What Is the Comfort Zone in Psychology?
The metaphor “leaving one’s comfort zone” became popular in the 1990s and is now used often in cultural discourse. The phrase ‘comfort zone’ was coined by management thinker Judith Bardwick in her 1991 work Danger in the Comfort Zone:
A comfort zone is a situation where a person feels no anxiety and can perform their usual tasks without any sense of risk.
If people are comfortable with their current level of performance, they are unlikely to try to improve. Here, people stick to safe routines and don’t take any risks, so their progress stagnates.
The idea can be linked back to behavioral psychology.
In 1907, Robert Yerkes and John Dodson found that anxiety affected performance.
The mice became more motivated to complete mazes when given electric shocks of increasing intensity, but only up to a point. When they reached a certain level, they started to hide instead of perform.
Corresponding behavior has been seen in human beings. The reason this makes sense is that when you are faced with something that makes you anxious, you have three options: either you can fight and confront the challenge, you can fly and run away or hide, or you can freeze and become paralyzed.
The Yerkes-Dodson Law states that optimal performance occurs when we have just the right amount of stress. 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.
Our nervous systems operate best when they are in a state of moderate arousal, not too high and not too low. If you do too little, you’ll stay in your comfort zone where boredom sets in. But if you do too much, you’ll enter the ‘panic’ zone, which will also stall your progress.
From Comfort Zone to the Growth Zone
Leaving your comfort zone does not always mean that you will be filled with fear. Fear is a necessary step in order to learn and grow.
Leaving your comfort zone requires courage as you are now in an area that is full of fear. If there is no clear plan or goal, it is difficult to learn from past experiences. This can be anxiety-provoking. If you continue to try, eventually you will enter a state of enhanced learning where you gain new skills and are able to handle challenges more effectively.
Once someone has learned something and become comfortable with it, they are able to achieve even more. This is what it means to be in the growth zone.
You won’t be successful in changing your behavior unless you are aware of what you’re doing. Thus, it can be beneficial for clients to consider the following:
- How big are their zones?
Across every life domain, everyone’s zones vary in size. You must appreciate the outer limits of your comfort zone in order to leave it. Understand where your level of comfort is so that you can know when you need to back off. Facing difficulties that are in between easy and hard will test you and cause you to develop and improve your skills.
- What are their strengths?
If you understand your personal strengths, you can use them to your advantage. Most people have experienced leaving their comfort zone in at least one area of life, and there are usually plenty of insights to be uncovered from this experience. It can be a great way to learn more about yourself and the world around you.
The process of moving from a comfort zone to a growth zone is not necessarily linear. Peaks, troughs, and plateaus often complicate the journey. Sometimes we need to take a break and stay in our comfort zone for a while before we have the energy to leave again. Nevertheless, appreciating the steps can help in tolerating uncertainty.
The comfort zone can be a tempting place to stay because it can feel safe and in control. It’s smooth sailing.
The best sailors, however, aren’t born in smooth waters.
In the next section, we’ll see some of the benefits of venturing outside your comfort zone.
Benefits of Leaving the Comfort Zone: 4 Examples
There are plenty of benefits to leaving the comfort zone, including enhancing performance.
For many, the desire to reach their full potential is a strong motivator to step outside their comfort zone. This tendency might be called self-actualization.” The concept of self-actualization was first popularized by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 theory of human motivation. Maslow described self-actualization as “the tendency for a person to reach their fullest potential.” This needs we may call self-actualization.”
Like a ladder, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has different levels that must be satisfied in order. The satisfaction of our basic and psychological needs is like being in a comfort zone. Our next requirement, whether we are conscious of it or not, is for personal growth and fulfillment, according to the theory.
This shift happens when a person’s decision to leave their comfort zone lines up with their values. When this happens, it’s like they are trying to reach their full potential. Why is this important? If you don’t strive for growth, you could become inactive later in life.
2. Development of a growth mindset
Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets in 2008 was a turning point in the study of positive psychology. research showed that there are two contrasting belief systems – fixed versus growth mindsets.
If someone has a fixed mindset, they believe that they have a certain amount of each ability and that there is a limit to how much they can achieve. Failing reveals that you are not good enough, and criticism makes you feel bad about yourself.
The growth mindset means recognizing humans as malleable. From this perspective, every failure is an opportunity to learn and there is no limit to what we can achieve.
Being willing to leave your comfort zone is necessary for having a growth mindset. The growth mindset allows us to see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow, instead of being trapped by the fear of failing. This text inspires us to learn and take healthy risks, leading to positive outcomes in all areas of life.
3. Resilience and antifragility
Life is unpredictable; perhaps people shouldn’t be either. Sooner or later, everyone faces adversity. A habit of expanding our comfort zone makes us better equipped to deal with change and ambiguity, resulting in increased resilience.
Taleb introduces the concept of ‘antifragile’ systems, which are systems that are designed to thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors.
