The Comfort Zone

Comfort zones are individual and we all need to spend some time inside them. Here's a detailed explanation, plus a free printable.

Do you sometimes feel like motivational posters are mobbing you? Like all the brightly optimistic people must be on drugs (and like you really want to know where you can get those)? Or like you’re going to punch the next person who chirpily suggests that you should “get out of your comfort zone”? Then this post is for you. Actually, it’s also for you if you’re one of the brightly optimistic and chirpy people – I’m not going to punch you, I promise. I’ll just try to explain why I sometimes look so sour when you try to motivate me, and why some pieces of “positive thinking” are terrible advice for introverts and anxious people.

Get out of your comfort zone!

This is probably the one that bothers me most. Let’s talk about comfort zones for a second. Some people seem to imagine that comfort zones are like government-controlled housing in a totalitarian state – everyone is alotted the same number of square footage. Well, they’re not. Comfort zones are like actual homes – some people live in huge castles, many people live in an average-sized flat, some people live in a cardboard box. There are millions of individual variations out there, so the first step we should all take is to agree that not everyone’s comfort zone is the same.

Now, if you’ve got an average-sized comfort zone (whatever that may be) getting out of it now and then may be a positive, empowering thing to do. A little scary, sure, but you’ll manage, and realising that will make you feel so much stronger. So I get it. That’s why you make these motivational posters and bucket lists and try to talk people into going to live abroad for a few months – because you had an awesome experience after you took a leap, and you want to share that.

Cardboard box-sized

I really respect your good intentions. But, the thing is, for those of us who live in a teeny tiny cardboard box of a comfort zone? We leave it all the time, every day. We pretty much live outside our comfort zones, just trying to do our jobs, make a few calls, ride the bus with plenty of strangers. Things that may be well within your comfort zone, say, making a phone call to someone who isn’t a close friend, may cost someone else an hour of staring at the phone in their hands, sweating, shaking, preparing what to say, psyching themselves up to hit the dial button. You’d be surprised how many people out there feel that way. We just don’t usually talk about it, because we know it seems weird.

Now, if we assume that some of us have to leave their comfort zones all the time, just to manage to get on with our daily lives, I think it is obvious that that’s pretty exhausting, draining even. If I have spent all day making calls, meeting strangers, or teaching classes, I want to come home to some peace and quiet. I want to go sit in my comfort zone a little to recharge and unwind – and I that’s how it should be. If I didn’t, the long-term effect would be that I’d end up in psychiatric care, that much I can tell you.

Comfort zones breathe

Another thing about comfort zones which we probably all intuitively recognise is that their size varies from day to day. They can expand or shrink, depending on what kind of day we’re having. Sometimes it’s totally not a problem to run into your ex in the street, make a little smalltalk, and move on without being the worse for wear. Other days, when we’re already feeling doubtful and like our life is falling to pieces, that same encounter can trigger tears, self-doubt, and a severe need for ice cream. It’s okay, we’re all just human. Some days are good, and some are… less good.

However, if you’re living in a two-bedroom-flat for your comfort zone, being temporarily unable to use the second bedroom will be uncomfortable, sure, but you’ll get along. If you were already living in a little box, though… you’re going to feel pretty awful when that box gets any smaller, and you can now only fit into it by curling up really tight, and the walls still keep pressing in around you. That, my friend, is a horrible feeling.

We all need time to recharge inside our comfort zones

Recuperating from these bad days is vital. Days when literally nothing is inside the comfort zone, or from average days that still require leaving the comfort zone a lot. So when I come home to finally curl up into a little ball on the sofa, drink a glass of wine, watch old episodes of a favourite tv series, and maybe cuddle my plush unicorn (yeah, I own a plush unicorn, because I’m cool like that), the last thing I want to hear is a cheery suggestion to go outside and get out of my comfort zone. I understand that it may look to you like I “get out so little”, and like you’ll do me a favour by helping me get over being reluctant to do something fun once in a while.

But “out” is where I’ve been spending my whole day. If I say I don’t want to come, chances are, I really don’t. Not necessarily because I’m too shy or too lazy, but because I need some time to just peacefully do something that puts no pressure whatsoever on me (like meeting new people, or simply knowing that I’m being seen by strangers, and god, they judge me). I just need to not be under any pressure for a little bit and recharge my batteries.

Variety is good

It’s perfectly fine if you find sitting at home alone in the evening depressing and would much rather go to a club or bar. Maybe that’s what recharging looks like to you. That’s cool. Just don’t force it on me. And don’t try to make me feel bad about not wanting to come. People are different. Just accept that. I’m not telling you that you’re a hedonist/drunkard/slut for going out to the bar, am I? So don’t tell me I’m boring/lazy/a slob/a coward for wanting to stay in. Let’s just each do our thing, and we’ll both be fine. Let’s accept that, though we don’t get it, the other person really enjoys that weird activity, and be glad for them – because hey, knowing what makes you happy is such an important step towards being happy.

Let people know

Simply talking to people about these issues often helps more than I’d have thought. Most people react with understanding and respect if you just explain that everyone’s perception is subjective and you experience different things as stressful or soothing. Or, if you don’t want a conversation, but just want to not-so-subtly inform people to bugger off with well-meaning advice about how you should or shouldn’t be comfortable? You can download this free snarky printable, stick it in a frame/to your door/on your shirt and – bonus points! – avoid talking about it.

comfort-zone preview

Like what you see? Download this free printable.

How about you?

Stay tuned for next week, when I’ll talk about a few more pieces of horrible advice for introverts and anxious people. (I was going to put them all into this post, but there was just so much I wanted to say about comfort zones.) What is your comfort zone like? Which awful though well-meaning advice bothers you most? Do you like getting out of your comfort zone or dread it? Leave a comment, if you like!

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