In 2016, the movie Split was based on a man with multiple personalities (who did some very bad things).
Without all the bad, I sometimes think I may have multiple personalities, too.
Here’s why: there is a part of me that is VERY eager to do more, see more, be more. I have dreams and ambitions that excite me sooo much. I feel very motivated to reach new heights.
But, then there’s another part of me.
This other side of me constantly yearns for relaxing, or for taking it easy because I am tired or stressed. Or it convinces me to pursue my dreams later, when I will feel more motivated, or more energetic or clearheaded.
Does this sound familiar? You have good things you really want to do… but when it comes to the daily decisions affecting those good things, you keep choosing the easy route?
Stay with me here. I want to share some research insights that can help you escape your comfort zone and get where you really want to go.
Comfort Zone: What Research Reveals About Its Pull
Before we go too far, let’s define what a comfort zone is: a behavioral place where everything is safe and known, where there is minimal stress and risk.
For example, when you are in a meeting at work, you can speak up at the meeting (and potentially experience some anxiety and stress – what if no one agrees with my idea, or thinks it is idiotic? Thus, speaking up can feel risky). Or, you can keep quiet, avoid risk and stay in your comfort zone.
It turns out, our bodies are hard wired to prefer easy over hard (which can induce stress), the known over the unknown (which can produce anxiety).
The Classic Experiment
Researchers Kahneman and Tversky noticed a strong bias in humans in favor of the easier option (leave things the way they are), even if another option was superior.
In one experiment, electric power consumers were asked about their preferences regarding trade-offs between service reliability and rates. Participants had to choose their preference on a continuum.
The twist? Each group was given a “current status” of either having high reliability with a higher price, or a lower price but lower reliability.
What difference did that make? All the difference in the world.
Revealing Results From The Experiment
The group that was assigned the status of having high reliability strongly preferred paying the higher price for more reliability.
Curiously, the group assigned the lower price but lower reliability status chose the exact opposite of the other group, even though both groups were given the same options. Only 6% of each group chose a new or different option.
Researchers call this the Status Quo Bias. They verified the strong pull humans have of not wanting to change or do something different or new.
Here’s the problem, however, if you regularly give in to the pull — you will experience LOTS of problems.
The Drawbacks Of Always Staying In The Comfort Zone.
Comfort zones have value. We all need times and places of low stress. But, living there all the time can significantly limit you.
As noted by Alan Henry, the research of psychologists Yerkes and Dodson revealed that for us to operate at our highest capacity (what I call fully alive), we need to be in a state of ‘relative’ or ‘optimal’ anxiety (where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal).
In other words, we are at our best just outside our comfort zone (where your senses are heightened and you feel more alive and alert).
But too far outside (where there is too much anxiety and stress) and our performance drops quickly.
You know, like an impromptu speech you must give to the board of directors — your body reacts to the flood of ‘fight or flight’ neurochemicals. You sweat, stammer, brain becomes foggy, etc. You’re a wreck.
How to Find the Power to Escape the Pull
We may know we do our best work just outside the comfort zone, but it still calls us back to safety, easy. How can you combat the incessant pull?
By having a stronger “Why.”
In other words, when the reason why you want to venture beyond your comfort zone is stronger than the pull of easy and safe, you can regularly escape.
Is your desire for life outside the zone is stronger than the pull inside?
Here are some potent reasons why life outside the comfort zone is better… and worth the effort.
5½ Reasons Why Stretching Beyond Your Comfort Zone Is Worth It.
As noted from the research above, you do our best work just outside the zone. But, since we already covered this, I’ll call this half a reason.
“Outside of your comfort zone is where the magic happens.”
1. You can combat the Atrophy Effect.
Like so much in life, you must use it or lose it. Imagine the body builder who decides they don’t want to experience discomfort any longer, and stops exercising. Do their muscles stay the same? Or do they atrophy, shrink, get flabby, etc.?
In the same way, when you repeatedly play it safe and avoid those things that stretch you, you don’t maintain your position, you lose ground. Those safe, easy choices reinforce your unwillingness to put yourself in uncomfortable situations.
Over time, the walls of safety slowly shrink inward as you concede more and more ground to fear, all in the name of safe, predictable comfort.
