Why your comfort zone is dangerous

A comfort zone is something dynamic. It expands and shrinks. You only need to do something once to start making it familiar. And stop doing something once to start making it unfamiliar. In this article, I will share a few steps that will help you get out of your comfort zone.

I was going down the slopes full speed with my new snowboard, losing track of time, enjoying the feeling and all the hormones in my bloodstream. 

I love this magic mix of fear and excitement during an intense experience. The adrenaline, endorphin, dopamine, and cortisol make me feel alive. But what I find most fascinating are the words I tell myself in that particular moment. 

Every time I am stretching myself and adventuring even ever so slightly outside of my comfort zone, I have this very interesting internal dialogue. Tell me I’m not crazy! You have those voices inside your head too, right? Well, I know you do, maybe you don’t always hear them clearly but they are there.

The animation movie “Inside out” would best illustrate what I am talking about. In case you haven’t seen it, our self-talk is simply our inner voice, our personal commentator of our life show.

We basically have 2 opposite voices and the one who will have the best sales pitch will have the biggest influence on how we feel and who we are… 

On one side our rational mind trying to protect us: “Seriously, why would you take the risk to do that? What if you lose control, fall, hurt yourself, hurt someone else, die, are vulnerable, are ridiculous, are rejected,..? 

That’s not safe! All of this for what? Fun? Challenge? Growth? Is it really worth it?” 

 Chalk-drawing-shoes-in-comfort-zone-circle-stepping-out

On the other side, you have your excitement and thirst for change yelling: “It’s awesome! You feel sooooo good! You can do this, you’re the best! It is so fulfilling! You can be proud, push yourself! That’s having fun! You only live once and you better enjoy it!”

Usually one of the voices tries to keep you in your comfort zone while the other is pushing you to expand it.

What is the meaning of comfort zone?

The comfort zone is a situation where we feel safe, at ease, a situation that is familiar. As you can imagine, it is not something rigid. It changes over time, it is dynamic. Do you remember how you felt the first time you went to school? It was exciting, probably a bit scary, all those people, the building, the teachers,… It was really unfamiliar and most likely you felt a bit lost. 

Now, remember the last day of the school year. You knew every corner of the school, you made friends and going there was part of the routine, it became very familiar.

Is comfort zone good or bad?

Every time you did something new, you went outside of your comfort zone. Going to school, learning to swim, to cycle, getting a job, going into a relationship, going on holiday,…

Sometimes the excitement is so strong that you don’t think too much about it, sometimes you don’t really have a choice, sometimes it is so scary that you didn’t push through.

But there is a point in life, when after expanding our comfort zone enough to be satisfied that we tend to avoid crossing the line too often. We usually don’t handle uncertainty so well and because our mind will, by default, prefer to keep us safe, we will tend to stick with what we know. But what is happening when we are discontent with the current situation? 

That’s when the comfort zone is becoming a dangerous place to live because we tend to prefer a known discomfort over a possible yet uncertain pleasure. Challenging the status quo is hard and change is scary because we fear what we don’t know. But if we always try to always stay safe, we leave no room for exploration, experiences, and growth.

The comfort zone is neither good nor bad but staying forever stuck in it will ruin your life. I am really satisfied with my life. But the world around me is forever changing and I have desires. I want to feel, do, have things I have never felt, done, or had before and I will not find them inside my comfort zone.

“If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done!”

It sounds obvious, but lots of people stay stuck in a situation WISHING it would be different. Einstein said: “Doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result is insanity.” This is the danger of your comfort zone, living a life wishing it was different, feeling miserable, unsatisfied, and unfulfilled.

So you know that if you want to live your best life you got to get comfortable with the unknown and create a system to help you get out of your comfort zone when you need to.

Here are a few steps that will help you get out of your comfort zone.

Step 1: Tell your mind what you really want it to do

The famous British hypnotherapist Marisa Peer, explains that you can reprogram your mind by creating the right blueprint. Your mind does what it thinks you want it to do and not always what you really want to do.

For example, if you keep repeating that you are scared, that you will fail, that it is hard,…, your mind will try to protect you and make everything it can so you don’t have to do this thing that makes you feel so bad, even if you have to.

Have you ever felt suddenly ill before a presentation, a speech, or an oral exam? Yes, you can make yourself sick just by the power of your mind. You can change the composition of your body just by using thoughts, and we do that all the time! For example, when you read a message from someone and feel happy, sad, angry,… 

It is simply a piece of information that provokes a thought that creates an emotion. Are you smiling because you are happy? Or are you happy because you are smiling? It is absolutely essential to choose your thoughts carefully. Thoughts become words. Words become actions.

” If you think you can or if you think you can’t, you are probably right” – H. Ford

If you keep telling yourself that you love what you do, that it makes you feel amazing, that you enjoy it so much, your mind will think: “well, apparently I like that, let’s do more of it”.

I vividly remember those days during my training in the commando-paratroopers, where after days of really intense exercises, feeling exhausted physically and mentally, we would go for a run with the whole platoon. I can remember the pain in my body and the constant mental pressure, pushing the limits further and further. 

“It’s too hard! I want to stop! Why do I even do that to myself? Just give up. You’re exhausted, hungry, dirty, just stop, you are in so much pain!” The negative self-talk was present and loud. 

But then, we started singing. It was like magic. Suddenly feeling strong again, proud, motivated, and ready to keep pushing through the pain and the hardship. Feeling together, resonating to the unity of our voices and the vibration of the songs. 

