The Comfort Zone. It’s technically defined as: a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease; and we all have one. I hadn’t realized until very recently how much I lived in my little comfort zone. It’s a place I created due to some serious pre-conditioning by my ex-husband (and yes, I’ll share this information with you in a bit). But alas, it is incredibly important to realize that you can’t evolve, improve, and grow as a person until you LEAVE the comfort zone. And kittens, that scares the living-dead daylights out of me.
There are quite a few aspects of my life that I live in my comfort zone; I suppose you could call them habits. They are actions (or in most cases, lack of actions) that I take to protect myself from a response that likely won’t occur. You see, dearest reader, I was taught (and I use that term in a very abstract manner) that certain actions would cause my now ex-husband to lose his cool and in turn, take his frustrations out on me. Showing ANY kind of weakness or emotion was one of those things. As was arguing (technically it wasn’t arguing, it was me making a suggestion that wasn’t what he was thinking) over where to go for dinner. Or wanting to watch the game. Or not watch the game. The list unfortunately goes on and on and on. The main issue I’m having now is realizing and understanding that the things I like and want are NOT bad, and the people in my life will NOT respond in the same fashion if I voice my opinion, ask for something, or simply not agree with everything they say.
I’ve honed these little habits over the years, to the point that if I already know someone isn’t interested in something (like sports, my particular choice of music, a specific genre of movie, etc.) I won’t even suggest what I want to do as an option. In my head, I think to myself “you know they don’t like it… what makes you think it’s acceptable to ask for it?” I know what you’re thinking: “it’s a give and take situation, in a healthy relationship you’ll each do things the other wants to do.” And, logically, I realize that truth; but there’s this trigger in my brain that goes off. And that trigger tells me that if I ask for what I want, I will pay for it in some fashion.
I have two major comfort zones that I’m currently trying to escape. The first, we talked about above - the refusal to ask for something I want (no matter how badly I want it); especially when I know that someone may not particularly want to participate.
The second ties rather nicely into the first issue. It’s “reminding” someone of something I want to do. In my broken little mind (shush, I like the term) if I mention it more than once, it becomes “nagging” and will end up badly. Again, this is directly related my previous relationship and how he would react when I said something more than once (regardless the timing. It could actually be months later). ‘Yes, I remember, now shut up about it already” is one of the kinder ways he’s responded. So, I mention something once, and let it go. This is particularly difficult in my current situation because I don’t have my own means of transportation. If I need or want to do something, go somewhere, etc., I either have to rely on someone else to take me (have I mentioned that I have the world’s most amazing cousin???) or borrow a car (two shout-outs to Vicki . .I’d be nowhere – literally – without you). I absolutely don’t expect other people to remember all the things I want to do, places I want to go, things I want to buy, etc. On the flip side, I can’t seem to bring myself to mention it again out of fear of what might happen.
So that’s where I am right now; facing a door to the OTHER SIDE of the comfort zone. Looking for the key to unlock it, and the courage to walk through.
There’s a lot of Fear here
We call it a comfort zone for a reason…we feel safe here. We know what’s going on, what to expect, and how things will happen. When we step through that door into the unknown… it’s downright frightening. Fear of the unknown is what holds us back the most, regardless of what we’re chasing.
The key is when you trust and care for the people in your life, then you know that regardless of what you ask for, how often you say something, or even if you disagree with something they say nothing terrible is going to happen. Sure we’ll have disagreements or even arguments with the people we love. That’s shouldn’t stop us from speaking up; even if we are afraid. We can find our safe zones in a lot of different places, and usually it’s with the right people.
There is no way stepping out of your comfort zone is going to happen overnight. It’s a long, sometimes painful, process of very small steps. We can’t just jump into the deep end of the pool, without knowing how to swim, and expect to survive. As enticing as that sounds (and as much as I expect that out of myself) it’s simply not realistic.
So, we have to take small, stable steps. Create a series of small goals that will ultimately result in leaving the Comfort Zone behind and stepping into a new future of adventure and peace. I know it sounds cheesy and unattainable, but it’s so very true. Reaching small goals (and being able to say “Yes, I accomplished that!”) is what helps us move forward. These accomplishments give us the drive and courage to keep going. Personally, I’m a list person (those of you who know me know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. There’s a written list for everything). When I do something, I cross it off the list; that way I can visually see my progress and those accomplishments are what keep me going.
A quick word about goals (whether they are small or large and regardless of what they are for). Make them SMART. Specific. Measureable. Attainable. Realistic. Time-driven. There’s a WHOLE blog that needs to go around that concept... but for now, just keep those things in mind. Otherwise your goals are just random dreams with no plan.
So take some time out (especially from the things you are doing to avoid getting out of your comfort zone) and set your small goals. You can even set your large goal, and work backwards into the smaller ones. Whatever works for you. Just keep moving forward and reach out for support when you need it.
Oh…no. Not Communication. This is likely the most daunting of tasks for most of us; even under the best of circumstances. Talking to others about what’s going on in our heads and with our emotions can be scary; especially when we don’t know how they are going to respond. However difficult, communication is essential to ensuring you get the love and support you need to step out, and stay out, of your comfort zone.
Take the time to talk to a trusted friend, relative, or loved one; and be prepared. It’s going to be a deep conversation. In concept (I say this, because it’s not as easy as I make it sound…even for me) you need to explain WHERE your comfort zone is, why you’re there, and why it’s important for you to move out and forward. You can likely expect some really strong emotions during this conversation and potentially some tears. This is not a bad thing. Just let it happen and talk it out. The loved ones in your life will want to understand and help you; but you have to let them.
Trust is a tough word, because we’ve all been in a place where our trust was misplaced and it hurt. Things were held against us, someone shared our information with someone else, we were made fun or – or worse – were told what we are feeling/doing/experiencing is wrong. It sucks and it causes damage and makes it harder and harder to trust someone. Even ourselves. Trust is essential to growing as a person; so strap in, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Trust your loved ones not to hold things against you. Trust YOURSELF. Trust that talking about things, working through them and being uncomfortable at times will work. When all else fails, take a step back and...talk about it.
Nope, this is not a typo; I put communication on here twice. There are two different sets of communication that should be happening for you. The first is that initial conversation with your friends/loved ones regarding finding your way out of the comfort zone.
The next level is even MORE communication. This particular self-improvement process is different than many of the others ones we’ve discussed because in a lot of cases, it effects other people. You already know my story, so you can see how it would impact the people in my life. As I continue to work through my current issues, I’ve been told (several times) “you just need to talk to me about it.” I’m trying (it’s HARD, dang it) and it’s helping. Communication is they key (heck, it’s the key to a lot of things) to getting you outside of your comfort zone; because with the right people, that communication is going to take you further than anything else. When you have the right people in your life and they understand what you’re going through, they help. They don’t make it worse, they don’t hold it against you, and they certainly don’t make fun of you. In fact, they may actually give you some good advice, they will let you cry (or they will cry with you) and they will make you smile.
Eventually, dear reader, you will find yourself walking out of the comfort zone. You’ll find yourself growing, learning, and being happier with life. So, take a deep breath, approach that door, and get started on the lock. Trust me, it’ll be worth the work.
And above all, be kind to yourself and others.