“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.”
― Brené Brown
Do you know that feeling of putting on your pajamas or your favorite sweats, snuggling up to your most loved movie, and feeling so safe and content? Doesn’t it feel great? We all crave that sense of safety in our lives and feeling that place of contentment gives us a sense of security, coziness and comfort despite the stressors that we face each day.
But what if we get stuck there? What if it’s not serving us to stay there?
I’ve recently been reflecting on this concept of a “comfort zone” and how, while it feels so nice and non-threatening to be there, staying there can actually keep us away from what we’re really needing and yearning for.
In my work with clients, I believe one of my greatest strengths is empathy, active listening, and being present. I could empathize all day long with my clients’ struggles.
However, if I don’t help push them forward, if I don’t challenge them to embrace vulnerability and connect with their greatest self, they stay stuck. They may find themselves lost in that messiness that is a part of life, that “mud” which is perhaps comfortable but not helping them connect to that inner warrior who wants to fight for true inner peace.
So, what keeps us stuck in our comfort zones, and how can we push past them to realize our true potential?
1.) Fear of the unknown. I think we can all relate to this fear — “if I change, how will I know what it’s like? What if I can’t predict what will happen?”. This is very common, and yet change is happening all of the time. We have a choice to embrace it or to resist it. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy a common mantra is “embrace your demons and follow your heart”, meaning can you allow yourself to feel your emotions and fears, to not resist them, and to follow what your heart truly desires? I feel that if we are willing to take that leap we can learn that we have more resiliency than we may think and that we can cope with just about any change that can happen. And who knows, that change may be the thing we really needed to feel more connected to ourselves!
2.) Fear of failure. Oh boy, this is a biggie. So much of the time we resist change or trying something new because we are afraid of failing at it. Have you been there? I have. Why are we so terrified of failing? We cannot succeed all of the time, nor is it even healthy. Failing at something helps us learn more about ourselves and embrace that life is full of ups and downs. Pushing out of our comfort zones may mean “failing”, but there is always another chance to try again or to try it a different way. By failing we learn what actually works.
3.) Fear of rejection. I feel this is closely connected to #1 and #2. One of our greatest fears is to be rejected, as that could trigger feelings of shame or being unworthy of love, belonging, connection. Researcher Dr. Brene Brown so eloquently states: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” By allowing ourselves to be vulnerable — to take that step outside of our comfort zone — we can deepen and nurture our sense of worth.
4.) Fear of success and progress. Yes, I know that might sound strange and counter-intuitive. However, if we can’t really predict what it feels like to change and to push out of our comfort zones, sometimes it can feel overwhelming to actually get to where we want to be. Have you ever made a big change in your life, one that you feel is a positive one, and yet still have trouble embracing or owning it? For example, many people who are working on recovery from an eating disorder may truly, desperately want to get out of the struggle with the disorder. However, letting go of it (making “progress”) might mean giving up something that has comforted them for so long and being vulnerable or “naked” without it can actually be quite terrifying. Helping ourselves see that “Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” (Brené Brown) can give ourselves the grace to be our authentic selves.
Whew, I notice quite a few “fears” listed here. It’s interesting how fear can keep us so stuck, so disconnected from our values and what really matters to us, and allow us to stay in our comfort zones — places that don’t always serve us in a meaningful way.
Where are you stuck in your comfort zone? What is one step you can take to push out of it, embrace vulnerability, and be willing to accept whatever comes next?