I struggle to resist the siren songs of comfort.
To me, it’s that feeling of settling into a warm bath on a winter’s evening, or cosying up to a favourite TV show with a warm drink.
Those things aren’t ‘bad’, but the problem is that comfort and growth are somewhat antithetical. Cosiness is a great feeling, but addiction to it blinds us to opportunities for personal transformation, or even impending crises.
Inside the comfort zone, we feel safe and in control. Everything is on an even keel; it’s smooth sailing.
The best sailors, however, aren’t born in smooth waters.
Without leaning into our edge, we’re not fully experiencing all that life has to offer.
Don’t Jump; Explore
Moving out of our comfort zone isn’t a linear process.
We don’t simply hop out of our comfort zone one fine day, in the same sense that we cross a timezone.
Instead, we might intermittently venture beyond our comfort zone for a short while, see what that feels like, then retreat back to safety. Much in the same way a toddler learns to explore their abilities, knowing mum is there waiting.
Peaks, troughs, and plateaus might complicate the process, but over time, as our capability grows, our comfort zone expands in parallel. We then have a larger space to feel at home within.
Especially if you’re a more reserved, sensitive type like me, the key is to be okay with smaller, methodical steps rather than massive, throw-caution-to-the-wind ones. Every step forward is progress, even if it doesn’t feel like much.
It’s wise to leverage existing skills and innate strengths as well; I bet you’ve already transcended your comfort zone in many different areas of life. If you can tap those memories for insight, you’ll be that much more resilient for your next adventure.
There are as many different ways to experiment with comfort zones as there are human beings on the planet.
One man’s Everest is another man’s walk in the park.
So instead of taking a prescriptive approach, I wanted to share 5 unusual ways I’ve pushed against comfort zones in my own life thus far. Whether they surprise, inspire, or confuse you, take what’s useful and discard the rest.
1) Reconnect With Silence
Having lived in a big city like London my whole life, silence often feels like an abstract, alien concept.
I recently wrote about my experience on a silent Buddhist retreat. In a peculiar way, sometimes the quiet felt loud. Especially at the start, when my inner critic was amplified.
Our egoic selves are obsessed over what we ‘like’ and ‘dislike’. Taking words out of the equation robs the ego of its main conceptual tool with which to label everything. And with time, silence teaches us to take in the present moment for what it is (which might anything but ‘comfortable’).
I now carve out opportunities for silence. Sometimes I sit quietly for 20-30 seconds before a meal. Other times, my wife and I go for an intentional, silent walk, where we take in our surroundings in each other’s company.
Silence can feel harsh, but it enriches me in ways that are hard to describe. After all, words are crude tools – is it time to loosen your attachment to them?
2) Create Time To Do… Nothing
As much as I enjoy tinkering with spreadsheets and productivity apps, this can easily become procrastinatory.
But I’m not going to suggest you focus instead on the ‘80/20 principle’, or that you should be ‘working smarter’. Because beneath those well-worn productivity clichés, there’s another layer, and it’s called being rather than doing.
I used to believe that fulfilment is the fruit of busyness, target-setting and goal achievement. After all, success and happiness depend on consistent action — right? This is a half-truth which misses the bigger picture.
An emotional attachment to tasks, schedules and plans can give the illusion of safety and control, but the long-term costs to our health and wellbeing can be enormous.
To counterbalance this, I create regular periods where no output is expected of me whatsoever. And for my monkey mind, this often feels like a dangerous leap outside my comfort zone.
Meditation is one tool, but there are other ways too… when did you last go for a walk without any agenda? (A walk where you didn’t feel the need to call a friend, stop for groceries or track your calories.) When did you last sit down for a hot drink, without checking your phone or email?
Challenge yourself to be rather than always do.
3) Be Truly Vulnerable
Showing that we’re vulnerable, flawed human beings can be a formidable catalyst for personal growth, while strengthening our bonds with other people.
