As a former coasteering instructor at Celtic Quest Coasteering I’ve seen many keen individuals standing in front of me. Mentally and physically they are prepping themselves to make that leap forward and jump into the deep and cold waters below. Excitingly and nervously they take a glance over the edge, but then something happens. SNAP!
They pull back and suddenly start to reconsider. Their mind starts to feed them all sorts of stories; typically, lousy and unhelpful stories. Stories like “I can’t do it”, or “This is too high for me”, “I’ll fail”, “I’m not ready yet”. Sometimes, they say it out load, “No, I’m not confident enough!“ or “This is way out of my comfort zone!”.
What was once taken as excitement and thrill is now suddenly seen as unwanted anxiety and fear. Instead of moving forwards to the cliff edge, they rather take a safe step backwards. A move they more than often regret when they are back in their safety confines of their cosy home.
Your mind is protecting you
When we’re doing something new, like coasteering, we will feel uncomfortable. I sure did when I had my first go at it! Feelings of excitement, anxiousness, or thrill will naturally arise and accompany you. This often comes along with weird sensations in your body, some people feel it in their chest whereas others feel in around their neck or throat. It doesn’t really matter where you feel it, as it’s all perfectly normal. From time to time we all experience this.
Our standard reaction is to push those unwanted feelings, thoughts and sensations away. We want to get rid of them. One very effective way of doing so is by opting out and running back to our comfort zone.
Back to familiar grounds. Back to our safe haven. Back to where you think you’re protected from all those things out there that just make you feel stressed and anxious. Because…what the hell are those uncomfortable feelings and thoughts good for?
Long story short, your mind is there to protect you, to keep you safe and alive. As soon as your mind recognises a threat, like jumping off a cliff, your internal alarm bells will start to go off. Whereas back in our caveman days that threat was as simple and straightforward as a sabretooth tiger, nowadays that threat is very different and less straightforward. Pretty much anything can be seen as a threat, and that’s where the stories come in.
Why I stayed in my comfort zone (until I could no longer afford)
Everybody has stories like that. In my case it was my struggle with bloody tax, or more specifically my self-assessment form. Since it was my first-time doing taxes in the UK it was all a bit new for me. I felt overwhelmed by it if I’m honest. I tried to push away the thought and denied the problem ever existed. I procrastinated and convinced myself that I still have time to tackle it later. And I did to be fair. So, I often said to myself ‘maybe I will do it tomorrow, but not today’.
Obviously, this didn’t take away the problem. The problem just stacked up in my head, just like the letters from HMRC stacked up. Eventually the fines came. After missing my January 2018 deadline by almost three months, which already resulted in a £100 fine, I was confronted with (another) painful message that I would be charged an extra penalty of £10 per day if I would continue to ignore the issue.
In my case, the £10 fine per day was a strong enough prompt to finally push me over the edge and do my taxes.
What a relief. To this day, I still wonder why I procrastinated for so long. I made the problem so much bigger in my head. That’s another wonderful thing your mind is able to do.
Looking back on it, doing taxes was much easier than I had ever had imagined.
Consequences of living in your comfort zone
I chose not to do my taxes, but instead ran back to my comfort zone. The name ‘comfort zone’ would suggest it’s a comfortable place, but have you ever stopped and noticed if you’re really comfortable back there?
Does it really feel like a comfortable space to be or are you just fooling yourself? Is it just another lame excuse story, just like mine, so you don’t have to put up with it?
More than often, if you continue to choose to live in your comfort zone, you’re not being completely honest to yourself. You’re denying something. In my case, my anxious HMRC thoughts, although unwanted, probably pointed me towards an issue I needed to address.
The longer you’re living in denial and the longer you’re avoiding the things you need to do – like doing your bloody taxes – the more habitual it becomes and the more your problems stack up.
Hence, I would argue your comfort zone isn’t really a comfortable space to live in at all.
What to call your comfort zone instead?
How about you call it the drain zone, the stuck zone, the stagnant zone, the stand still zone, the freeze zone, the flight zone, the denial zone, the missing out zone, the half-lived zone, the ‘I choose not to take action’ zone, the avoidance zone, the habit zone, the not daunting zone, or simply the same old sh*t zone?
I hope you get the point, because if not I can go on and on about this. Much like the discomfort of stepping outside of your comfort zone, there is discomfort in staying in your comfort zone. It’s the feeling of stagnation.
Being in your ‘comfort zone’ has no sense of vitality, no association of moving forward and towards the person you want to be. If anything, you’re going in the opposite direction, away from the person you want to be.
These days it has become normal to call it our comfort zone because it’s a casual and relatable remark to make. We’re willing to accept and go with it because it doesn’t challenge us and almost normalises the same old excuses we tell ourselves. We don’t challenge one another because we don’t want to step on each other’s toes. Nobody refers is to it as the same old sh*t zone because – apart from the fact it will raise a few eyebrows – no one would be able to relate and you might offend someone. But, in all honesty, your comfort zone isn’t really a comfort zone when you start to think about it.
Your comfort zone: Two things you could do
If you’ve come so far I hope you’ve come to realise that the thing you like to refer to as your ‘comfort zone’ isn’t a comfortable place at all if you have a closer look at it. There is discomfort in staying in your comfort zone. It might be the discomfort of avoiding your problems or not facing your demons, just like I did with my taxes. For others it might be the discomfort of stagnation, not being eager enough to chase your dreams. Whatever shape or form it takes in your case, two lessons can be learned.
First (and most important!) – next time you refer to your comfort zone it’s in your interest to autocorrect yourself. Be honest, it not your comfort zone! You’re just fooling yourself. If you want to continue to fool yourself, go ahead. But in the end, you’re only reinforcing the idea that it’s ok to stay dormant, whether in reality it’s not! It’s far more enjoyable to grow and move towards the person you want to be.
So instead of using the popular expression of comfort zone give it another name. Call it the same old sh*t zone, dormant zone or maybe something else, something personal that resonates within you. If you want to take it to next level, challenge someone when you hear them talking about their comfort zone. Ask them what it means for them and let them figure out for themselves.
Second, rather than moving away from the person you want to be – like me not doing my taxes – find an action that moves you towards the person you want to be. In my case that was an obvious action, doing my taxes.
I’m sure that after reading this story you can think of something you could do that has been on your mind for a long time? Why not take an action towards the person you wish to become, no matter how minuscule it is?
Set a few new dots, take a committed action towards it and see where it takes you? It’s better than doing nothing and staying in your same-old-sh*t zone, isn’t it?
Good luck and give me a shout if you need some guidance.
This story is part of the Life Seeker newspaper