Comfort zones are exactly that, zones of comfort, or more accurately, the areas in our lives where we feel a sense of ease, competence and understanding. We’ve all had the experience of moving out of a comfort zone. Most of the time it feels, well, uncomfortable. Which is why we like staying inside them. You might see this in your animals when you find yourself in a situation that is unknown to them. There is a natural tendency to want to return to what is comfortable. The inborn problem with this strategy is that it can make it difficult to learn, grow and integrate new skills and information. And these are some of the things that make life fun and fulfilling.
Let’s get a little better acquainted with the idea of a comfort zone. What rules this aspect of our human and animal nature anyways?
The truth is, the part of our brain that is all about comfort has been with us since the very beginning, when we were living in caves and being chased by saber tooth tigers. There are two main parts of our instinctual brain. The first is the reptilian brain, which manages homeostasis in our body. This is the brain that has the job of keeping us alive, monitoring the heart rate, the breath, digestion and, not surprisingly, our stress response (to keep us ready to escape from that saber tooth tiger). When your horse spooks at a leaf on the road this is the brain responsible. The other part of the brain that is involved in comfort zones is the limbic brain. This brain is very emotional and can be reactive. It is, in many ways, instinctual. This can be great and not so good. When you have a major fear response when trying a new activity or experience rage during the learning of a new tricky skill this is the brain running the show. Same goes for your animals. This is the brain that manages behaviours like aggression and separation anxiety. In many brains, these two parts of the brain are actually in charge rather than the higher functioning areas like the cortex or the pre-frontal cortex, keeping their person or animal living in a permanent state of comfort zone, where things feel manageable, stable and above all, comfortable.
So, how can the experience of moving out of your comfort zone be a more comfortable one? Good news. There are some super easy things you can do to promote a chilled out reptilian and limbic brain and let the rest of the brain take charge.
One, tap out your cortices aka your brain. Doing this one technique daily (or whenever you hit up against the edge of your comfort zone) will literally rewire your brain in a great way. You’ll feel clear-headed and able to dance your way into uncharted territories (that are full of awesomeness) without setting off any major alarm bells that will send your more instinctual brains into survival mode. To do it for your animals just focus on them while you tap yourself out (it’s a two for one!). Watch the video here.
Two, breathe. I know I say this all the time but that’s because it is so important. When you hit up against a comfort zone and all that tension and emotions start happening the absolute best thing you can do is breathe and the deeper the better. Ironically, most of us stop breathing when things get tense. Practice with easier situations and then work up. Our animals mirror our breath, so just the simple act of breathing will encourage them to breathe more deeply!
Three, baby steps. So often we push ourselves to make big leaps out of our comfort zones. This only serves to majorly trigger our survival instincts, making the discomfort that much more intense! Instead, take baby steps. Set yourself a few micro-movements that will allow you to step just a tiny bit outside of your comfort zone, just stretch it a little, rather than running into all of your subconscious booby traps with an attempted leap. For example, one of my micro-movements for writing my book is to just open up the Google Drive document as opposed to forcing myself to write a chapter a day. Once I’m in, its easy and comfortable to start writing! For more on micro-movements check out Sark, one of my favourite mentors!
Alright, there’s three simple ways to stay comfortable even when you’re pushing your comfort zone! One, tap out your cortices. Two, breathe. Three, baby steps.
These are the steps I use every day to push myself to my edges. Remember, the trick is to stretch your comfort zone rather than attempt to bust right through it with giant leaps. Easy does it. It’s amazing how much change can come with stretching yourself just a little every day. The same goes for your animals. Pretty soon, your brain will be on board with your easy-does-it strategy and it will feel so safe that you’ll find you’re comfortable stretching even more.
Keep me posted on how it goes for you!