On a Jim Fortin podcast this week, I heard the phrase, “What comfort zone can I leave today?” This really resonated with me.
To leave a comfort zone means we need to change, and that’s not an easy thing to do. We like our status quo. It’s comfortable. We understand it. It’s not challenging or painful or hard. We love our routines.
I’m reminded of the hermit crab. This little guy carries around the empty shell of another creature as his home and his protection, but whenever he grows too big for his current shell, he must find another, larger one and take a leap of faith that he’ll be able to fit himself into it before a predator comes along and eats him while he’s all soft and vulnerable, between shells. Or the sun bakes him alive while he’s still searching. It isn’t easy for them to find the perfect shell — that Goldilocks shell, not too big, not too small — intact enough to offer protection but not so solid and heavy that it’s too hard to carry around on his back. Deciding to change shells isn’t a choice that’s easily made, but sometimes it’s necessary whether he likes it or not.
When we stay in our comfort zone, we’re like that little hermit crab, safe in our shell, but if we want to grow, we must step out into the unknown. It feels unsafe. It feels scary. We’re overwhelmed and nervous and we constantly second-guess our decision, but if we stick with it, we eventually begin to feel comfortable in our new shell. Until it’s time to do it all over again.
We’re creatures of habit, so when we must change, we struggle and strive, but eventually we reach a point where we’ve assimilated our new knowledge and we can stop and breathe. For a while, we don’t have to change again. And we get complacent, even lazy, with no desire to alter the status quo.
But human growth, in potential, in skill, talent and expertise, is just like that hermit crab and his shells. Eventually, if we want to keep growing, we must upgrade our habits. We must make a difficult choice and then act on it, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
Perhaps it’s deciding that we want to learn a new software (my current tribulation) or we want to finish a short story or a novel or a five-book series and we don’t know where to go from here. Maybe we need to plan a trip, sell a house, leave a relationship, learn how to live without a life-partner. All of these things require that we change our routine. If you’ve ever tried to get a dog to change his routine, you’ll know what I mean. It ain’t easy!
We want things to stay the same. We want to be able to foretell the future, and to do that we need predictability, sameness. We need routine. But life’s not like that.
Life is predicated on change. Growth, development, progress, enlightenment. They’re all predicated on change. And if we want to change, we need to engage in activities that take us outside our comfort zone.
So, the first part is deciding where our comfort zones lie.
The second is identifying which habits and activities we need to discard so that we can make the changes that matter to us.
- Perhaps it’s to do with diet. Maybe we don’t eat enough of the foods we need in order to be at our most healthy. What needs to change? Our shopping habits, our cooking habits, our eating habits, maybe even our elimination habits.
- Or maybe we want to write a book. Do we actually want to write a book or do we want to “have written” a book? In order to have written a book, we need to get our butt in the chair and write it. Do we want it to be good? We have to learn the principles of good writing. These things require change — change in our routine, perhaps a change in our location, change in our reading and study habits, change in our focus, commitment and scheduling.
- Build a business? Learn business principles, math, ethics, stats, money management, people management, software, hardware, customer relations, inventory, supply chains, quality control, promotion and marketing, copywriting, advertising and social media. It’s not a quick fix silver bullet solution. It takes major commitment and lifestyle changes for the long term.
- What if we’re stuck in a bad relationship, one where we want to grow and improve, but our partner has stopped growing and has no desire to do or be anyone other than who he/she is right now. Or the relationship is abusive and we’re being hurt or diminished on a daily basis. We don’t want to leave because we fear homelessness, financial insecurity, emotional uncertainty, or we have dependants who require a certain standard of living to survive. No matter how uncomfortable that situation, it’s still a comfort zone, it’s familiar and it’s hard to change.
But change requires that we take the first step towards a different future. And as the saying goes, the first step is the hardest. So decide where your comfort zones are and what you’re willing to give up to get what you want.
What’s the first step you’ll take out of your own comfort zone today?
(Make a list of your answers)
- What do I want? (If you don’t know or can’t remember, try starting a bucket list)
- Where are my comfort zones?
- Which comfort zone will I challenge first?
- Reasons why I don’t change the status quo?
- How are they holding me back?
- If the status quo were changed, what would that open up for me?
- What are some possible next steps? (Brainstorm some ideas about different strategies and tactics. This will get your imagination going and your motivation fired up.)
- Diet: New foods, recipes, more vegetables and fruit, less sugar, wheat and starches, more fibre. That may lead to exercise and fitness, another whole area of change.
- Book: Create office space, research story material, learn storytelling, creative writing, memoir, investigate publishing, buy “how to write” books, take courses, workshops and writing retreats.
- Business: Take a business course, study online, get an MBA, find a mentor, follow reputable online gurus.
- Relationship: Contact divorce lawyer, research bus schedules, change locks, get a restraining order, open a separate bank account, leave, find a women’s/men’s shelter or an apartment, move away (or change the relationship for the better).
- What is the main roadblock that is currently stopping me from making a change?
- What needs to change about this roadblock? (Break the problem down into its components)
- What’s my first step towards the change I want to make?
- What’s the smallest thing I can do to take that step?
- Diet: Look up vegetarian recipes online, make a shopping list, throw out the sugary snacks.
- Book: Clear desk space, set out pen and notebook by the computer for taking notes, sit and write one sentence (even if it’s garbage).
- Business: Send for a college prospectus, go online and look for How to Start A Business, call a businessperson you know for advice.
- Relationship: Make notes, discuss with partner, call a friend, talk out the situation, ask for help, see a marriage counsellor/therapist.
Just start! That feeling of butterflies in your stomach? That’s not fear. That’s excitement.
Success is just on the other side of your comfort zone.