comfort zone

No, really, don’t make me leave my comfort zone.

For some reason, all sorts of people seem determined to push you out of where you’re comfortable to where you’re …. well … uncomfortable. Which is bizarre enough that it’s worthwhile to find out why.

Just so you know, I personally have zero patience with the whole “you have to leave your comfort zone if you want to make changes” thing.

Not just because it’s a tired cliche of the “think out of the box” sort. Not just because it’s an annoying self-help-ey trend. But because it’s a seriously bad idea. Also, not true. In fact, I’d call it a potentially dangerous misconception.

True story (file under: don’t try this at home)

My friend David had a girlfriend once who had a whole mess of complicated issues. Without going into the details, let’s just say she’d had a really rough life in a lot of ways and was now dealing with some of the scars and aftermath of her childhood.

Someone — her therapist or a relative, I can’t remember, but some kind-hearted, well-intentioned person who probably doesn’t at all think of himself as a sadist — had the bright idea that she should leave her comfort zone and face her fears.

In fact, if she could just leave her comfort zone once and jump out of a plane, that would be facing her fears instead of hiding from them. Yeah. THAT should cure her fear of leaving the house, fear of intimacy, fear of abandonment, etc.

No one thought she’d actually do it, but she was desperate for something that could shift things for her. She went up into that plane and she jumped. It was the scariest thing she had ever done and the experience, as she described it, was sheer terror.

I’d like to tell you that the combination of adrenaline, exhilaration and good old I-did-it-ness cured her, but of course they didn’t. This experience just became just one more awful thing that she’d suffered through — another bit of proof confirming her dread of everything.

My friend asked her if she could do it again now that she knew she could fall and be okay. And she said that theoretically she could. She could do it every day for the rest of her life. But it wouldn’t get any less terrifying. Her pain was just as painful every time she jumped back into it.

Every time I think about this I want to give this woman a hug. Actually, if everyone reading this could send this woman a mental hug offer right now, I’d appreciate it.

Watch out for people who want you to be somewhere else

We all have issues, stucknesses (I know, not a word) and stuff. Maybe not as severe as hers. Maybe not enough to warrant someone wanting to throw us out of planes. But there are all sorts of well-meaning people who think it’s in your best interest to force you to do some fear-facing, when actually the thing you are needing most is comfort.

I can’t even tell you how many eager beaver coaches I meet at business events who can’t wait to meet people just like you, so they can drag you kicking and screaming from your comfort zone. They think they’re doing you a favor. They’re not.

They’re not doing it out of meanness, of course. They sincerely want to help. They think that if you can leave the place where you’re comfortable and try this new, scary thing, you’ll get over it already. The problem is that sometimes what you need in order to grow is more comfort. And this kind of work needs to happen where you feel safe; where you’re most comfortable.

That’s why there’s a zone for it.

In the future your grandchildren will look back on this age of insisting on people leaving their comfort zones with shock, horror and a sad shake of the head. The way we do now when we think about things like electric shock therapy and lobotomies. The atrocities of good intentions.

And with any luck this shift will happen in our own generation and we won’t have to wait for your grandkids.

Please, don’t get up. Really, where you are is fine.

If you don’t want out of your comfort zone, that’s a sign that you are being compassionate with yourself. Seriously. Hello, it’s the place where you’re comfortable. It’s where you are. It’s okay that you’re there. And guess what?

As far as I can tell, it’s my job as an educator, teacher, coach, healing person, whatever you want to call it, to get in there with you (if I’m invited and it’s comfortable for you, etc) and meet you there. In fact, this kind of mindful compassion is what you should expect and receive from any wellness professional.

Sure, you might not want to be where you are. Sure, the reason you’re working on your stuff, being in the process and hanging out on my blog (oh, hi!) is that some part of you wants to help you work through the stuck and move forward. The good news is, you can also do that work in a way that’s comfortable for you where you are right now.

The idea should not be “jump out jump out jump out”. Instead, your whole process can be about working on your stuff where you are. The funny part is that gradually the things you are comfortable with will grow and expand until the whole world is your comfort zone. Bigger comfort zone = more stuff you’re comfortable with. It’s a good thing.

Instead of leaving your comfort zone, let it grow with you

Stretching is good. Gently. Learning new skills is good. Gradually.

Learning new things doesn’t have to mean leaving the comfort zone. You actually want to be growing your comfort zone. And you can do it with as much comfort as possible. At a pace and speed that are comfortable, with support from people who adore you, and adding tricks and techniques as you go.

Your comfort zone is your friend. So you have my permission to stop trying to break your way out of it and start trying to cultivate it, nourish it, grow it and be nice to it. Hey, I’m waving to you from mine — squeaky duck in hand — right now.

The Fluent Self