Just about everybody who enters recovery hears at some point that they need to leave their comfort zone. Whether people mean that we need to socialize more or take a few extra service commitments, our sponsors and therapists seem incredibly set on the idea that we must push a few of our usual boundaries. But why? Do we really gain anything from being uncomfortable?
As it turns out, we actually do. The comfort zone comprises one of three basic psychological states. When we suffer too much anxiety, we move from our comfort zone to the danger zone. In the danger zone, we take fewer risks and try fewer strategies for decision making. The stress of the danger zone affects us so badly that we may even make decisions that we intuitively know to be inadvisable. Meanwhile, the comfort zone offers us a steady performance level, and a safe feeling of certainty, invulnerability and control.
There exists, however, a third psychological state. In between the comfort zone and the danger zone, we find the optimal performance zone. This state results in moderate stress and anxiety, but also improves positive attributes such as concentration. Our focus increases, and we reach a higher level of performance management. Simply by trying new things and sacrificing a bit of control over our environment, we become stronger as individuals. And with enough practice, we might even expand our comfort zone, allowing us to branch out even further as we redefine our optimal performance zone.
Below, we’ll discuss six tasks that you can undertake to step outside of your comfort zone. For those particularly stuck in their ways, these simple tasks may feel like strenuous trials. Don’t worry, however. None of them are really all that difficult, and each will serve to benefit your recovery.
Trial #1 – Meeting New People
Many of us initially feel uncomfortable approaching new people at meetings. We might say in passing that we enjoyed something they shared, but we sometimes find it difficult to initiate a conversation beyond this. After all, recovery meetings present us with a fairly mixed group of people. The person whose share we identify with might not have anything in common with us beyond addiction itself.
This is okay. In fact, it can actually be the best part of meetings. When we get outside of our comfort zone and approach people with whom we have little in common, we learn how little addiction discriminates. In many ways, this often makes us feel validated. Seeing so many people from diverse backgrounds, we come to see that our disease says nothing about us as individuals. We suffer from an ailment that affects people across all demographics. And when we learn how well we can identify with people who initially seem so different from ourselves, we can begin interacting with such people outside of meetings as well. In short, meeting new people at meetings allows us to expand our comfort zone while socializing everywhere else.
Trial #2 – Sharing Your Gifts
While we all have more in common than we initially realize, we also each have qualities that make us unique from one another. Just as we must learn to embrace our similarities, we must also embrace our differences. And before others can do this for us, we must allow them to see what makes us truly shine.
Perhaps you’re a gifted speaker, a skilled writer or a talented sketch artist. Why not allow some of your fellow sufferers to see this side of you? Sometimes, we feel afraid to share our greatest gifts with others for fear of judgment. But people feel closer to us when they see us engaged in something we find meaningful. If you demonstrate the capacity for eloquence, consider sharing more often or even telling your story at a detox. People who draw well might consider making flyers for AA or NA events.
Whatever your talent, you can likely find a way to incorporate it into an act of service work. Not only will it get you out of your comfort zone, but you might feel pretty good about sharing your passions with other people in the name of helping others.
Trial #3 – Telling Your Secrets
A weird thing happens to many of us when we enter addiction treatment. We become more willing to talk about our substance abuse, because we know others understand. And yet, at the very same time, we play certain details extremely close to the chest. Some of us self-mutilated, or suffered from eating disorders. Others engaged in devious sexual behaviors, or found ourselves the victims of abuse. We feel we can’t discuss these things, worried that our fellow sufferers will not understand. But if we become willing to open up, we almost always find that multiple people around us understand our struggles all too well.
This type of disclosure will almost always push us far outside of our comfort zone. To be fair, we do not need to become an open book, sharing our entire life story with everyone who crosses our path. But finding at least a few people with whom we can share our deepest secrets often helps us to find relief from them. And by the time we reach Step Five, we find that this skill becomes more or less a necessity. Starting now will enable us to become just a little more comfortable.
Trial #4 – Changing Your Routine
You don’t need to overhaul every little thing you do, but try changing things up a little bit. If you eat the same thing for lunch every day, try something you’ve never eaten before. Or if you’re the kind of person who usually follows your morning routine in a very specific order, try mixing things around and seeing how it feels. You can make the tiniest changes in the world, such as wearing your watch on the other wrist. On the other hand, you can try huge new changes like a drastically different hairstyle.
