Sam Holstein

Live a Life of Adventure and Success by Learning How to Expand Your Comfort Zone

Live a Life of Adventure and Success by Learning How to Expand Your Comfort Zone

“Change begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
― Roy T. Bennett

Most people would say they want to expand their comfort zone. After all, we’ve all heard productivity gurus talk about the importance of stepping outside our comfort zone. We know how important it is.

At the same time, few of us ever do. Day after day, we eat foods we’re comfortable with, go places we’re used to going, and soothe ourselves with dysfunctional coping mechanisms we’re used to using. Even when the old ways aren’t working for us anymore, we continue to use them.

People are often unaware of how much they seek comfort. In four hours, they watch a YouTube video about the importance of expanding their comfort zone, resolve themselves to expanding it, encounter something that throws them off-balance emotionally, forget all about their prior resolve, and retreat into their typical dysfunctional coping mechanisms. All without even realizing.

Even people who do realize get stuck. They know they need to escape their comfort zone, but they can’t seem to figure out the trick of it.

I have some good news. It’s also bad news. The news is this: It’s easy to step out of your comfort zone. All you have to do is do it.

Easy, right?

Why It’s So Hard to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

The thing about a comfort zone is it’s comfortable. Everything inside is nice and safe and wonderful. Everything outside is uncomfortable. It’s scary and sometimes painful.

Most people fail to accept that expanding their comfort zone means experiencing discomfort. They don’t welcome the unpleasant emotions and pain that goes along with it.

Most people don’t want scary, difficult, painful, and risky. When they say they want to “step out of their comfort zone,” what they really mean is they want their comfort zone to get wider and include their desired behavior without having to go through the painful process of expanding it.

These are pipe dreams. Any dream that involves accomplishing something without corresponding pain and growth is by definition a pipe dream.

The only way your comfort zone grows and you get to have all these awesome things you want is to do the painful work of making it happen.

The military knows this. For all the flaws of the American military, one of the things it does best is widening the comfort zone of service members. One of the many purposes of boot camp is to put recruits through perpetual pain and discomfort to do exactly this. It seems cruel, but it’s one of the kindest things the military can do for recruits. Being at war is painful and terrifying, and if service members are already comfortable with discomfort when they ship out, they are much more likely to remain mentally stable, perform well on the battlefield, and make it home alive to their families when it’s over.

“Sometimes it is good to be in uncomfortable situations because it is in finding our way out of such difficulties that we learn valuable lessons.”
― Idowu Koyenikan

Even in our personal lives, we see we must constantly do the hard work of expanding our comfort zone. Do you know that awesome friend of yours who goes cliff diving in Brazil in February and runs two online businesses and has an awesome girlfriend/boyfriend who eats squid in Japan every November? They have a huge comfort zone — and that’s because they’re continually challenging themselves to widen it by doing scary, difficult, painful, and risky things. They challenge themselves all the time, and their reward is an awesome life.

Escape the Comfort Trap by Learning to Love Your Suffering

I’m well known on Medium for being that person who always writes about quitting social media. Every time I write about quitting social media, I have nothing but endless praise for the virtues of living social-media-free. But you know what I haven’t really written about? How much the process of quitting sucked.

For the first few weeks without social media, I was so crushingly bored. It must have been twenty times a day I picked up my phone to use Snapchat only for my thumb to compulsively tap an empty space where my Snapchat app used to be. For the first few days I was so bored I just sat in my favorite chair in my bedroom and stared at the wall for hours at a time.

But slowly, ever so slowly, the boredom lifted. After a few days of wall-staring, I picked up a book to read, because even reading seemed better than staring at the wall. I read less than five pages that day. The next day, seven. A week later, I was reading hours at a time. The week after that, I was filling up the hours by reading and going to the gym every day. Gym visits went a lot more quickly, too, because I wasn’t using social media between sets.

For a few weeks, things continued like this, bouts of meaningful activity interspersed between bouts of crushing boredom. Until a few months later, I looked up from reading one day only to realize I hadn’t stared at the wall in abject boredom in weeks. I’d gone to the gym four times a week for months on end without pause, and I’d read dozens of books in the same amount of time.

At that moment, I saw clearly — the bouts of crushing boredom were what paved the way for the transformation of my personal habits. Without crushing boredom giving me the space to grow, I would have never grown.

The key to escaping your comfort zone is learning to associate the pain and suffering of new, unpleasant experiences with the unmitigated joy of victory.

If you want to step out of your comfort zone, there is only one thing you must do. You must accept it will make you uncomfortable. It will make you scared, it will hurt, it will be risky, and it will be unpleasant. And it will be worth it.

Once you accept that you will be uncomfortable, the entire world will be yours. Everything from the thrills of cliff-diving to the wonder of artistry to the accomplishment of entrepreneurship will be yours to have. All you have to do is reach out and take it. All you need to do is love the pain of change.

Change begins at the end of your comfort zone.