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“A ship in harbor is safe – but that is not what ships are built for.”
– John A. Shedd
I love quotes that speak real truth about the human experience, and this one by John Shedd is one of the most accurate quotes I’ve ever heard.
I’d like to take it one step further in analogizing a ship at harbor to humans in their “safe place.” In the quote, the ship obviously refers to us as humans, and the harbor is tantamount to where we each feel safe – in our comfort zone.
Ships are meant to sail, birds are meant to fly, fish are meant to swim and humans… well, what are humans really “meant” to do?
What exactly is the “ship” analogous to? Our bodies? Our minds? Our actions? How do we as humans leave the harbor into the water? What exactly does it mean to sail in our case?
How to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone – Breaking Personal Barriers
What is a “Comfort Zone?”
In essence, a comfort zone is a psychological state, determined by our past, in which we feel at ease with our environment. It’s a state of mind that happens automatically within us, and is wholly dependent on whether we inherently recognize a given environment or situation as “familiar” and “stress-free.”
Why do we have comfort zones?
Could good exist without bad? Hot without cold? Wake without sleep? Bumpy without smooth?
Without the possibility of anxiety, comfort zones wouldn’t actually exist. We tend to forget that as humans, we are extremely complex animals – but nonetheless, we are animals. Animals do what feels “good,” and avoid what they uniquely perceive as potentially harmful, painful, or might cause anxiety.
Throughout each of our lives we have different experiences based on the environment we’re raised in. We’re more familiar with certain people, places and views that we’re exposed to. The older we get, and the more we “define” the world around us as one way or another based on each of our unique experiences, the less open we are to different possibilities; new stimuli.
That’s because we’re specifically trained to avoid what we label as “bad,” and only seek what our mind labels as “good.”
The problem with this is that as we grow, the routine labeling that we do in relation to our lives grows stronger and more permanent within us.
This process goes on until we get to a point where we really become crystallized in the way we live our lives. Our past – our habit of avoiding the “bad,” seeking the “good,” and not inviting uncertainty and risk, essentially lives our lives for us.
A lesson from lobsters
If you’ve ever eaten a lobster, you know that they’re soft, mushy animals that live inside of rigid, stiff shells. What I bet you didn’t know about a lobster was that as lobsters grow, they cast off their shells and grow new ones.
What’s really incredible about the way lobsters cast their shells is not the process of how it happens, but rather the reason they do it. The stimulus that alerts a lobster of its need to form a new shell is the feeling of confinement, discomfort and pressure it feels after its mushy body has grown and the shell is no longer suitable for it.
So the lobster retreats under a rock to avoid predators, casts of its shell, and grows a bigger one that properly fits. When the lobster is again confronted with the feeling of anxiety and confinement of not comfortably fitting in its little home of a shell, it repeats the process.
We can learn a lot from the way lobsters cast their shells.
Through our being trained to label “stress,” “adversity,” and “discomfort” as negative, we’ve completely written off the ability to grow from difficult times. As such, our ordinary response to “difficult” situations is to avoid them, numb ourselves from actually feeling the reality of life, and blaming the entire world for our “problems.”
We are born soft, mushy animals. Over time we each grow unique “shells” called our personalities, which make conclusions about life for each of us. These shells are bigger or smaller depending on what we’re comfortable with doing or not doing, saying or not saying, feeling or not feeling, which has all been determined based on our past experiences.
In order to allow ourselves the room we need to grow, we first have to learn to shed our rough exterior.
Step One: Recognizing growth opportunities
Most of us get to a point in our lives where we “accept” the person we’ve become. “I don’t do public speaking…I’m not a good dancer…The gym isn’t for me… I don’t really enjoy reading…”
Beyond the qualities and characteristics we’ve labeled ourselves with, we also have very rigid likes, dislikes, preferences, views, opinions and beliefs. All these serve as our shell, confining us and limiting our potential growth.
If you want to break out of your comfort zone, the truth is that you’re going to have to physically, mentally and emotionally place yourself in situations that are beyond your comfort. Begin recognizing opportunities for struggling with your ordinary preferences, and make an active effort to engage in uncomfortable situations, regardless of how difficult it is.
Most of the time, that voice in our head telling us how scared we should be disappears fairly quickly and we see there was nothing to be nervous about. The moment you decide to intentionally enter into an uncomfortable situation, you’ve chipped off a piece of your rigid shell.
Step Two: Ignore your first response
Once you recognize a growth opportunity (which comes by a lot more often than you think), your job is to analyze how you automatically react to the situation. What I mean is that we have very habitual responses to situations we perceive as “difficult,” or beyond the walls of our comfortable place.
If we listened to how we initially responded to situations, we would NEVER change, grow or learn because we would quite literally be stepping on our own feet as we tried to move forward.
Who you are now isn’t who you have to be for the rest of your life. But, if you accept your first response to a difficult situation as “the right one,” or “the only one possible,” then you are never giving yourself any chance to change.
Step Three: Never stop growing
Life itself can be a process of perpetual growth. Just like a lobster, we can forever break down any self-imposed limitations as long as we’re willing to struggle with our own habitual responses to life. Growth isn’t possible without struggling.
So find love in discomfort. Break your barriers. Question yourself. If you don’t, you may never find out who you really are.
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