“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” ~ Neale Donald Walsch
One of the first books I read that inspired me tremendously was Conversations With God. But when it comes to the quote above, I respectfully disagree with Mr. Walsch.
Life does not begin at the end of our comfort zone. Life is always there and will always be.
Birth, on the other hand, starts at the edge of our comfort zone. We’re pulled from a safe, solitary, and quiet place into a vast world, full of noise, people, challenges, and demands.
From birth to death we are on a rollercoaster ride. We grow, we suffer, we laugh, we cry, we succeed, we fail, we get sick and we heal, we fall in love, we fall out of love, we age, we lose people we love and we move on. Where is the comfort zone in that?
It feels to me that society begrudges us the intermittent phases where we feel comfortable and safe—as illusory as this safety may be. We’re still on that rollercoaster ride and anything is possible.
Instead of enjoying the calmness of comfort, we’re urged to move out of the comfort zone and do more. Why?
I have been lectured a few times about the need to step out of my comfort zone and go see the world. I don’t know what that means exactly since I live and experience the part of the world where I am.
The notion that we always need to be striving, to take risks, and go for bigger things is flawed. It creates an endless sense of dissatisfaction and feeling that something is missing.
We keep jumping from one thing to the other. We feel great when we get somewhere, only to be prompted to move on to the next thing, after the thrill wears off.
What does it all mean? What do we get for all this pushing and prodding? We achieve more, we create more, and we consume more. Then what?
Why not enjoy where we at and bask in the glory of our comfort zone?
Your comfort zone gets a bad rap. And today I invite you to look at it differently.
But before we get into it, let’s talk about what it means to be in the comfort zone.
What comfort zone means
The comfort zone is defined as a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, usually without a sense of risk.
I might be playing fast and loose with the term. And so do the people who offer me advice about the need to step out of my comfort zone. So I’d like to expand the definition above by adding: when you are in your comfort zone,
- you’re at peace with things as they are;
- you live in harmony within and without;
- you trust life and what it brings;
- you are satisfied and don’t need more proof that you’re alive and experiencing the best moment possible.
Being comfortable doesn’t really mean that life is risk free. Life is full of surprises whether we are in or outside our comfort zone.
The argument against the comfort zone
The advice that we need to step outside the comfort zone stems from some assumptions that are similar to the following.
If we all stay in our comfort zones who’s going to take risks, and change the world?
Life means growth and when we stay where we are, we stunt out growth. So in order to live, we need to continually challenge ourselves and seek new experiences.
If we stay in our comfort zone we stagnate and decay.
That’s one way of looking at life. Let’s look at the opposing view.
A case for the comfort zone
The comfort zone is peaceful and conducive to being one with your life. As we all know, life is constant change. And when we allow life to unfold, we gradually change with it—without being jolted by societal pressures and expectations.
The comfort zone is a blessing not a curse.
If we get to a place where we feel comfortable, is it wrong to stay there and enjoy it while it lasts?
Instead of wanting to break out of the zone, we should thank our lucky stars for having a comfort zone.
Millions of people around the world can only dream of being comfortable in a relatively safe environment and with enough means to support their families.
It takes guts to be in our comfort zone.
Trusting that things are okay the way they are, in spite of all the pressure and demands for forced change takes strength and courage.
It’s much easier to be swept away by the wave of doing and wanting instead of just being … comfortable, peaceful and not wanting for more.
Comfort feels good.
A comfort zone is the sweet spot of balance—no undue anxiety or need for taking more risks. This means we’re clear about where we want to be. We want to be right here right now, and that feels good.
We’re more than okay with whatever comes next—without us planning and striving. Your comfort zone changes (expands and contracts) with life.
Misguided notions about comfort zone
As mentioned above, the comfort zone gets a bad rap. Let me illustrate this point further.
The discomfort zone
If we are to stay where we are, aren’t we going to feel stuck? How do we know when it’s time to change and move out of the comfort zone?
The answer is rather simple. The comfort zone changes into a discomfort zone.
The notion that if you stay in your comfort zone you’ll suffer is misguided. It’s the opposite.
It’s no longer comfortable when you’re:
- Feeling bored and restless.
- You have nagging thoughts about something you wish you could experience, but you’re afraid to act on it.
Your desires to move forward have to be driven by your inner compass though—not by some outside influence dictating what you should or shouldn’t be doing.
Universal standards for comfort and growth
No one can define what’s comfortable and what’s not for an entire species of 7 billion people and growing.
People don’t know who you truly are and what you’ve experienced in your life so far.
There are no two people on the face of this planet that will have identical experiences. So it’s futile to listen to what others say about your comfort and growth. Only you can decide what works for you.
No one is you, other than you.
Fears vs. desires
Another ill-advised view is that we stay in our comfort zone because we’re afraid of taking action.
Fear is a crippling emotion and far from comfortable. It’s not only uncomfortable but also damaging to our entire wellbeing.
The crazy thing is: sometimes we are in a place of joy and comfort but others butt in and tell us we should be doing this or that. And we allow doubt to creep in.
Then we fear being left behind or missing out. And that can cause restlessness.
Fear of how others perceive us, and wanting to be seen in a good light might cloud our judgment as well.
The restlessness and doubts in this case are fears masquerading as desires. They’re not real.
True desires come from within. And while they carry with them anxiety and fears, they also come bearing gifts of excitement, motivation and perseverance.
If you feel comfortable where you are, enjoy every minute of it—guilt free. I’m learning to do just that.
We can give ourselves permission to be content and at peace with life. The more contented we are in our comfort zone, the more accepting we become of life with all its ups and downs.
Let’s all be okay, when someone asks, “What have you been up to?” with saying, “Same old same” … and not feel bad about it. Actually let’s not only feel okay about it, but also celebrate it and love it.
I leave you with this beautiful verse from the Tao Te Ching that I try to live by (I have a long way to go).
People enjoy their food,
take pleasure in being with their families,
spend weekends working in their gardens,
delight in the doings of the neighborhood.
And even though the next country is so close
that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,
they are content to die of old age
without ever having gone to see it.
From a translation by S. Mitchell