I will never forget those intense moments and the physical sensation in my body as the self-talk was getting more and more empowering: “I got this, I am strong, I can do it, I love it, this is my choice, this is who I am, I am a winner, I never give up”. 

 Francois in army walking with gun and other soldiers

I did not really realize the mental conditioning it was at that time, all I knew is that it made us feel good. We were simply confusing our brains with singing. Singing reduces stress, lowers cortisol, and communicates to the body that we are safe. Those empowering songs of bravery, honor, respect, discipline were giving the signal to our mind that we loved it! And it worked.

If you lie to yourself long enough, the lie will become a reality. The next time you do something you don’t like but that you have to do or something you are always procrastinating about, try to tell yourself that you love doing it, that it is your choice and you like it. This is not positive thinking. It simply is communicating clearly with your mind.

Step 2: Find a stronger reason than “I should”

If you want to have the motivation and grit to push through what scares you, explore the unknown, and tell your mind to do something that doesn’t really feel safe, you got to have a pretty good reason.

A wish is not enough. You need to tap into your feelings and go deeper than “it would be nice if…” What is so exciting about that for you? What is important about doing this? How do you hope it will make you feel? Why now?

When you are deeply connected with your desire on an emotional level, then you are ready for the next step.

Step 3: Cut out the buls#!t

We tell stories to ourselves, trying to explain why we are not where we are expected to be or why we don’t do what we should be doing. Sometimes the stories are very convincing but still, there are mere excuses.

We create stories so we can blame the circumstances, or someone else and not take responsibility for our life. 

Let’s say no to “but…”

… but I am scared! What scares you?

… but it’s gonna be hard! How do you know?

… but it’s too risky! How to minimize the risk?

… but it’s gonna take too long!  Is a lifetime being unfulfilled better than a temporary discomfort?

… but I don’t have time! Why is it not a priority for you?

little wooden puppet stepping forward out of a line, out of the comfort zone

Step 4: Make what is unfamiliar familiar

Once you’ve identified a situation where you are not content, found out why it is important for you to change it, and eliminated your excuses, it’s time to take action.

One of my clients is a CEO of a multinational company. He is a successful businessman and a powerful leader. But something he didn’t want me to know about him was that he hated making phone calls. He would always procrastinate about making a call and that was creating a lot of discomfort and stress.

Together, we came up with a plan: he would start the day with the calls he had to make, and every time he would hang up, he would put his hands up and say out loud: “That was amazing, I love that, I am good at it, can’t wait for the next call!”

CEO sitting in office making a phone call in front of a big window

Believe it or not, after a few weeks, he timidly admitted that he started to like making those calls! I was impressed but not surprised. “We tend to repeat the behavior we reward”

We usually spend more time worrying about what could potentially happen (which is more fiction than prediction) rather than getting clear on the costs of NOT taking action. The future does not exist. It is the way you live here and now that will determine it.

To make the unfamiliar, familiar, we just have to start doing it one time. And then another, and another until it becomes who we are. The problem is that most people try to start too big and don’t stick long enough to see the results.

But how big is too big? If it is too scary maybe you are stretching yourself too much. If it is too exciting, maybe you are not pushing yourself enough. 

The trick is to find a good mix between fear and excitement. Because if the balance is not just right, you end up thinking “I should have…” or “I shouldn’t have…”. In either case, you have regrets. “We tend to regret more the things that we didn’t do than the things we’ve done”

 man with shoes in the middle of a circle of comfort with a yellow line surrounding it

This is a great tool to navigate through life and overcome your limits. When you are facing a situation that seems impossible, readjust to something that is more exciting and less scary, and step by step, expand your comfort zone.

Summary

Your comfort zone is something dynamic. It expands and shrinks. You only need to do something once to start making it familiar. And stop doing something once to start making it unfamiliar.

Transformation is challenging at first and really rewarding in the long term. Make sure you stick to your decision long enough to have the extrinsic reward but start giving yourself the intrinsic reward at the very beginning. Even if it feels like lying to yourself. The brain learns by repetition, do one thing long enough and it will become your new identity.

Let me summarise with an example: “I should go to the gym.”

First get really clear about WHY it is important to you. Figure how you want to feel and then determine a goal that defines who you want to be. 

“I want to be fit because I want to enjoy every aspect of my life, feel confident in my body and role model the way for my children.” 

But I don’t know what to do! => Hire a personal trainer or join a group class.

But it’s expensive! => Really? What about your new phone or shoes? 

Woman with one knee on the floor doing her shoe laces of her sport shoes before start running

Investing in yourself is the best investment you can do (Warren Buffet said that, not me!). You are not paying for a session, you are investing in a better life.

But what if people laugh at me? Who cares!? Are you give up on taking care of yourself because of what others you don’t know “might” think of you?

Going to the gym might be scary and really unfamiliar at first. Make the unfamiliar familiar by going once. Start small and build up. Don’t plan to go workout 6 days a week for 2 hours. Instead, commit to exercising once a week for 30min.

Program your mind to make it work for you: every time before going to the gym tell yourself: “I love to go workout, this will make me feel good, I can’t wait to be in the gym, I choose to go to the gym because I want it and I like it.”

Celebrate after your workout: “that was amazing, I feel strong, I feel healthy, I love it! Do this for long enough and working out will be part of who you are. Soon being fit will be your new identity.

Remember that it’s just hard at the beginning. If you try to push a car, you have to do a lot of effort at first, then when it starts moving, it’s quite easy to maintain or even increase the speed. 

That’s what we call momentum. A new habit is created by starting to do something once and sticking to it.

If you want to have results, start now.
If you want to have results faster, find a coach.

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