You know that feeling when the airplane wheels leave the ground, or when you finally face your fear and jump off that platform into the gorge below? It’s a feeling that manages to be both euphoric and scary at the same time. It’s a feeling you can only experience once you leave your comfort zone behind.
But what is a comfort zone, really? Why does it differ from person to person, and why does leaving it behind affect us so much – physically and emotionally?
Let’s start with the basics:
Your comfort zone is just that – a place where you feel comfortable. Comfort is the result of a few things:
Feelings – good or bad – are caused by the release of chemicals caused by our thoughts or our surroundings. When you’re comfortable and life is good, your brain can release chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which lead to happy feelings.
When you are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with a situation, you can experience negative feelings, such as:
These feelings inhibit the release of those happy chemicals and cause your brain to release of other chemicals like adrenaline and glutamate.
These chemicals are released as preparation for dealing with a potentially harmful or undesirable situations. They cause our senses to be heightened, our hearts to race and our bodies to sweat. This chemical release varies in severity based on how far outside of our comfort zone we really are.
What determines if an activity is outside of our comfort zone?
The comfort zone differs from person to person, mostly based on their previous life experiences and their own beliefs regarding what they can or cannot do.
It’s all about confidence…
If you think about riding a bike, and you know that it’s something you’ve done before and you’re pretty good at, you’re within your comfort zone. It’s something you believe you can do/ handle pretty well.
But if you’re thinking about doing a bungee jump for the first time, your brain might start playing tricks on you. What if something goes wrong? What if I can’t even jump? What if I cry or scream or worse - soil my pants!? These thoughts are pretty synonymous with being outside of your comfort zone.
Naturally, the more you bungee jump, the better you get, the less it scares you, and the more you enjoy it. The activity moves closer towards the inside your comfort zone, and you start thinking that something like skydiving might not be so bad as well. You don’t mind the feeling of falling, and heights aren’t as scary as they used to be.
Your comfort zone naturally expands with experience.
But what about the good feeling?
Yes, some people thrive off of the rush of trying new things. That adrenaline rush is caused by the fear, and the less fearful you are, the less of a rush you get.
Comfort, however, causes the release of the happy chemicals, and those combined with a dash of adrenaline will help you achieve a different kind of rush. The good kind of rush. The kind where you can feel the nerves, but not the kind that might make you vomit all over your shoes.
What does this all mean?
It means there's no shaming in taking baby steps. If you’re crippled by fear and crave familiarity, start with non-threating new experiences.
You may not think you have the courage to skydive, but after you’ve bungee jumped a few times, skydiving won’t seem so terrifying after all.
The bigger your comfort zone becomes, the more confidence you gain, and instead of new things feeling like they’re a million miles outside of your comfort zone, they may be just beyond the edge.
The fact is – scary as it may be – the best things in your life usually happen when you’re outside of your comfort zone.
You surprise yourself, you have a great time, you learn things, you grow as a person, you become more accepting of new situations and ideas. When you’re too comfortable you’re complacent, and you need the motivation that comes with a bit of anxiety in order to accomplish things and grow. That’s why we need goals, deadlines and responsibilities.
At the end of the day, the more you do and try scary things, the less scary they’ll seem.
If you make trying new things a part of your routine, your comfort zone actually expands, and newness becomes less fear-inducing and more pleasure-inducing. That means the fear chemicals are released less-often, and the happy chemicals can take charge.
Instead of new things seeming terrifying, they’re a welcome challenge that you may still feel nervous about, but ultimately seem within reach and worthwhile. Fear is healthy, and just like the safety and security of your home, your comfort zone is a place you need to leave every once in a while in order to experience life fully.
Take chances and live with #NOREGRETS – your future self will thank you for it.
Expand your comfort zone with the help of Contiki.