In self improvement literature, there is a lot of talk about “going outside of your comfort zone.”
Your “comfort zone” is typically seen as playing it safe. It’s when you choose comfort, familiarity, and security rather than novelty, risk-taking, and challenging yourself.
In many ways, while it’s good to step outside of your “comfort zone” every now and then, it also has an unnecessarily bad reputation.
We are often told, “If you want to grow as a person, then you need to step outside of your comfort zone and try new things.” There is a great element of truth to this, but it’s also only one side of the coin.
Your “comfort zone” isn’t something that needs to be completely avoided. In fact, your “comfort zone” plays an integral role in your self improvement, because it gives you an opportunity to relax and recharge yourself.
Going outside of your “comfort zone” is costly – it takes a lot of physical and mental energy. If you are constantly pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, then that can quickly lead to frustration and fatigue.
You need to give yourself permission to “take it easy” every now and then too. You don’t always need to push yourself forward. And this is where your “comfort zone” becomes a very valuable tool in self improvement.
Paying attention to your sensitivity threshold
Whenever you push yourself outside of your “comfort zone,” it’s often stressful and challenging. It’s not easy – it takes work.
When I expose myself to viewpoints I don’t agree with, or situations I don’t normally put myself in, or I try new things that I’ve never done before, it takes a lot of energy out of me, especially if those experiences don’t match with my typical personality.
(For example, I’m very introverted and reserved – I don’t like super busy and loud clubs or dance parties. I don’t mind going to one every now and then, but it takes energy out of my because it’s not in my usual “comfort zone.”)
Everyone has some activities that are in their “comfort zone” and other activities that are outside of their “comfort zone.” And often these are influenced by our individual personality and our past experiences.
The key to managing your “comfort zone” is to identify when you’ve hit your sensitivity threshold. Your “sensitivity threshold” is the amount of discomfort you can handle until an experience becomes toxic and damaging.
Experiencing discomfort in small and moderate doses can be healthy and rewarding, but once we’ve passed our sensitivity threshold then it’s time to retreat back to our “comfort zone” and recharge ourselves.
Self improvement requires a delicate balance of going outside of our comfort zone, but also recognizing when it’s time to go back to your comfort zone.
Of course, just as everyone’s “comfort zone” will be different, so is everyone’s “sensitivity threshold.”
Some people can bear great amounts of discomfort before it becomes “too much,” while others may only be able to experience small amounts of discomfort before it becomes “too much.”
Identifying your “sensitivity threshold” is key to better managing the stress and anxiety in your life so that it doesn’t become too overwhelming.
What does your “comfort zone” look like?
Do you know what your “comfort zone” looks like? What activities or situations allow you to step back and recharge your batteries?
It’s important to have a clear idea of your “comfort zone” so that you know what options are available to you when you find yourself becoming too overwhelmed and stress out with life.
Maybe your “comfort zone” entails surrounding yourself with certain people, like family and friends. Or maybe your “comfort zone” is about spending time away from certain people who tend to be very negative.
Maybe your “comfort zone” entails spending more time with yourself – just reading a book, or playing video games, or going for a walk.
I commonly recommend people to make a list of 10 or so “Relaxation Activities” and save your list somewhere. It’s not a hard exercise to do, but it can serve as a good reminder of the multiple options we have when it’s time to return to our comfort zone.
Comfort zones and exposure therapy
One of the main lessons of exposure therapy (a type of behavioral therapy) is that we can sometimes dampen our stress and anxiety toward fearful things as we become more familiar with them.
One common application of this is toward phobias. For example, if a patient is fearful of spiders, psychologists have found that you can “systematically desensitize” that fear by gradually exposing patients to spiders in a safe and controlled way.
The first step is to only show the patient pictures of spiders.
Then, after the patient’s fear response has gone down, the second step is to have the patient become comfortable being in the same room as a spider in a cage.
Then, a third step is having the patient in the same room with the spider without the cage. Slowly, the patient learns to get closer and closer to the spider (without getting too freaked out!).
And finally, if the treatment goes well, the patient becomes comfortable touching the spider and maybe even letting it crawl on his or her arm.
This is what a typical “exposure therapy” treatment can look like – and it will often take up to 8-12 sessions to go through all the different stages.
The goal isn’t to jump into your fear or anxiety face-first without looking, but to start exposing yourself to small amounts of discomfort, then gradually work your way up to larger amounts of discomfort. By doing this, you slowly raise your “sensitivity threshold.”
This plays on the powerful idea that as you step outside of your comfort zone, you also expand your comfort zone. In other words, the more you familiarize yourself with the unfamiliar, the less scary it becomes.
But it takes time – and it’s a process.
Whenever you step outside of your comfort zone, it is scary and it is stressful, so you’re going to need to let yourself step back inside your comfort zone and recharge too. A healthy “comfort zone” is integral to your self improvement.
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