all those self-limiting beliefs were there for no reason other than conditioning and socialization. You're much more powerful than you think; it's just a matter of tapping into that power and using it to shape your life in new ways.
A Powerful Visualization Exercise
In all my pursuits of self-development, I've done a lot of work to get out of the comfort zone. I've tried plenty of exercises – but the one that stands out for me is a very simple visualization.
This involves a daily journal. You can do it any time, but I prefer to do it in the mornings to set each day's trajectory.
All you are doing is picturing yourself ten years down the track. But this is not a manifestation exercise; you're not imagining how you want to look or where you want to be. You are imagining how you will be based on the actions you're currently taking.
For example: say you've fallen off the bandwagon with your exercise routine, you're not looking after your mind and body, and you haven't been spending time with friends.
Then you imagine yourself in ten years, and you will see that version of yourself if those habits don't change. You'll be out of shape, perhaps a bit depressed, and feeling quite lonely.
But then – the magic part – you switch it up again and imagine what would happen if you started working on all these areas today. It compels you to carve out some time for those habits because you don't want that future version of yourself to ever exist.
I much prefer this approach to anything else because it's a gradual, granular process. You're basing the events of each day on the person you want to be in the future. It's really that simple.
Small, Consistent Steps Over Giant Sporradic Leaps
Another approach I'll suggest here is moving out of your comfort zone slowly. There's no need to climb Mount Everest if you hate snow and heights. There's no need to quit your job and move to the other side of the world.
Since challenging yourself is a muscle, and muscles build over time, it's better to take this slowly.
If you want to get out there and be more social, for instance, maybe you'll start by messaging someone you grew apart from. Perhaps you could invite a friend for coffee. Eventually, you can build up to making entirely new friends at networking events – but it doesn't have to be straight away.
What you want to avoid is these giant leaps that are so big you never actually follow through. Pushing yourself really does get easier with time, so trust the process. One step at a time.
When Comfort Is Exactly What You Need
As we draw to a close, I want to make something very clear. There will be times throughout your life when staying comfortable is your only option.
Tragedy can strike us in many ways, whether it's being let go, losing a loved one, or falling out of a relationship. Life can be cruel when we least expect it.
It's in these periods of life that wrapping ourselves in a protective cocoon may be best. Not forever, of course – the transition to a butterfly after a period of dormancy is a beautiful thing. But healing is a part of life that we need to make room for.
I don't call these moments stagnant. They are times of much-needed stillness. When we're ready, we can decide to face the world again and start challenging ourselves for our own benefit.
Are you feeling ready to start pushing against those boundaries? I hope so – because it can be completely life-changing.
The key is to start small and build up; don't expect overnight success, but rather bask in the glory of becoming a different version of yourself each day. It's an incredible process that will open up new opportunities you never knew existed before.
Remember – no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone! But with slow and steady steps, you'll find yourself on top of the world soon enough.
If you enjoyed this article, I’d love to hear from you.
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