I was so sure I already knew what a comfort zone was. Actually reading a detailed definition of the term, though, proved to be really informative (if slightly alarming). I looked up several definitions of ‘comfort zone,’ but the Wikipedia version really laid it all out:
The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk. A person’s personality can be described by his or her comfort zones. A comfort zone is a type of mental conditioning that causes a person to create and operate mental boundaries. Such boundaries create an unfounded sense of security. Like inertia, a person who has established a comfort zone in a particular axis of his or life, will tend to stay within that zone without stepping outside of it. To step outside their comfort zone, a person must experiment with new and different behaviors, and then experience the new and different responses that occur within their environment.
I’ve always thought of my comfort zone(s) almost as a sort of friend. I’ve talked and thought almost fondly of my comfort zones because … well, because they’re so comfortable. I love comfort. And that’s what comfort zones represent for me, at least on the surface. The above definition is making me dig beneath the surface a little bit, though, and really think about the ways in which comfort zones lie (or let me lie to myself).
If my comfort zone prevents me from getting to where I want to go, achieving what I want to achieve, then how ‘comfortable’ is it, ultimately? The slightly alarming part for me is the fact that a comfort zone is actually ‘a type of mental conditioning’ that does little more than help me set up boundaries beyond which I cannot cross. So while on the surface, these zones may seem comfortable, after a while, they can become stifling. There’s also the false sense of security that these so-called comfort zones bring about. I ask myself: if the security brought about by my comfort zone is unfounded in the first place, then why would I want to cling to and invest in this zone? If I’m not necessarily secure within in and not necessarily secure outside it, then why act like remaining in this zone puts me in a better place?
I only recently hit the 30-minute mark with my jogging, but I knew I could’ve accomplished this about two months ago. I was enjoying my comfort zone a bit too much, though, and I have to admit that this has caused a delay in the achievement of some of my overall fitness goals. I can live with that delay, but I know within myself that I could have been further along by now. I’ve been toying with the idea of breaking out of my jogging comfort zone a few weeks now: during the last two minutes of my jogs, I turn up the speed from 6.5 kmph to 7 kmph – just to demonstrate to myself that I can do it, and that someday, this will be my new jogging speed. With only two minutes left, I feel like I have no excuse not to make it to the end, and my hope is that, psychologically, this practice is preparing me to take the plunge someday. For now, it just seems too daunting. What I might do, though, is increase those two minutes to three minutes, and hopefully trick myself to even go up to five minutes at the very end – especially now that I’m learning a lot of it is just about mental conditioning.
In my social life (what little there is of it), being an introvert is smack dab in the middle of my comfort zone. I’ve always been happy (almost proud, actually) to proclaim by introvertedness and to use it as an excuse for making some decisions as opposed to others. I’m still happy to proclaim it; I mean, I strongly doubt that I’ll ever miraculously become an extrovert, and I’m really okay with that. But boxing myself into my introverted world can be limiting in many ways.
Can I do better? Yeah.
Although I don’t entertain much, I consider myself a pretty good entertainer. I don’t do much of it because I have this ‘policy’ about guarding my weekends jealously. I feel like I pour so much of myself out to the world all week, that if I can get away with it, I’d rather have absolutely nothing on my agenda on the weekend. I do think it’s important to just have some downtime. I have a lot of responsibility of my shoulders, and I think I deserve to just do nothing on a weekend if I want/need to. But I don’t want to go to extremes, either. I want to balance out that part of my life. Maybe it’s the exercise, I don’t know (probably is), but I’m much more conscious now of how my body works. For years (ever since, say, the age of 24), I’ve always had this feeling of malaise on Sundays, but I never really pointed it out to myself until this year. On Sundays, I just tend to feel like the weight of the week is on my shoulders. Add to this the fact that I usually have several different responsibilities to carry out on Sunday, plus the fact that I get up early on this day, don’t have breakfast, spend quite a bit of time standing up or walking around, talking, singing (or ‘yelling’ out songs sometimes), etc. By the time I get home, all I want to do is crash. So my custom has been to take a really long nap on Sunday. Then I wake up from this nap feeling awful (physically, that is). I’ve done this for years on end, and it’s happened every Sunday. It’s only this year that I really thought about it and realized I’ve probably been oversleeping and doing myself no good in the process. So this year, I’ve been trying to ensure that if I do take a nap on Sundays, it shouldn’t last longer than 2 hours. Some Sundays, I don’t take a nap at all. I set up things to do so I’m not tempted to just plop into bed for the rest of the day. So far, I’ve taken brief out-of-town trips (to places about an hour away) just to see things; I’ve gone out visiting friends so I can maintain relationships I value; and I’ve actually done a bit of deliberate, pre-planned entertaining.
I thought keeping my weekends all to myself was ‘comfortable,’ but the reality is that I never felt good (physically) on Sundays. Now that I’m letting myself make do with less ‘comfort,’ I actually feel much better. All these examples probably sound quite unadventurous, but for me, this is all new and different behavior. Now, I just need to keep it up and see if ‘new and different responses’ begin to occur.
I have two questions for myself. The first is: What are my goals?
Once I’ve answered that question, the next one is: How is staying in my comfort zone ‘working for me’ (Dr. Phil) when it comes to actually meeting those goals?
Not too well, actually.