Do you sometimes secretly wonder if this is all there is to your life? Do you sometimes feel like you’re stuck on a colourless work / family / money treadmill until retirement? Are you feeling restless and dissatisfied with the status quo? Perhaps you never discovered what it is that you would love to do with your life because things have become so busy and your personal desires were relegated to last place? Yet, if you are really honest with yourself, has your comfort zone become your prison?
We all have a comfort zone; it’s the part of your life where you feel most at home and at ease. We are creatures of habit and so the perception of normality and being in control of our lives helps us to feel safe. However, when your comfort zone gets to the point of feeling like a prison, then it’s a big clue that it’s time to break out of it and try something new. Being stuck here is like being confined in an increasingly shrinking cage; whilst it feels familiar, it can be making you unhappy. Deep down you know that there is more to life, and that there is more of you waiting patiently for you to remember it and more of life waiting patiently for you to live it.
If the very idea of stepping out of your comfort zone triggers a surge of fear and anxiety, your subconscious mind is likely to be running the show. The most compelling subconscious pay-off for staying stuck is fear of failure. If you keep your expectations really low, you can’t be disappointed or hurt if things don’t turn out. If you don’t put yourself out there, you can’t be rejected or judged by others. It’s a case of what you don’t do can’t hurt you. Or can it? Many people convince themselves that if they stay in their comfort zone and ignore their inner promptings to evolve, they will avoid having to face their deepest fear of failure and of not being good enough.
Yet doing nothing is still a choice; it’s just a passive one. It’s a choice to ignore your feelings, to avoid the signs within and around you and to pretend. The thing is you can only keep up the pretense for so long before it starts to affect you. It shows up in different ways, such as discontentment and unhappiness, headaches, anxiety and depression, and in conflict with the people around you. It can be challenging to make sense of your symptoms in a society that is accustomed to quick fixes and pills for every complaint. Viewed symbolically though, symptoms like these can be a wake-up call from the soul letting you know that you’re off course and something needs to change. Essentially, the most effective way to grow as a person requires stepping out of your comfort zone from time to time.
A common assumption in our culture is that you should have your life figured out in the early years of adulthood. That once you get older and take on responsibilities, it’s too late to change course. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Whilst it is true that having more responsibilities like family and financial security places limitations on you, you always have options within the limitations to make more creative and original choices. The changes you make don’t have to be massive ones; small shifts can make a big difference too. Regardless of what stage of life you are at, it is always possible to live more fully and find more contentment and meaning in your life.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” (Neale Donald Walsch)
Luckily, there are many ways of breaking out of the comfort zone prison. But first you must believe that it is possible. The wonderful thing about your mind is that once you believe that something is possible, your mind works hard to figure out ways to go about achieving it. Of course you can dive in and just do something new. But if your need for change is big and your fear equal in size, then your imagination and your intuition are two of the best in-built tools at your disposal.
Give yourself permission to imagine all the things that you would love to do if there were no obstacles in your way. Park your judgment and critical mind whilst you do this and just allow all of your ideas to flow, no matter how silly they might sound to your logical self. Sometimes it can be helpful to take yourself back to your childhood and remember the things you always wanted to do. Write them all down. Be curious and playful and most of all, have fun with the process. Once you have come up with some ideas, spend some time imagining the ones that stand out to you, and notice how they make you feel. Clue: if your heart responds with some form of excitement, you’re on the right track!
The other issue is that of your beliefs. Your beliefs are those tiny but powerful statements that you believe as truth about yourself and others. As beliefs are largely subconscious, most of the time you’re unaware that you even have them, yet they strongly influence your behaviour. Examples of beliefs are “personal fulfilment happens to other people, not to me”; or “I only trained in one profession and so I can’t do anything else” or “I’m too old for change” or “I’m not smart enough”. If you have a program of beliefs like these running, (and we all do in some form), they will be contributing to your comfort zone prison. They limit you with their lack of hope and keep you small.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right” (Henry Ford)
Beliefs only have power to the extent that you believe in them, and so finding out what your beliefs are is the prerequisite step to breaking free of them. The quickest way to become aware of your negative beliefs is to imagine what you would love to do, and then notice the thoughts that pop into your mind to talk you out of it. You might be surprised how quickly they come and how many you have! However, once you are aware of your beliefs, you have the power to change them.
Ultimately, whilst it’s risky to follow your dreams, it’s far more risky to live an unlived life. To get to the end of your days and regret that you didn’t act on your dreams when you had the freedom and the health to do so. It takes enormous courage to follow your dreams, and yet it’s always worth it, not just for the wonderful people you meet along the way, and the unique opportunities that arise when you step up and take action, but also for the immense personal satisfaction and contentment that comes when you step out of your comfort zone and into a more expansive version of yourself.