Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone—so true.
I love this saying, and wish I could take credit for thinking
it up. In my humble opinion, whoever came up with
it is a genius—and when I saw it on a fridge magnet
many years ago, I bought several of them to give as
gifts to people I recognized as being entrenched in
their comfort zones. (Sometimes it really does take one
to know one.) Having given most of them away, I am
now down to just the one that lives in its special place
on the side of my fridge, where I can see it every day.

A client of mine, upon seeing my fridge magnet, took
this sentiment to heart in a big way and when it was
finally time to celebrate a truly terrific and hard-won
milestone in her life, she decided to reward herself with
a big cake inscribed with those words. After some hard
inner work, she was able to embrace a vitally important
understanding: in order to become emotionally free,
she needed to make the conscious choice to move past
what was comfortable for her and actually start living.

I’m so happy for her-and for all of us who eventually
arrive at this place within ourselves.

What is a ‘Comfort Zone’?

Although this expression has become a catch phrase
in self-help psychology, the term can be misleading. A
comfort zone is really anything but comfortable. Neither
is it an emotionally healthy place to be, and a lot
of people unwittingly become stuck in them for long
periods of time.

A comfort zone most often stems from family-of-origin
dynamics. Over many years, we grow to know those
well and easily fall into them. Sometimes a comfort
zone can be the result of a negative feeling we’ve
developed about ourselves, and we can hold onto
that defective—and untrue—self-image well into our
adulthood.

For example, one of my favorite comfort zones when
I was growing up was to be a ‘good girl’ at all costs
and to never make any waves, because I understood
at a very early age that there would be difficult consequences
awaiting me when I tried to speak my truth
or act in a way that my parents didn’t appreciate. That
particular comfort zone tenaciously had its roots in
my faulty core beliefs about myself. Built up over a lot
of years, those beliefs informed me that my opinions
didn’t matter and that I somehow didn’t deserve to be
treated as a valuable member of my own family. And,
in the short run, it became more ‘comfortable’ for me
to believe that and act as if it were true, than it would
have been to challenge those beliefs and face the potentially
uncomfortable consequences. With my wiser
adult self-awareness, I see now that this was the perfect
environment for many of my long-lingering comfort
zones to develop and hold me hostage—until I learned
about the pain that accompanies us when we make the
choice to stay trapped in unhealthy behaviors.

The Two Kinds of Pain

What really happens in a comfort zone?

Comfort zones provide us with what is referred to in
12-Step literature as the ‘easier, softer way out’—until it
no longer feels like that for us anymore, which is when
change can happen. When we get stuck in a comfort
zone, it’s like getting used to clothes that are just too
small for us—until that magnificent moment when we
realize we’ve outgrown them. But until that time, we
continue to practice our learned behaviors in order to
protect ourselves from the perceived potential pain of
evolving and growing.

What many people don’t understand is that there are
two distinctly different types of pain: there is the pain
that goes on and on, and the pain that has a light at
the end of the tunnel. When we choose to remain in a
comfort zone, we are ultimately choosing the former
because if we keep doing the same things, we keep
getting the same results. As the profoundly wise saying
goes, if nothing changes, nothing changes. Although
that choice can appear easier, it will only feel like that in
the short run. In the long run, the pain continues.

All addictions are comfort zones. If you are struggling
with any form of addictive behavior, you’re using it in
an attempt to shield yourself from the harsher realities
of your life. As understandable as this coping strategy may
be, addiction is ultimately a twisted form of
self-care—with ‘twisted’ being the key word. There is
nothing self-caring about hurting yourself over and
over again just to be able to keep your eyes closed and
stay in denial. That will only serve to create the kind of
pain that never ends.

Coming out of Your Comfort Zone—Yes, You Can!

I don’t always agree with everything good ol’ Dr. Phil
says, but every once in a while he comes up with
something great. An example of this is the question he
inevitably asks almost every one of his TV guests:

How’s that been workin’ for ya?

Interestingly, virtually every time I ask this question
with my clients, I get the same response: “Not so well.”
And when that is the case—when we finally recognize
how stuck we are—the next question that needs to be
asked is:

Are you ready to try something different?

When we decide to raise the bar for ourselves and
choose a healthier behavior, most of us will immediately
experience will be an overwhelming feeling of fear.
This is a reasonable response because we are basically
giving up an option that has felt like a security blanket
or a best friend. We need to be gentle with ourselves
when we make this courageous choice—we need to
allow ourselves to vent, grieve, cry our tears, and then
get on with facing reality outside of our comfort zone.

And let’s remember to pat ourselves on the back for
being so brave!

It might help you to know that the second experience
you’ll have is a marked increase in your self-respect—
and in my opinion, nothing is more valuable than that.
Once you’ve made the choice to actually feel your
fear and embark on the journey of recovery from your
comfort zone anyway, you will automatically feel better
about yourself, even if you’re still a little scared. You will
undoubtedly recognize that you’re now on the right
track, even when this decision leads you into growth
periods that make your hair stand on end. We all have
times like that, whether we stay in addiction or choose
recovery from our unhealthy coping behaviors. During
these times, we need to remind ourselves of the two
distinct types of pain and re-commit to being on the
higher path, the one that will ultimately lead us to freedom
from our addictions.

The truth is that you alone are responsible for making
the decision to leave your comfort zone—but the good
news is that you don’t have to do the inner work this
requires by yourself. Please don’t hesitate to reach out
for the help you need. There is no shame or stigma in
needing help from others—the real tragedy occurs
when we try to protect our pride and our egos by not
asking for assistance. I have needed help many times
over the years, and I still reach out for it today when
I need to. I so appreciate the many people who have
been there to help me, and I am profoundly grateful to
be able to pay it forward with others who come to me
for this.

Will you choose to opt for the pain that will actually
end?