I still find this difficult to embody, even with those I’m close to. Honesty tends to fall by the wayside as I create a veneer that says ‘everything’s okay with me’.
One way I started small here was by first being honest and vulnerable with myself – if I can’t be open with myself in a private journal, how can I expect to replicate this in everyday life?
Leaning beyond my ‘vulnerability comfort zone’ also involves creative expression, which currently means publishing authentic content on a regular basis. (Trust me, there’s no quicker way to flex your vulnerability muscles than to throw your deepest thoughts out there!)
Where could you experiment with humility and vulnerability in your life?
4) Try Flavour Fasting
For many, there’s an association between ‘food’ and ‘comfort’. Or more accurately, between non-food (snacks) and comfort. Our ability to enjoy real, nourishing food seems to be growing weaker and weaker.
As a salt fiend, I can relate.
I easily get hooked on salty foods to the point of waking up groggy with ‘salt hangovers’. Rich snacks are my happy place, my Achilles heel, my comfort zone.
But the challenge, for me, is also a cultural one. Where I live (England), there’s this strange tension between two very conflicting messages:
- You need to have more self-control, because there’s this problematic thing called the obesity crisis
- If you don’t see cake and biscuits as a ‘treat’, then you’re a party pooper
I do enjoy cake, but I don’t enjoy that it’s routinely wheeled out to reward achievements and special occasions when studies keep showing that refined sugar is basically a toxin… but I digress.
In order to weaken my link between comfort and snacking, I recently tried something I call a ‘flavour fast’. The rules were no condiments, no foods with added salt or sugar, and no cooking with oils or sauces.
It was really, really hard.
But after 3 days, I started to detect more flavour in those spoonfuls of plain brown rice, lentils and broccoli. And at the end of the week, when I added flavour back in, my tastebuds were more than happy with moderate seasoning.
The point here is to think outside the box about ways to stretch your comfort zone. The key question is: where are you being complacent in life, and how could you shake that up?
5) Challenge Your Worldview
I saved the most important to last.
It’s easy to get stuck in intellectual and ideological ruts, but this kind of complacency is a hallmark of life in the comfort zone.
Exploring contradictory worldviews can feel uncomfortable, especially when our views are deeply entrenched. But this mental flexibility facilitates insight and growth. And given how polarised the world is becoming, I believe we need more people willing to question norms and analyse dominant cultural beliefs with a healthy scepticism.
This might take several forms:
- Exploring a variety of book genres
- Diversifying the people you spend time with
- Exposing yourself to unusual places and cultures
Approach these activities with an open mind, and you’ll quickly be humbled by how little you know. That can be unsettling, but it can also liberate you to become an agent of truth and understanding, not just another peddler of dogma.
Having been trained as a medical doctor, my worldview was for a time dominated by hard science and the strictly physical nature of reality. At that time, clinging to an atheistic worldview gave me a sense of comfort, causing me to look down on spiritual folk.
But lately, something has been shifting. I’ve allowed myself to wonder: what if there really is more than this life? More than we can see and observe? More to human beings than their physical bodies?
I still feel a flicker of shame for even writing that. There’s baggage in there about being seen as kooky, naïve, or even delusional. But then again, perhaps this fear is a sign that I really have ventured outside my cultural comfort zone.
Try on new worldviews, if only to see how they fit. You can always put them down if you wish. And you might just grow in unexpected ways.
Leaving your comfort zone isn’t necessarily about becoming a ‘hustler’, or pushing yourself relentlessly. At least not for everyone.
Sometimes it takes the complete opposite form, such as being more gentle with yourself, or remembering to schedule rest and play. These things can feel most uncomfortable of all.
There’s also no need to face your edge in every aspect of life at once. Be intentional, focusing on high-priority areas in which you’re currently being complacent. Start there.
Fundamentally, this is about having a deeply personal conversation with yourself about growth. Hopefully, these examples have empowered you to take a broader view of how that might happen.