My first Halloween after I became a teenager, I remember asking my dad how I would know when it was time for me to stop trick-or-treating. I couldn’t imagine a time would ever come when I wasn’t interested in trick-or-treating anymore. My dad’s birthday is on Halloween, so we’ve always had a big party, and up until then, going trick-or-treating with my cousins was part of the package. Obviously adults don’t trick-or-treat, so there had to be a Halloween when I would have to stop, but when would that be? Was there a universal age that people stopped wanting to go to neighbor’s doors for free candy? My dad gave me an answer that would always stay with me.
“This may sound crazy to you now, but the day will come when trick-or-treating just won’t interest you anymore. The time will come when you just won’t want to do it.”
Of course, this did sound crazy to me, but recognizing that my dad probably knew more about growing up than I did, I just nodded. Lo and behold, sometime in high school, I just stopped feeling like trick-or-treating on Halloween. I mean, I even grew out of my favorite place on Earth, Chuck ‘E’ Cheese’s. If I can outgrow that child casino, I can outgrow anything.
My comfort zone had simply changed. What I liked to do and what made me happy had evolved. What once had been a normal and comfortable tradition for me had to be cast aside for new and different comfortable traditions. I’m certain there are things and activities that everyone has outgrown from their childhood, and while it may seem like a silly example, to me, it is the most basic example of comfort zones changing.
In last week’s post about becoming more accepting of “the comfort zone,” I wrote about how we have villainized staying in our comfort zones and created a shame culture around feeling comfortable. We celebrate living in discomfort and reject comfort in any form as “failure.” However, time and time again, I’ve seen that more often than having to force yourself outside of your comfort zone to grow, you grow out of your comfort zone. While many people argue that growth happens once you leave your comfort zone, I think this process starts long before.
It starts as an itch. An innocuous itch that something isn’t quite right. At first you can ignore it, but as you grow and change, it becomes more apparent until it becomes more uncomfortable to live with it than to confront it. What once was believed to be your comfort zone has become uncomfortable.
Recently, I’ve been going through a sort of personal evolution. I have felt the need to grow and change, even if only in small ways. I have started to feel uncomfortable with my current situation and almost like a bug in a chrysalis evolving and struggling against the barriers of who I was, knowing that bursting out was imminent.
I realized that what I had once considered my “comfort zone” actually wasn’t at all comfortable anymore. Like hermit crab in a shell that had gotten too small, I felt cramped in my comfort zone. It was almost time to crawl out and find a larger shell to inhabit. As my current comfort zone became less and less comfortable, I knew that it would actually be more comfortable, then, to move out of my old comfort zone.
Which made me realize that, oftentimes, leaving one’s comfort zone isn’t actually about being uncomfortable. It’s about finding comfort.
Read that again.
Growing into your authentic self takes courage, but I’ve found that the more you move towards being your authentic self, the less comfortable you feel in your past state of being. Bursting out of that smaller shell may seem scary at first, but as long as you’re moving in the direction of living your own truth, you will feel more comfortable than you’ve ever been!
At the end of my post last week, I said that I often make decisions by choosing the path that I feel I would not regret as much. Should I take the risk or not? Should I stay in my comfort zone or not? As I grow and change, this answer also changes as I do. What might have once been too scary and too far out of my comfort zone for me to choose, might eventually become more comfortable to do because it helps me realize who I want to be.
A large piece of this puzzle for me, too, is that I find it far easier (and more healthy mentally) to take gradual steps outside of my comfort zone as opposed to large leaps. A hermit crab doesn’t move into a giant shell in one step, after all…it moves from shell to shell, each one incrementally larger than the last.
For me personally, taking those small steps helps me to expand my comfort zone. I realize that what I once thought was scary now isn’t anymore! If I take a miniscule uncomfortable step towards who I want to be, I will probably end up more comfortable for it.
Large-scale steps, however, without the preparation of those smaller steps can set me up to crash and burn. Taking that unnecessary uncomfortable leap could cause me to feel as though the path I’m taking is incorrect, which can lead me to inevitably overcorrect in the other direction (as I am wont to do) and make me feel as though even taking small steps in that direction again would be fruitless. I also need to be in the right headspace to take on new challenges, which, according to Mas-Leo’s hierarchy of needs, is a pretty specific (and fairly stable) headspace.
This is why programs that help people successfully complete their goals encourage them to take small steps towards their Big Goal rather than get caught up in how big the Big Goal is. You’re not yet ready for the Big Goal when you take your first step. And that’s okay! Just as long as you’re taking small steps toward who you want to be, you’ll expand your comfort zone, actually finding comfort every step of the way.
Trying new things can obviously lead to discomfort, but staying in a situation where you are not true to yourself causes discomfort, too! While I don’t think avoiding comfort is a bad thing, don’t avoid the signs that you’re growing out of your comfort zone either. Growth and change are inevitable, but they don’t always mean jumping way outside of your comfort zone — don’t fear change if it ends up making you more comfortable, that just means you’re doing what’s right for you.