The other day, I decided to go to a car wash. Big deal, right? Well, for me, it was a big deal. You see, I have not been to an actual car wash for several years—the car usually gets washed in the driveway—but I decided to give it a good clean and wax. I must admit, I was a bit nervous. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I’ve watched too many movies where strange things have happened in a car wash. Maybe my imagination is too vivid. Whatever the reason, I was stepping out of my comfort zone. But I decided to just do it. The moment of truth came. I got gas and paid for a car wash, then pulled up to the door. I followed the directions and just like that, I was done. I didn’t get stuck. The machine didn’t crash through my window. No one jumped out at me. It was fun! My vehicle is clean. Win win.
When I think about it, I realize that in the year since I retired, my comfort zone has shrunk. I used to be totally at ease doing new things like speaking to groups in public, going to meetings blind, and exploring. Now? Nope. I need to prepare. Map things out if you will. I’ve talked to a few people who agree that their comfort zones have also changed since retiring. The biggest change is in their driving habits. Many don’t drive at night anymore (I try not to) and get nervous when going to a new area. It is easier to stick to the same routine and group of friends than venture out into the unknown. Well, that can really put a damper on your social life and even lead to isolation as your friends may not share your schedule. What happens to you when you venture out? Has it changed since you retired?
What is a comfort zone? Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a comfort zone as
- The temperature range within which one is comfortable
- The level at which one functions with ease and familiarity
In other words, a comfort zone is a place where we feel safe. It is peaceful. There is no anxiety. It is a place where we know we have control. A comfort zone is not a bad thing, but it can become harmful if we neglect other tasks, activities, or relationships that fall just outside those comfort zones. Staying in our comfort zone also prevents us from experiencing new things and perhaps expanding our comfort zone. In addition, many people are realizing the effects of the pandemic now that life is returning to some kind of normalcy. Activities that we used to do on a regular basis, such as going to a restaurant, a movie or even shopping, are now an exercise in caution and trust in our fellow humans. Do YOU have the virus? Who sneezed? Oh no! Let me out of here!
To take those steps out of your comfort zone, it is important to understand what is keeping you there. (If you feel that you are struggling with something really deep, please talk to a professional.) What is holding you back? Did you have a traumatic experience? Were you embarrassed by something? Ashamed? Or did you just have the @#$% scared out of you? These are all emotions that will cause us to stay where it’s safe. After all, no one would choose anxiety or a panic attack over feeling safe. Sometimes I overthink things. OK, let’s be honest. I always overthink things. Rumination sets in and off I go. I tend to look at the negative things like, “What if I fall?” “What if I make a mistake?” “What if I get lost?” “What if people judge me?” It’s time to accept that those who judge aren’t important players in life anyway, so who cares? Ruminating only makes things worse, so I am learning to trust Google Maps, but taking a wrong turn still gets my heart pumping. Of course, you always need to consider safety before doing something new, but fear should not be a deal breaker. As Illuminati Christine says in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, “Face your fears, Doctor Strange.”
There are ways to get out of your comfort zone and face your fears… comfortably. One way is to make a list of things you have put off doing. Don’t just write those things down. Do it with intention and give each one space. Why are you uncomfortable with that? What are the good things that will happen if you do it? What could go wrong? Brainstorm with a friend or with yourself and don’t be afraid to give the Devil’s Advocate a seat at the table…it makes for a good argument!
There are a lot of suggestions here on how to step out of your comfort zone.
Sometimes it is easier to get out of our comfort zones when we have a purpose. For example, when the kids were little, they were a great excuse… I must do this because my son or daughter wants to. When I was working, I always had the organization as a crutch. But once the kids are grown and you don’t have work to justify things, it is a different ball game. Now it’s just your curiosity and need to explore. But you know what? That is enough! There are so many opportunities for older adults. I’m talking 60 and up. Times have changed and, as a major demographic, we baby boomers are doing things those before us never thought about doing. We aren’t just sitting around waiting for… something. We are doing so much more, and much of what we are doing means that we have to step out of our comfort zones. It is the best way to have a fulfilled retirement and keep sharp mentally. Read more about that here. Stepping out of our comfort zone is the only way to learn something new, and that is one way to maintain brain health and increase cognitive function. Stepping out means we will increase our potential, develop new skills, and maybe find a hidden talent just waiting to burst out.
It’s time to explore what is outside your comfort zone. No, you don’t have to go skydiving or do a Ted Talk. You can go for a walk outside your neighbourhood. You can join a committee, and slowly get used to participating in something that you consider worthwhile. You don’t have to chair the meeting! Think of what you will learn, the people you will meet, and the contributions you will make! I guess going to the car wash doesn’t really benefit my brain, but it does give me that boost of confidence that I need to go and do something else. Try it! One small step at a time.
Stepping outside your comfort zone is supposed to feel uncomfortable because we’re in new and unfamiliar territory. Being uncomfortable is a sign of success, NOT of failure! So if we are uncomfortably outside our comfort zones, then that means we are growing!!! And THAT is cause for celebration!” —Roz Savage, British ocean rower.
Things to check out: