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Are You Trapped in Your Comfort Zone?

by Deah Curry, PhD

Do you have a strong distaste for, and resistance to, situations that require you to interact with the unfamiliar, navigate the unknown, or risk social gaffes? Are you afraid to leave your home for fear you’ll have an unpleasant experience, or believe that it’s just too much work?

Many of us simply don’t like feeling different, out of place, or clueless. And so we construct our lives in a way that prevents these minor emotional distresses.

Becoming quite good at cultivating habits that sustain a nice little comfort zone of predictable, protective, sameness, we willingly exist within it, seldom realizing that such existence is not a full, rich, authentic life. Sometimes we aren’t even aware that we’re trying to avoid feeling anxious because we’re overly focused on enjoying how comfortable it is not to be challenged.

Darlene necessarily scaled back her activities in order to devote her energies to healing from chronic illness. This reasonable response became a confining norm that now was bordering on living a pathologically trapped life long after she had recovered medical health. Instead of feeling safe she now found herself stuck in a hole of her own making, without a clue as to how to escape it.

Her story paralleled mine when she — who had a much more active social life than I did — complained that her world was too small. If hers was too small, mine must be miniscule. How did that happen? Recovering from burnout, I had limited myself to being in "retreat mode" when the day’s work was done. Before I knew it, I too was trapped in my comfort zone. Darlene’s complaint helped me realize that my comfort zone had become a place where I no longer wanted to live.

Signs You’re Trapped in Your Comfort Zone

The traits of suffering from being overly comfortable with sameness, include:

1. feeling stuck in a rut, unable to get anywhere in life

2. feeling tired even while conserving your energy

3. declining invitations, interacting with few friends

4. disliking spontaneous changes in routine

5. self-talk that discourages change as too much effort

6. feeling uneasy by diversity, preferring sameness daily

7. believing it’s better to be safe than sorry when being safe means social isolation or emotional paralysis

8. deciding to not care about what you are missing

9. not considering that you could feel better about yourself, and be happier if you risk some anxiety.

10. deciding that your home is such a nice place that you see little need to leave it.

Darlene had developed the social isolation and emotional paralysis habits when ill, and had not re-evaluated the need for these traps when her health improved. I was shocked to realize I had fallen into the energy conservation, discouraging self-talk, and deciding not to care habits. Both of us gained a better quality of life when we started leaving the old comforts behind.

No doubt, there are other traits of being unconsciously trapped in our habits and not living a fully satisfying life. I suspect, however, that this list is enough for you to recognize whether your health and spirit may be suffering from a lack of change, diversity and new experiences.

What’s Important about Change,

Diversity, and New Experiences?

For one thing, they stimulate the vital force, causing energy to move more effectively throughout the body, contributing to better sleep, and helping heal a wide range of disorders. New experiences require us to pay attention differently, engage the mind, keep us mentally sharp, and improve memory.

Diversity – interacting with other people and situations that are not just like you — increases understanding and compassion, not to mention fun. Engaging in change brings opportunities into your life that you would not have otherwise had, which broadens perspectives and alters or deepens beliefs, which furthers self-confidence and a sense of contentment.

Taking Small First Steps

Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly said, "You must do the thing you think you cannot do." She was talking to me, and to you too if you’re also much too at home in your comfort zone. I might reframe her advice — do something every day that shifts old habits and makes new ones.

Comfort zone shifting doesn’t necessarily require doing something big, just something different. In fact, the big efforts might create too much resistance and anxiety. Small changes are easier to incorporate into daily life.

I suggest making a list of small steps that will take you on easy adventures out of your comfort zone. If like me you’ve had a sedentary lifestyle, try the simple movements of qigong or a 10 minute daily walk to start. If you’ve been recovering from professional burnout and have crawled into a contented social isolation, start asking friends or new contacts out for weekend brunch.

Darlene has put in a reasonably easy amount of effort to escape from her self-imposed isolation. She asked a friend out for dinner and a movie, and began a simple exercise program to strengthen her long-unused muscles. She started attending a discussion group on a topic she was interested in and is making new acquaintances.

I have also taken some steps to enlarge my world. Short walks and a modified qigong practice get my body moving Cultivating relationships with friends and new colleagues reminds me that I really haven’t lost the art of non-work conversation at all. As Darlene and I both can attest, it takes time to really escape from the self-created holes-in-the-ground we inhabit, but once we do, the beneficial psychological shifts begin, and they feel pretty good.

With 17 years experience as a psychotherapist, I have many therapeutic coaching approaches that can help you identify your comfort zone traps. Together we can create your step steps plan to emotional health and vitality. For information, appointments, and Kirkland WA office location, send email to DrDeah@deahcurry.net or call 425-814-9083. Details about my work are available at: www.InnerJourneyWork.com , www. DeahCurry.net, and www.EmotionalFirst Aid-Coaching.com.




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