It is a quiet morning. I am sitting in the train, enjoying the beginning of a beautiful autumn day. Autumn has arrived. Another year of my life has passed. This year has been a great teacher. As it guided my through dark alleys of doubts and light skywalks of hope, this year taught me a lot about letting go and stepping out of my comfort zone.
Comfort zones are these safe places of warmth and cosiness. When we are in our comfort zone, we feel confident about our actions, deeds, and thoughts. Life comes about lightly. We know, where to go, what to do, and whom to ask for help and advice. The comfort zone is like a warm house in winter, where food, firewood, and blankets are constantly in the right place. Those safe places come in many shapes and sizes. A comfort zone can be the workplace that we have been in for many years. Consequently, we know the working structures and processes, we ask the right questions, and collaborate with the right people to accomplish particular task. This does not mean that there won`t ever be any conflict. But usually time has taught us how to maneuver tricky situations within this particular work setting.
Similarly, a comfort zone can be an area in a city, where we have lived for many years. We know, where to get the best coffee or groceries, have a pretty clear estimate of how long it takes to go to the next post office or train station. After a while, some neighbors might even greet us on the way to our apartment; or the man at the wine shop will sell us a bottle of urgently needed sparkling wine, even if the shop is still closed.
Friends and relations are yet another example of comfort zones. Friends are a wonderful gift of life. With true friends we can celebrate our successes – job promotions, children, weddings…., but we can also share our sorrows. True friends know us, they accept us the way we are. During long nights filled with conversations about life and philosophy, we have come to know each other. Not seldom, and based on this deep level of acquaintance, good friends help us to see ourselves for who we are. They become a mirror of our thoughts and actions, and give us feedback in a loving manner, if necessary. Friends are important comfort zones to hold us up, if we fall and to celebrate with, if we win.
Yet, not all friends are there to stay; not all homes are to be lived in forever; not every workplace will help us to constantly grow.
Comfort zones can shift.
Lately, I have read a lot about comfort zones. I have seen my friends go through phases of transition and I have experienced transition myself. I am sure, we all have.
Leaving your comfort zone hurts. It is hard. It requires a lot of letting go. It is almost like cleaning out your life closet and accepting that some things, maybe all of them, never come back. Or at least, they will change in one way or another.
There are beautiful, motivational quotes on leaving our comfort zone:
Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.
Comfort kills your calling.
Their meaning can be interpreted in many ways: If you stay in one comfort zone for too long, you might forget, what you set out to do. But comfort zones tend to keep us busy. In fact, looking at the comfort zones described above, we all know, how busy our working lifes can get. We run from one task to another, our phones buzz constantly, emails call for replies, and meetings are to be attended. Once we are out of the office, we need to meet our friends, or go to the grocery shop to fill our warm home with the nourishing smell of fresh food.
Probably, you are wondering now: “What is wrong with all that?”
“Isn`t it nice to have a job that keeps you busy while you know, what to do?” – It is certainly nice. The question rather is, does the busy-ness still help you grow into your greatest self? Is it bringing you closer to your goals? Or are you forgetting about it because your head is just too full to even think about goals and dreams? Is it helping you to fulfill your calling?
You might also wonder: “Isn`t it really cool to have friends to go to after work?” – Sure thing. Friends are an amazing and rich gift. Yet, true friendship does not necessarily live only from maintenance. True friends are part of your growth. They help you change your perspective, ask questions, and challenge you. Very often, our filled working and private lives actually keep us from taking time for ourselves. Important questions arise: What are you talking about with your friends? Do you go into life decisions or debate little problems just to make them bigger? Are you present with yourself and the others?
And finally you might ask: “Why should I not enjoy living in the area I like?” – Because sometimes especially the routines in our daily paths keep us from looking for new things. The safety is like a huge, cosy coat that cuddles you gently. Yet, sometimes we outgrow our safe spaces and forget at the same time that it is especially in places beyond safety, where we might meet ourselves in entirely new ways. So ask yourself: Do you still dream of this one big trip? Why are you postponing it? Is this the city or place you feel so grounded that it helps you grow every day? Or is your current place just keeping you because you don`t know where else to go? Is it filling you with energy and hopes? Is it lifting you up and inspiring you to pursue a little adventure every single day?