While systems that are resilient will return to the original level after being shocked, antifragile systems will learn and grow from the experience, becoming even better. Leaving your comfort zone to become antifragile is a good idea, as long as you don’t become too panicked in the process.
4. Greater self-efficacy
According to Albert Bandura (1997), self-efficacy is the belief that you can take the necessary actions to achieve a goal. If you want to increase your self-efficacy, you should set specific, attainable goals that are not too difficult and are in the short term.
Leaving your comfort zone means you’ll have to experiment a bit and make some mistakes, but you’ll ultimately be successful. When we are successful, it increases our self-efficacy, which is the belief in our ability to do something.
You won’t become comfortable with new things overnight, just like other benefits of leaving your comfort zone. The more confidence and achievement someone has, the more they will have in the future.
10 Actionable Tips From Therapists For Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone
1. Create pros and cons lists for both scenarios
This is Alyssa Mancao, a mental-health expert. She says that writing down the facts can help to reduce some of the fear that might be preventing you from taking action. Despite the anxious thoughts and feelings of uncertainty, she says that sometimes the reward of stepping out of your comfort zone may be worth it. Outlining the pros and cons of a situation on paper can help you to see how much you might really benefit from it.
2. Acknowledge the inherent scariness of the unknown
Bleich suggests that if you are feeling nervous about doing something new, it is perfectly normal and something that many people experience. She says that trying something new is anxiety-provoking, so if you feel anxious, it is just your body’s natural response to the new, novel, or unknown.
3. Break the action into smaller mini-goals
The process can be divided into small goals that are easy to achieve and barely noticeable. Clark According to licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, it is best to take small, gradual steps rather than try to accomplish too much at once. Clark, PsyD, author of Hack Your Anxiety. If you want to challenge yourself to do more than you have been doing, start by adding a few extra minutes to your workout routine. Add additional workload to your routine so that you are pushing your limits. As you become more comfortable with the change, you can make bigger changes, such as adding a new, challenging class to your schedule.
The same idea can be used to help you meet new people if you’re feeling shy about getting out there. A social app like Meetup is a great way to see what kind of offerings exist in your area. Read about the different groups and pick one that interests you. Email the group to get familiar with the people you’ll be meeting at the IRL event. If you take these steps slowly but surely, you will be able to establish a new routine.
4. If the first step still feels scary, try something entirely unrelated (but still outside of your norm)
Anytime you try something new, you are improving your ability to take risks. This will help you feel more comfortable attempting new things in the future. Thus, if your primary objective is to begin attending workout classes at a neighborhood gym, but even the initial step of registering seems unattainable, try changing some other aspect of your life.
Bleich says that trying new things may mean cooking a new dish at home instead of ordering in, reading a book from a genre you wouldn’t normally touch, or starting classes for a job-related skill or hobby. In all of these cases, you are going beyond your normal limits, which can help remind you that you are someone who can handle risk. When you feel good after a workout, the original goal of going to the class seems less important.
5. Consult friends or acquaintances who’ve taken a similar leap
More information will help to reduce anxious thoughts. When taking a new step out of your comfort zone, ask a trusted person who has done something similar about their experience. According to Mancao, being informed about the possible dangers or changes that could come from facing your fears could help boost your confidence.
6. Record your progress
Amy Morin, editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind, believes that it is beneficial to write down not only your accomplishments but also your failures and mistakes. She states that while it is not desirable to think about failures constantly, making mistakes can be evidence that a person is challenging themselves. Noting your mistakes can help remind you that you won’t be perfect when you make changes.
7. Keep track of your comfort level throughout the process
staying at a comfortable level on a scale from 1 to 10 Dr. Clark says that you should stretch as much as you can without harming yourself. From the text, we can infer that people should find a balance between pushing themselves and making themselves too uncomfortable.
8. Set up an accountability system
Mancao states that if you are trying to break out of your comfort zone in a relationship, it can be helpful to talk to your partner about ways you can challenge each other. If the goal you are working toward is not related to a relationship, recruiting a friend or loved one to hold you accountable is an effective way to increase your motivation, she says. Once they’re a part of your network, they’re someone who wants to see you succeed.
9. Have patience with yourself
The process of trying something new won’t necessarily be linear, but you might start to encounter some fun and joy and spark. One way to deal with the negative emotions associated with starting a new project is to anticipate them ahead of time. Recognizing these feelings when they occur can help you feel more in control of the situation. In some cases, it may be better to tolerate the discomfort and move past it. However, this may not always be the case and both options are valid as you experiment with pushing the envelope.
10. Return to the comfort zone when needed
David Klow, LMFT, author of You Are Not Crazy: Letters From Your Therapist, suggests that it is understandable for people to return to their comfort zones occasionally, as the need for this varies from person to person. If you’re feeling okay or even great about something you’re doing, then keep doing it. And if you feel a little freaked out? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and try again later. Dr. Clark suggests that in order to get comfortable with discomfort, we should start small and gradually get used to it.
If you make it a habit to do things that make you uncomfortable, you will improve your life in many ways and have a stronger reason to keep pushing yourself.