The comfort zone: what is it? Where can I find it? How big is it? Can I step out of it? I have all the answers to your questions. This zone is a psychological state in your mind where you feel comfortable, confident, and knowledgeable about your surroundings. It’s devoid of risks and can become a routine of your life. To step out of it, you must learn or develop new habits, skills, and abilities that you haven’t acquired previously.
The expression “comfort zone” became popular in the 1990s, and Judith Bardwick provided a comprehensive definition in her book Danger in the Comfort Zone in 1991: “The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.”. Even before that, psychologists Robert Yerkes, and John Dodson established in 1907 through several experiments, a link between anxiety and performance. When you do something new in your life that can be stressful, you need to find an optimal level of stress to perform at your best. So, if you step out of your comfort zone, you must search for a place where anxiety and performance intersect optimally, because if you don’t, you may enter the “panic zone”.
Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, identified four phases related to the comfort zone: comfort zone, fear zone, learning zone, and growth zone. First of all, I already explained what the comfort zone was, a place where you feel safe and in control. The fear zone is smaller, and it’s when you take risks, and this zone may seem impassable. Next, there is the learning zone where you have a total discovery of new skills or new work and environment. You must adapt to it and make efforts step by step, with trial and error. Eventually, there is the growth zone, where you have acquired all the new skills, knowledge, expertise, and habits, and they become part of your comfort zone again.
As I mentioned earlier, we all have this zone in our minds, and when I was thinking about how to step out of it, the first idea that came in my mind was to move to another country. For me it was a personal challenge to come to Macedonia for 10 months. I have been in Skopje for the past 2 months now, and I’ve already realized that I have stepped out of my comfort zone. Living in a new country means discovering a new language and a new culture, taking risks and initiatives, and challenging yourself in a new environment. You are forced to change your habits and try new experiences that you would have never done before. Traveling can also give you a sense of fulfillment and broaden your worldview. It can also be a way to gain self-confidence and learn about yourself. Of course, to surpass your comfort zone and enjoy living abroad, you must overcome your fears and limits. You will be exposed to fear of the unknown, fear of failure or fear of making mistakes, but you must learn not let them stop you.
To better understand this concept, I asked some questions to other people who have lived or are currently living abroad to see if they also felt a link between leaving their comfort zone and living in a foreign country. The profiles of these individuals vary greatly from volunteering, traveling, and studying, to countries such as Macedonia, Scotland, Hungary, Canada, Ecuador, Uganda with durations ranging from 2 months and 12 months. Most of them feel that leaving their home country was a difficult decision as it meant leaving behind everything they know, including family, friends, and home. A person wrote “Going to a place where you know no one and far from your family requires to surpass your comfort zone”. But that was necessary and adapting to the new culture is stimulating and challenging, even if they didn’t understand the language. There is also the fear of the unknown, “I had to understand that I don’t know anyone from the new country, I will not recognize streets or places, I have no idea about the language they speak around me or the money they use. Exploring a completely new home was the biggest step away from my comfort zone.”.
Nevertheless, some of them see that living in a different place improves their lives, but it wasn’t because of the place, just of the fact to live alone and to deal with everything by themselves. And a part of them had worked abroad, so on the professional side they had improved too, with new tasks: “I have learned a lot from working here, but I don’t know if it’s because I’m abroad. But personally, living here has developed me”; “Yes, maybe, but not sure because of the new place, but because of the changes in my everyday life, habits, in my work […]I think it’s not related to the place, but simply to the fact that I’m moving from home.”. Finally, living abroad was also a way for them to be more confident and know themselves better: “Moving abroad definitely made me learn who I am”; “it’s improved your self-confidence because at the beginning you can only count on yourself”; “I learned to travel alone and be independent”.
After these answers, living abroad can be a way to leave your comfort zone, to learn about yourself. You will confront yourself with many new things, you will change your way, and at the end these things will become your new comfort zone, as a person in the questionnaire said: “I was supposed to stay for 1 year but eventually the place grew to be my new comfort zone, so I’ve been here almost 5 years.”.
“Only through adventure do some people manage to know themselves and find themselves.”, André Gide. And what a beautiful adventure is to discover ourselves ?
Chloé Le Cair
How to leave your Comfort Zone and enter your ‘Growth zone’. – Positive Psychology
La zone de confort – Cairn
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