Important questions to ask yourself:
Does your busy-ness help you grow into your greatest self?
Is it bringing you closer to your goals?
Do you still think about goals and dreams?
Are you living according to your calling?
What do you discuss with your friends?
Are you guys usually debating little problems just to make them bigger?
Are you present with yourself and the others?
Do you still dream of this one big trip?
Why are you postponing it?
Is your apartment / house in a place that makes you feel so grounded that it helps you grow every day?
Is it filling you with energy and hopes?
Is it lifting you up and inspiring you to pursue a little adventure every single day?
Leaving the comfort zone is hard
We have all made the experience that leaving your comfort zone is not always easy. Sometimes we just do it without giving it much thought. But when the exit of the comfort zone requires big life decisions, it might take a while.
Tony Robbins argues that it is not the decisions that take a long while. In fact, he holds, making a decision only takes a minute. What consumes our time is the thinking part. Before making a decision, we usually think a lot about it. We consider the pros and cons, debate the consequences, and indulge in the insecurities that evolve as we reflect. As we do so, we forget about one important aspect: Intuition. Although even Husserl already argued that in the true state of being, life is more about intuition than rational reflection. Adding to that ancient ideas in Buddhism claim that there is a space beyond thoughts that beholds all truth and knowledge. In other words, we already know what to do and how to make our decisions. We just need to step away from the eagerness to engineer the step out of the comfort zone through thinking.
Going away from big philosophy, I would like to hint to some smaller options that have helped me to look at some (by far not yet all) edges of my comfort zones:
1. Take a little challenge every day!
Uncertainty is a constant companion to our lives. It holds us back and makes us question even little adventures. By taking on little challenges, we cross tiny comfort zones in our daily routines and might even notice, it is not even too difficult. It might actually be fun.
If you wonder now, what could this be for me today, I`d like to ask you a little question: When have you last been on a swing? When have you last felt that lightness accompanied with a smile of freedom?
2. Talk less, listen more!
I want to be totally honest: I am really bad at keeping quiet. But forcing myself to not talk, for instance, in the mornings or after long, exhausting days, usually helps me to go more inwards. This is when we meet ourselves and get a chance to look at all the emotions that are flying around inside. In silence, we might even get the chance to listen a little better to what we really want – beyond our comfort zone. In addition, listening is a beautiful way to connect with others, to show them our full attention and empathy, and to be with them completely.
When was the last time you sat down with yourself on a comfy chair and a hot cup of tea?
3. Search solitude!
Being alone can be a balm for your soul. Especially, when you allow yourself to fully be with all your dreams, wishes, and hopes (and fears) for a certain time. Many big authors including Emily Dickinson have written long poems about meeting themselves in solitude. Besides being fully with themselves and their surroundings, the artists also pointed to the flow states that very often came with being alone. Yet, urban lifestyle, society, friends, colleagues….usually force us be to a “social animal”. I have made the experience that it is okay to sometimes just say “no”. At the beginning, I felt really bad, sometimes I still do. Because I don’t want to disappoint anyone – I like to please, as the English say. But the more time I spend with myself, the more room for peace and quiet arises. The solitude gives me the chance to just look out of the window and be happy about a little bird passing by, or the sun rising behind the clouds.
When was the last time, you felt entirely happy and complete with yourself?
Take loving baby steps towards to edge of your comfort zone!
It appears that leaving your comfort zone must not be too hard after all. We can start with baby steps towards some inner peace and silence before digging into the big life decisions. And it is totally okay to start small in order to meet our dreams and hopes. Thus, we learn to create space for ourselves. Meanwhile, we foster security about crossing boarders through little adventures.
I wish you all a lot of fun exploring the edges of your comfort zones.
Much love and light***