The reality of what lies beyond your comfort zone!

For a long period of time, I have been a staunch believer of this beautiful philosophy that growth happens outside of our comfort zone. I consider myself as an ardent practitioner of this theory and have consciously taken decisions to move out of areas when I felt that it was getting comfortable or to put it the other way, when things were going smoothly. I always looked for challenges and to do things that I haven’t done before and I have seen magic unfolding many times. Yet in the last couple of years, I started questioning this whole thing.

Let me give you a bit more of context here. A few years back, I decided to do something that was totally out of my comfort zone. When I took the plunge, I knew that this was going to be very challenging, but it did not scare me as my life mantra was “Get Uncomfortable, Achieve the Incredible”.  The first few months into doing that, I realized that it was tougher than what I imagined it to be. Yet deep inside, instead of feeling scared, I felt happy thinking about the massive growth I may have out of this. A few more months passed, situations did not improve. Every day was a struggle and I kept going. Although while centering myself, I was able to look at the larger picture for which I had signed up for that particular event, getting through every single day was a huge challenge. It was frustrating, taxing, demotivating and exhausting to say the least. Still I did not give up or rather I couldn’t give up. A year and a half into that, I again took a reality check and had the biggest realization that the gains were nothing compared to my investments into that. And I lost a lot in the process including mental peace, self-confidence, creativity, hope, excitement and passion. And there I was… way out of my comfort zone, doing every bit I could, but completely drained out and questioning my abilities and my identity.

It was like a thunderous shake for me as my life mantra was at stake and my belief system was getting questioned. So as usual, I resorted to research and thinking to understand what went wrong this time and the answers unfolded in front of me quite quickly. The problem was not in the philosophy itself. It was in my interpretation of the same.

When we think of getting out of comfort zone, there is a very common image that we are all used to which is as below.

What do you get when you see this? Of course yes, the magic happens outside your comfort zone. But does that mean that it can happen anywhere outside that comfort zone? What do you think? The reality is that the magic what we are expecting cannot happen anywhere outside the comfort zone.

Judith M. Bardwick, author of “Danger in the Comfort Zone”, defines comfort zone as a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral position. Getting out of the comfort zone creates anxiety and stress in all of us and there could be physiological implications to these as well. Somewhere outside your comfort zone, there is a point of “Optimal Anxiety” where the stress levels are controllable and the stress hormones are right enough for us to reach a state of arousal and attain as what is called as Flow. This follows the famous, century old Yerkes-Dodson law in psychology as shown below. Daniel Goldman says that Flow represents a peak of self-regulation, the maximal harnessing of emotions in the service of performance or learning. In flow we channel positive emotions in an energized pursuit of the task at hand. Our focus is undistracted, and we feel a spontaneous joy, even rapture. He defines this as the sweet spot of achievement.

Anything beyond this tipping point will be quite stressful and researches have shown that the performance and productivity drop beyond that point. This is defines as a state of Frazzle. In fact, prolonged exposure to that state can have many psychological reactions in our body which in turn can affect our nervous system, memory center, immune system and many more.

So how do we create that magic?

The key here to push the boundaries of your comfort zone, one step at a time and not to do a suicidal jump where you break down completely. It could be as simple as changing the way you do a certain thing, learning a new skill, trying out exciting things etc. and not remaining where you are. Doing this steadily will expand the boundaries of your comfort zone, making it larger day by day. While it is important to push our limits and create a better version of us, we also need to be mindful of our mental and emotional health.

Psychologists also say that it is important for us to come back to our comfort zone at regular intervals to be in a state where we feel secured, at peace and a safety net is present. This is important for us to relax and rejuvenate before we embark on the next exciting things, increasing our stress hormones even to the optimal level. Chronic states of arousals can affect our long term learning abilities and creativity.

So, here I am, still holding on to that beautiful philosophy that magic lies outside of our comfort zones, but with a deeper understanding of what that exactly means and how to do that without breaking yourself. Hope you will also be able to find that sweet spot of achievement of yours.

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