The Comfort Zone is a Danger Zone

The comfort zone. Everyone has one. It’s where you’re safe and content; and of course, you’d be crazy to step out of it, according to society. Who knows what’s out there?

Well, out there is where real life begins.

Today’s post is inspired by The Front Bottoms, a rock band that I’ve come to enjoy over the last few months. Specifically, their song “Maps“. The song as a whole is fantastic (in my opinion), but there are a few lines that really strike me whenever I hear them.

She sees these visions, she feels emotion
She says that I cannot go she sees my plane in the ocean
“And what about your friends, don’t you love them enough to stay”
And I say “if I don’t leave now then I will never get away”

I think these lines stand out the most to me because of the last one. It’s something I often think about. If I choose to stay, what will that make of my hopes to travel around the world? If I get settled into a rhythm, will I have the willpower to break out of that, say “bring it” to the unknown, and leave everything behind in an instant?

When I’ve asked various friends and acquaintances over the years about what they’d do if they didn’t need to work for a living, the majority of the responses have been “I’d travel.”

But they may drive an hour away, maybe take a trip once every few years and spend a week in some resort. And it disappoints me, because I want them to feel fulfilled and to enjoy life as much as they can, but they get so settled into daily life. I’m no better. With the exception of two separate day-trips, I haven’t taken time off for myself in several years.

And this worries me, deep down.

I keep telling myself, “everything will work out in the end,” but I’d like to think that includes the traveling that I hope to experience.

But, alas, science joins to help explain. I bring in the big-guns because you deserve legitimate explanations, not my shoddy attempts at explaining something out that I don’t know enough to genuinely teach others. I know where commentary ends and science begins, and I won’t pretend that the line is blurred to any degree.

According to Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson, two psychologists from 1908, our comfort zone, a place of relative comfort, is where we achieve a relatively steady performance in work. In other words, when we’re comfortable, we can produce stuff, but it’s just enough to feel like it wasn’t a waste of time.

In other, other words, we need to be comfortable, but not bored, to feel like we’re doing something decent.

Notice the mild quality of these adjectives.

To produce good work, to feel like life is truly being lived, we need something more.

The comfort zone provides stability. There is no uncertainty. No adaption needed. No growth. And growth is one of the best rewards for effort put into scaring ourselves, pushing our limits, and putting ourselves in situations that result in either adaption or failure. Growth results in better work. So, now we’re getting somewhere. Better, not decent.

But thanks to the Hedonic Treadmill, or hedonistic adaption, whichever you prefer, the boost doesn’t last. People are naturally inclined to return to a state of “decent”, rather than “better” or “worse” (I mention both because understanding this concept helps with experiencing hard times also).

So, how do we get from “decent” to “better”, and then to “great”? Keep pushing your limits. You’ll never know their locations until you find the edge. At that point, build a new ledge farther out.

And I feel like this can be applied to most areas of life. Tired of your job? Find out how you can either get promoted or seek a change. Going nowhere with your spouse? Find ways you two can change things up, keep life spicy. Bored on a regular basis? Take a few steps out, talk to new people, and try new activities. Or, if that doesn’t work, or it terrifies you, find a new hobby. Although this list says that it’s for men, every single thing listed is a unisex hobby.

This isn’t to say that an introvert should move to a new city and get a job dealing with thousands of people every day. Stress overload. It happens. It provides more harm than help.

Life is a series of adventures, waiting for you to find the path. So go, live it up, try something new, put yourself out there and test what you’re capable of. Not someday, but today.

And don’t forget, it’s always darkest just before the dawn. Just don’t go back to sleep.

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