The point is to find little daily ways to challenge yourself. Whether you decide to try a new outfit, listen to a new band or simply take a walk in a neighborhood you don’t visit often, every day presents you the opportunity to try new things. Don’t let these little chances pass you by. Because if you’re going to bust out of your comfort zone, you may as well have some fun in the process.
Even if you don’t enjoy your new thing for the day, don’t feel discouraged. Tomorrow brings yet more opportunities. And while addiction led to a pretty standard daily routine, sobriety gives us the chance to mix things up every once in a while. It’s a wonderful gift. Best take advantage of it.
Trial #5 – Intuitive Decisions
Difficult decisions often take us out of our comfort zone against our will. On the other hand, we often miss our chance to make decisions on issues that strongly affect us. We choose to let life run its course without our input, for fear of making the wrong decision. Even when we ask advice and carefully consider our options, fear continues to paralyze us.
Naturally, this only describes a certain subset of people. Others feel more comfortable making decisions on a whim, refusing to relinquish control over any situation for longer than required.
Whether you tend to make snap decisions or take so much time on them that you miss the chance to act at all, consider changing things up a bit. Get out of your comfort zone by slowing down and carefully considering the type of decision you might normally make without thinking about it, such as what to eat for lunch today. Or even take a new approach by not thinking about the issues that most trouble you, instead letting the answers arise naturally. In Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh suggests that our best ideas are like seashells—more special when discovered washing up on the shores of fate and fortune instead of dredged up by force.
“No, no dredging of the sea bottom here. That would defeat one’s purpose. The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”
Alternatively, if you know that you tend struggle with total indecisiveness, you might spend your day making decisions more quickly. Don’t take longer than two minutes to decide on anything. It might turn into a disaster. Then again, you might develop a lot of faith in your ability to act instinctively.
Trial #6 – Taking A Stand
Much like decision-making, upholding our values often takes us out of our comfort zone whether we like it or not. Also much like decision-making, many of us will neglect standing up for ourselves for this very reason. We dislike conflict, and so we simply avoid it at all costs.
If we wish to remain strong in our recovery, we must learn how to set boundaries. Surrender does not mean that we have to be doormats. Otherwise, how could we ever stand up to peer pressure? But this goes beyond that. Our other morals, values and ethics must be upheld as well. If someone constantly makes us uncomfortable or puts us in a precarious position, we must learn to say something. We do so with respect, naturally, but we do so nonetheless. And while it might make us uncomfortable, at least we’ll be able to sleep at night.
Knowing how to take a stand allows us to benefit others as well. When we know someone who slips and starts using again, we must say something. Not just for the sake of taking the weight off our chest, but because we cannot claim to truly care about someone if we’re letting them hurt themselves. This doesn’t mean that you need to go out and become a recovery warrior. It simply means that you should consider standing up and doing the right thing when the situation calls for it.
Utilizing Your Comfort Zone
An excellent Lifehacker article on this topic mentions a concept known as hedonistic adaptation. This is when new experiences begin to lose their luster. At first, pushing our boundaries and leaving our comfort zone might feel exciting. After a while, however, our comfort zone shifts and we find ourselves in another rut.
On one hand, the good news is that this means you’re expanding your comfort zone successfully. At the same time, however, do not feel as if you must rush your progress. We cannot constantly seek out new boundaries, lest we fall short and find ourselves in a rut that we cannot overcome. In early recovery, we should revisit our comfort zone from time to time, as it helps keep our new experiences fresh and exciting. Meet new people and play around with your manner of making decisions, but also fall back on routine from time to time. That way, each time you step outside of your comfort zone, the experience will continue to feel meaningful.
While it helps to utilize your comfort zone in this manner, certainly keep moving forward. As you begin to feel more comfortable making new decisions, you can explore new ways of shifting your old boundaries and uncovering new ones. Just remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor is the foundation of our recovery. It took many of us years to hit bottom, so we cannot expect to be reborn anew overnight.
These “trials,” simplistic as they may seem, will take many people further outside of their comfort zone than they knew they could venture. That will suffice when first getting your feet back under you. Once your new boundaries begin to take on an air of normalcy, you can begin looking at new ones and restart the process from a fresh vantage point.