Sunday, 11 November 2012

dipping your toe in

My mum's been talking about comfort zones for years. I first heard the term from her. She never completely demonised them. On the contrary, mum often talks about the dangers of being completely outside of your comfort zone and how the comfort zone is your way of assessing your circumstances from a safe place. The comfort zone, according to her theory, is a room in the house that makes up your being. You need that room -it's part of the building- but you don't want to spend twenty four hours a day there. The comfort zone is like everything else - great in moderation, but too much is really going to kill all the fun.

The best way to describe the function of the comfort zone is to ask you to cast your mind back to the cartoons you watched as a kid (and if you're anything like me, you still enjoy from time to time in adulthood). You may have seen one where a character inched up to a cliff edge, leaning heavily back on one foot. When the crumbling cliff edge broke, the character simply lifted his tentative front foot back and sighed with relief in safety. You may notice, if you visit a cliff edge by the sea, that human beings approach the edge in a similar way, putting all their weight on the back foot and edging forward softly with the front foot, as if to make sure they can step back and avoid death if the cliff gives way. That trusty back foot is the comfort zone. It makes us feel sturdy, stable and safe. It gives us peace of mind, even if it's largely psychological and has no basis in fact. (In reality, if the cliff crumbles, you're going with it regardless of where your back foot is placed.)

There's nothing wrong with the sense of reassurance that the back foot makes you feel when you're in terrain that may feel unsafe. My mum is a big proponent of the idea that the comfort zone, when used correctly, is the boat you're standing in when you dip your toe in the water. It's a safe, familiar place - you can test the temperature and check out the conditions before jumping right in. What's wrong with that? But becoming too attached to the comfort zone means you never actually leave the boat. Or even sit on the decking. You give yourself less space and less potential for good living when you stay inside it. The point is, if you want to live life to the full, you need to accept that you can't have a guarantee before you take any kind of risk. That's why it's called a risk and not a legally binding contract!

Start small. Look, for example, at the routine you follow when you get home from work. Everyone has their daily behaviours which promote a sense of peace and normality. The trick is to shake them up when they become too much like a blanket that you can't shrug off. You don't have to turn your whole life upside down. Simply change one or two variables. Instead of immediately sitting down in front of the TV, go for a shower to invigorate yourself. Instead of cooking your dinner at the same old time, maybe go for a stroll around the block and take in the scenery of your neighbourhood.

Examine your choices. You make loads of them every day but so many of them are automatic that they go under the radar. Sometimes you need to give yourself a bit more of a chance to own your choices. Recognise why you make the choices you do. Step out of your 'railroad' thinking, recognise it for what it is and then, even if you would make the same choice again anyway, you're doing it consciously and giving yourself a chance to appreciate the power you have over your own life.

When something interrupts your plans or changes the day into something you weren't expecting, the comfort zone takes a bit of a beating. You're being dragged out against your will and that can cause resentment, fear, anxiety, anger and/or severe stress. But of course, change and the unexpected are a part of life, so why not begin to prepare yourself for it by consciously leaving your comfort zone and comforting yourself through the unknown?

Happy travels.