“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It doesn’t matter which part of the world you hail from or what your social status, there is a high likelihood that you would have been asked that very same question as a child, most likely by a grown-up who had a presupposed answer ready for you, just in case you weren’t sure or if you said something ‘wrong’, like ‘I want to be an dancer.’
Close your eyes and think back to a time when you would have been asked this question. It may have been at a time in your life when there were no limitations.
Now, ask yourself- Is this what I do for a living today?
If the answer is no- don’t stress,
Let me explain. Based on a study done over a 40+ year period, experts at the University of California (UCR) were able to establish that a person’s character and personality, or the traits that define an individual throughout their life can be clearly identified when they are as little as 7-year-old.
This is how the process works:
- Child encounters various experiences both positive and negative.
- Child develops a belief system based on those experiences.
- The child is drawn to whatever is comfortable, thus deriving pleasure from it and runs away from whatever is perceived as a threat or stress inducing. The belief system is enforced and over a period of time, creates habits.
- These habits dictate the child’s behaviour and personality as they grow up.
So in other words, we have spent our whole life practising these habits that we believe keeps us ‘safe’. No wonder we find it hard to change!
So why is it important for us to step out of our comfort zone? To explain this, I first need to tell you about the Yerkes-Dodson Law. According to scientists, it all comes down to our anxiety levels.
Based on a study done on mice in 1908, psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson studied that when the mice were given a task that was really easy, their anxiety levels remained normal. As the task got a bit harder, their performance levels increased, but their anxiety levels also rose.
It was only when the task got very difficult, that a slightly higher level of anxiety made their performance drop.
What does that mean? Simply put, this means that there are two more zones outside of your comfort zone.
The next level outside of your immediate comfort zone is your learning zone, and that’s where growth happens, that’s where we expand as a human being. That’s where we start doing things that we haven’t done before, and that’s where we truly are in a state of enjoyment.
The third level, however, is the panic zone and that’s where we start to panic and it’s usually very detrimental to our health.
In the book Drive by Daniel Pink, he talks about the surprising truth about what motivates us.
He says that what we’re ideally looking for is a place of productive discomfort. If you’re too comfortable, you’re not productive, and if you’re too uncomfortable you’re not productive. It’s like Goldilocks; we can’t be too hot or too cold, says Daniel Pink.
So finding that middle ground where you’re anxious, but where those anxiety levels are still manageable is what you’re looking for. You need to push your comfort levels, but not to the point where you know it’s not helping you to become productive.
Once you’ve become acclimatise to the new levels of discomfort, that’s when you know you’ve successfully expanded your comfort zone.
The problem is that most people in their comfort zone think that if they were to step out, they would immediately step into the panic zone, which brings the anxiety they have tried to avoid throughout their life.
The tragedy is that because as human beings, we’re ‘addicted’ to the certainty that’s derived from the flow of events mentioned before, we choose to live in this zone that may ensure that we’re safe, but it also means that we’re never living up to our full potential.
People who recognise this start living a life of frustration and suffocation. As I put it, they start living a life without any flavour.
So what can you do today to ensure that you step out of your comfort zone?