Who doesn't love the warm familiarity of their comfort zone? It's the equivalent of a cozy chair, favourite slippers and cuddly blanket, right there in our psyches. Always available for us to retreat into when we've had enough of slaying dragons, pitching business, testing our creativity or just coping with what's in our Facebook feed.
The problem is, like many lovely things in life, comfort zones have an evil side. They can get so -- well, comfy -- that we lose the ability to get outta that damned chair and test our mettle again. A comfort zone that might have started out as quite a big place in our younger years can get smaller and smaller with trial and error. Especially the error part. We stop doing the things we've discovered can have potentially unpleasant consequences.
Before we know it, we're prisoners of our own experiences. We start to exist only within the confines of our comfort zones, when they're supposed to be places we go to for refueling, not places we live in 24/7.
Honey, I shrunk my life.
As kids we're filled with possibilities. We sing because it feels good until we realize we're not in tune. We tear ass down hills our bikes, screaming with the thrill of it, until we start to worry about breaking a bone. We wear bright pink until we catch a glimpse of ourselves and are reminded, unfortunately and coincidentally, of a wad of Bazooka bubble gum. We paint with abandon until we come to understand our talent is, ahem, limited.
Although none of these consequences actually matters in the great scheme of life, we teach ourselves to suck back from opportunity and play it safe. In our working lives, our creative expression, our personal style. Our relationships. We avoid risk because pain and humiliation and failure suck.
But the Slipper Zone can suck, too.
(Photo: G-Stockstudio via Getty Images)
Making a break for it
Physics was my worst subject but I do understand the law of inertia. When an object is at rest -- say, for instance, in the evil bowels of the comfort zone -- it stays at rest until some new force acts on it. Such as a kick in the butt, from yourself or some other helpful person.
The thing most people don't get about inertia is that movement is also subject to its rule: an object in motion stays in motion. Which means every small step you take out of that comfy chair creates the momentum necessary to do whatever your heart desires.
Example: Really want to learn to dance but are terrified others will laugh at you? Here's a baby-steps approach to getting the magic of inertia to work on your terms: start in your own living room. Take your glasses off, if you wear them, so you don't get too much clarity on how you look (honestly, this is how I got to belly dancing classes, and I kept them off there, too). Then take classes someplace where you don't know anybody because, really, what do you care what strangers think? Once you discover that it's actually all about the fun and not about whether you're good enough to crew for Beyonce, you might even find yourself talking your besties into taking lessons with you. Locally.
I discover that the pain, humiliation and failure I was trying so hard to avoid aren't actually so terrible.
The same approach works for changing your clothing style (one sweater at a time) or your hair style (one inch at a time), improving your position at work (one unsolicited opinion at a time), or exploring your artistic aspirations (one small doodle at a time). Each step takes you a tiny bit outside your comfort zone. It shows you what's possible. It gives you a proof point that you can do more than you thought.
Each step creates inertia in the positive, forward-moving sense.
Whenever I try this, I also discover that the pain, humiliation and failure I was trying so hard to avoid aren't actually so terrible. They're just speed bumps on the way to the exciting world that's waiting just outside the comfort zone.
Go ahead. Take a step.
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