In contrast, when you repeatedly choose to stretch yourself, face your fears, and try something new, you are reinforcing an attitude that is willing to push and stretch the boundary outward. Your comfort zone expands and your life is not characterized by fear, reluctance, shrinking back and safety, but exploration, courage and growth.
This is one of the secrets to a successful life: Not being afraid to try new, different… or again.
“Everything worthwhile is uphill. You can’t experience a fully satisfying life by just coasting. Nothing that is good in life comes easy. And very little that comes easy is good.” -John Maxwell
2. You’ll discover your full capabilities.
Most of us barely scratch the service of our gifts, talents and abilities. Many of our abilities go untapped because we never put ourselves into positions to try something new and fully exercise new muscles.
Instead, we settle on a handful of abilities that we stumbled upon, and assume that is what we have to work with.
We all have latent, unnoticed or unappreciated abilities that just need to be exercised.
For example, Grandma Moses discovered she had a special gift for painting… but not until she was 78. She didn’t recognize her special abilities at first (selling her paintings for less than $5). Later, as more people affirmed her gift (and the strength of that muscle grew), her painting were sold for $10,000 or more. Years later, some of her paintings sold for over $1 million.
Or consider Xavier Atencio. He was an animator working with Walt Disney, when Disney suggested he try being creative in an additional way: music. He ended up writing countless songs used by Disney. Atencio later credited Disney for these new found gifts: “I didn’t even know I could write music, but somehow Walt did. He tapped my hidden talents.”
Some of the most successful people in life become that way only after much trial and error, and many risks. Over time, they discover the full nature of their strengths and abilities.
Consider embracing the goal of Horace Silver:
“I will search for hidden talents that I didn’t know I had and do my best to cultivate them. I am grateful for each day, and I will try to use each day as a stepping stone to greater achievements.”
3. You will be better at handling the unexpected challenges of life.
Let’s face it… life has an irritating way of throwing you curve balls.
- You are unexpectedly asked to lead a task force at work (which you’ve never done before)
- You work at the same place for 10 years, then you get laid off. All potential new jobs require advanced training which intimidates you.
- Your car gets into an accident, and now you have to navigate a confusing array of buses to get to work.
In the classic business book (Who Moved My Cheese), author Spencer Johnson’s key point is that things constantly change… so we must learn how to adapt, and get good at it.
Here’s the question: Which would you prefer?
- To step out of your comfort zone regularly to face new “risky” things (allowing you to learn to adapt to change out there and get more adept at facing risk) -OR-
- Regularly be unexpectedly thrust out of your comfort zone, unprepared to face new challenges?
The first person tends to grow and thrive in the latest upheaval (because they have better learned how to deal with the unknown)
The second person struggles, seeing themselves as a victim of unfair disruption… and poorly adapting to their new circumstances.
I don’t know about you, but I vote to be the first person.
“You will never have a compelling life story until you have the courage to live outside your comfort zone.”
4. Scary things gets easier over time.
If you regularly stretch outside your comfort zone, an amazing thing happens– your area of comfort grows. Things that induced anxiety at first will now become more comfortable.
For example, public speakers note the changes they experience after they speak often enough. Where they once were very nervous, they now experience the high performance state of “optimal anxiety” noted above.
“I love that when we push push push, we expand our comfort zone. Things that used to feel intimidating now are as comfortable as home.” – Derek Sivers
5. Grow in self-confidence
When you face, and successfully survive (or even conquer) something that previously intimidated you, something happens inside you—your confidence grows.
For example, when I was in elementary and later high school, whenever the teacher would call on me to answer a question, my face would get all flush, and I would be extremely self-conscious. As a result, I shied away from raising my hand or speaking in front of a class. Too dangerous.
Later, in a strange twist of fate, I became a pastor and I had to speak before groups, sometimes large groups (1,000+ people).
In the early days, I was a wreck. But, every time I faced my fears and successfully finished a message, I used that as fuel for the next time. I would tell myself, “You have done this before… you can do it again!”
What was interesting was that not only did I experience a growing confidence in public speaking, I also felt more confident facing other areas that intimidated me.
Small successes breed new confidence. New confidence breeds broader confidence.
“Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing.”- Theodore Roosevelt
Keep moving forward! I will get easier… and you will be glad you did.