Humans have an affinity for tradition—in travel, in lineage, in the workplace, in life. We’re creatures of habit; we spend our dollars at the coffee shops where baristas have our brew awaiting us, and we take regular refuge in the local sanctuaries that are our gyms just after we leave the same desk at the same office to catch the same train at the same hour every day.
It’s an innate human tendency to fall accustomed to routines and, oftentimes, it’s how we survive—but, too often otherwise, we’re not surviving, but merely existing in our comfort zones and seldom beyond them.
Simply, our comfort zones are comfortable spaces where our behaviors fit routine patterns that minimize discomfort, stress and risk—they place us in states of mental security. The notion of the comfort zone dates back to early 1900s psychology, when Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of relative comfort creates a steady level of performance. But, in order to maximize performance, we need a state of relative anxiety—a space in which our stress levels are just slightly above average, at “optimal anxiety,” which is just outside the comfort zone.
Pushing ourselves too far, however, can have adverse effects and, therefore, reinforces the idea that challenging oneself is too risky an endeavor. It’s hence our natural tendency to return to anxiety neutral states of mind, and it’s a rarity that breaking the boundaries is henceforth without apprehension.
The risks of staying firmly inside our comfort zones, however, are that much greater; it creates psychological barriers that can lead to palpable limitations that move from perception into reality. And time is of the essence.
Here’s the thing: Going outside of your comfort zone is supposed to be scary. For me, nothing revives childlike wonder like being in a place where I’m ignorant of almost everything, can’t speak the language and am equipped with only the most rudimentary sense of how things work. Being alone, foreign to a place and its people, amplifies my adrenaline, but it also exacerbates exhaustion. Here’s how I do it, nonetheless, and break out of my own very personal comfort zone…