During my last conference I stressed the concept of comfort zone, and why we must move outside it in order to maintain and even improve our mental skills along our whole life.
Then, a clever guy of the audience, asked me about how to detect that one is installed in his comfort zone. And even if it may look like a simple question with a self evident answer, it is not.
What is the comfort zone, anyway?
I found a good definition of it at this article from LifeHacker:
Simply, your comfort zone is a behavioral space where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk. It provides a state of mental security. You benefit in obvious ways: regular happiness, low anxiety, and reduced stress.
Many people confuses being outside the comfort zone with doing difficult things. The result is that one tends to think that it is moving outside the comfort zone because he does difficult things. If difficult things are not challenging, then they are not outside the comfort zone. A nuclear physics engineer may be doing things that are very complicated and difficult, but not for him anymore. Hence he is inside his comfort zone. On the other side, a kid may have trouble learning how to ride a bike. He is outside his comfort zone.
Another usual mistake is to believe that doing things that we do not like implies moving outside our comfort zone. Let me give you an example: taking the kids to school in the morning may seem a thing that you do not like, but you do anyway for the sake of the kids (good parent!). Or washing the dishes. Or cleaning the house. You may be tempted to believe that because you are doing something is not pleasant, you are moving outside your comfort zone, and hence training your brain in ways that will make you grow. Wrong.
Being out of the comfort zone is not about doing things that are unpleasant or difficult, is about doing things that challenge you.
Doing difficult things that you already know how to do them is not challenging you, unless you increase the difficulty. For example, if you knwo how to program a computer, doing another program will not challenge you. But learning how to program with NASA standards of quality may challenge you because it requires from you a complete different perspective that you are not used to.
When you move to a challenging task, you sense a feeling of loosing control and stress of not being able to accomplish that feat. If you don’t know what this feeling is, just do a test in yourself. Think about something to do that scares you. For instance, most people are scared of talking in front of the public. If that is your case, just organize a public speech where you talk about your favorite subject. Do it. Then deliver your speech to your audience. It does not matter what the result of your speech is. The interesting thing for you is to recognize the feeling of discomfort. That is the one you must look in your life. Sorry is works that way!.
How do I know I’m inside my comfort zone?
The thing you have to look is your feeling of domination of the situation. Whenever you feel that you are in control of the situation then you are in your comfort zone.
If you are a great figther and the best of your gym and you feell it, then you are in your comfort zone. Go outside and look for a different dojo, that has better fighters or a different style that you cannot compete against. Pay attention to that feeling of fear when you are going to loose you fight. That is the good stress feeling that you have to identify. When you know how to identify this feeling, then you are able to detect whether you are installed in your comfort zone or not.
You may feel stressed and still be inside your comfort zone. This happens when your stress comes from not having enough time to do all that you want to do. This is the bad stress and you should avoid as much as possible. This kind of stress is useless and can damage your nervous system. Instead, if your stress comes from you being challenged, like for example, participating on an Spartan Race, then this stress is good stress, is a stress that builds, and is the indicator that you are moving outside your comfort zone.
How do I measure my comfort zone?
Measuring your comfort zone is not a cut science. Here it is how a measure whether I’m or not inside the comfort zone:
- My rule of dumb is to take a challenging situation per week. This implies 4 challenges per month. Start measuring yourself in this way. Look for how many challenging activities (in the sense described above) are you doing each week, and measure it along a whole month.
- Additionally, count how many small daily activities are you doing in a different way than usual. Every 10 small activities adds one to your count of challenging situations per month. Small activities changes may be, drinking something different, going to work through a very different path, doing a different activity on the weekend, etc. You get the idea.
- If your total is 4 or more per month, then you are moving outside your comfort zone.
- The more the better, but do not abuse of moving out. Everyone needs rest and assimilation of the lessons learned while outside the comfort zone. Hence, take your time to rest, relax and enjoy your comfort zone.
On the other side, Marcus Taylor has created a very simple test that will take you no more than two minutes to measure your comfort zone. You can take the test here and see your results. The bigger the comfort zone the better, because that will mean that you feel comfortable, in a larger number of situations. This increases your chances of reaching your goals and feel fulfilled.
Even if Marcus claims that his test is scientifically proved, I have my doubts. Anyway, it is an interesting tool to take into consideration. Taking the test can broaden your mind and suggest you which steps to take in order to increase your comfort zone.
Rick T’s comfort zone measurement on Marcus test
It is important for you to detect whether you are or not installed in your comfort zone. Even if you have to return to the comfort zone from time to time in order to recover yourself and assimilate your learnings, your general attitude should be to get out of it.
If you are not still convinced of how getting out of your comfort zone can help you in your life, I recommend you to watch the following video that clearly describes the advantages of doing it.
I will meet you there!