Expanding Your Comfort Zone

Photo by Josh Calabrese

Photo by Josh Calabrese

We've all heard the saying "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." I don't agree. In fact, there are times when stepping out of your comfort zone too far and too fast leads to overwhelm, disappointment and heartbreak. Leaving your comfort zone can backfire when the timing is wrong, you head in the wrong direction or jump into a decision impulsively or with unrealistic expectations. 

Over the years working with clients and through my own experience, I've discovered that it is far better to start where you are and then expand your comfort zone to include new experiences, new people and new intentions. Leaving your comfort zone completely can feel radical and abrupt, which often triggers resistance, fear and doubt. Expanding your comfort zone, on the other hand, can feel gentle and manageable because you control the pace and determine how much newness you can handle. This allows for a sense of safety and trust to surround your steps as you move forward into new, unknown territory. You haven't left anything behind, so there's no need to look back or retreat. Instead, you are simply inviting some new things into your world at a pace that still feels comfortable.

Baby steps, when added together, eventually add up to big steps and even leaps. But instead of leaping at all once, stepping forward in small ways allows you to progress, but without the discomfort of doing too much, too soon. There is no formula with this. Every person is unique in their ability to navigate change and so will have to determine their pace accordingly. The point is to tune in to find that edge between comfort and discomfort and expand that in a way that feels right for you--as much as you can without triggering the desire to quit or retreat.

So many of us think decisions need to be black or white, one extreme or the other, when, in fact, there is an infinite range of possibilities in between those extremes. To make a decision that is right for you means getting creative and exploring what possibilities exist within the entire range not just the extremes. This may take time, but it is far better to put a lot of space around decisions so that when you actually take action, you can feel certain that you've done your homework, so to speak, and really tried on different scenarios.

It is so easy to simply jump into a decision and tell ourselves we'll figure out the details later. The problem with this approach is that we didn't pause long enough to consider the bigger picture, the potential long-term consequences and the impact our decision might have on the people around us. This leap and then look or fire and then aim approach is the biggest pitfall of the romantic, rose-colored glasses view of life. We see a person or situation we want and without really seeing it, we leap headlong into it, and then wonder later why things don't work out or why our life has become such a mess. What I find particularly fascinating here is that the clues, warning signs and red flags were there all along, but instead of heeding them, we ignore them, much to our peril. In hindsight, we can even see that it was clear what the consequences would be, but our wishful thinking and hope for a beautiful outcome squashed any chance of seeing what was right in front of our eyes.

Can you tell that I know a little something about this firsthand? 

Now, perhaps you can see why it makes sense to take it slow, pausing long enough to really take in what is happening around us and really consider which steps will lead us in a life-affirming, soul-nourishing direction--a life that feels supportive, authentic and full of what matters to us. Expanding your comfort zone in a gradual way gives you time to adjust to the new people and situations you're inviting into your life. No need to blow up your old life (been there, done that), but rather as you make space for what is new, those people and situations that no longer serve you will naturally fall away as you cease to give them attention.

Expanding your comfort zone is a wonderful way to shift away from drama because you don't need to experience such severe shocks to the system or cause shocks to others whose comfort zones intersect with yours. As you move gradually forward, you give others time to adjust to the changes you're making as well, causing them to react less dramatically.

Of course, expanding your comfort zone won't prevent major, unexpected changes from entering your life. However, by practicing making more conscious decisions, you will respond more gracefully when those changes do happen because you will be more in tune with yourself. 

The more you approach your life with loving kindness (and patience) instead of pressure and scarcity, the more you will cultivate trust of yourself and of life. The doubt and negative self-talk will lessen and so will the fear. Instead, you will experience yourself more in flow with the river, so much so, that you may even begin to welcome the white waters because you trust that you are headed in the right direction.

Victoria Fann