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  • Writer's pictureLehandra Riley

From Comfort to Growth!

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

You know what they say: A change is as good as a holiday. However, the older we get the easier it is to become complacent and stuck in our comfort zones. When is the right time for change? What type of change do we need, if any? What can we expect with change?

These are important questions to ask oneself when taking stock of our overall or holistic wellbeing. However, answering these questions might not always be easy and can leave one with more questions than answers. A good question to ask before facilitating change is:

Why is change so difficult? Why do most of us resist change?

Humans are creatures of habit. As a result, we love routine, comfort, and a sense of security. These can be found easily within our comfort zones. Our comfort zones are places where we feel safe, because of the familiarity we find there. It is a place where we experience lower levels of stress and anxiety. We also feel like we have more control over our environment. Therefore, any disruption or disturbance that interferes with our comfort zones can cause distress and sometimes severe discomfort. That leads us to the next question:

If moving out of our comfort zones causes distress, why would we want or need change at all?

According to the man who coined the term “comfort zone,” Alasdair White, for us to achieve high performance we must experience a certain amount of stress. Furthermore, various social scientists and psychologists believe that leaving our comfort zones can enhance our focus and concentration.

According to Dr Abigail Brenner, psychiatrist, and author of Transitions: How Women Embrace Change and Celebrate Life there are five important reasons why we should step outside of our comfort zones.

1. Our “real lives” are a collection of all our life experiences, not just the experiences with which we are comfortable. Experiencing our “real lives” in totality is important to become a more well-rounded person.

2. When we push ourselves to do uncomfortable things, we release our “personal store of untapped knowledge and resources.” We do not really know how strong we are until we are challenged.

3. No matter the outcome, risks are growth experiences. According to Dr Brenner FAIL can mean: First Attempt In Learning.

4. Settling for mediocrity is an extremely high price to pay in exchange for the feeling of relative safety. Allowing your comfort to dictate your experiences and way of life is no way to live.

5. When we step outside of our comfort zones it helps us to learn how to deal with change and in expanding our comfort zones.

To facilitate change we must step out of the comfort zone into the fear, and ultimately, the growth zone.

How do we move beyond our comfort zones towards the growth zone?

According to, when we leave our comfort zones fear does not always mean that we are in the panic zone. As the diagram below shows, fear can be a necessary tool, and step, to move from comfort to growth zones:

Source: ‘Leaving The Comfort Zone’ Toolkit

It takes courage to move beyond the comfort zone into the fear zone. Without a clear plan or roadmap, it is almost impossible to build on previous experiences and causes anxiety. However, when we persevere long enough, we will eventually enter the learning zone where we gain new skills and deal with our challenges resourcefully.

After a period of learning, a new comfort zone is created. This expands our ability to reach even greater heights, which is what the growth zone is all about. It is important to bear in mind that, as with most behavioural change attempts, moving into the growth zone becomes harder without some level of self-awareness.

What are some important factors to consider when working towards change?

  • How big is my comfort zone? Due to each person having unique life experiences and frames of reference, comfort zones vary from person to person. To leave your comfort zone it is important to appreciate its outer limits. We need to develop an intuitive sense of where our panic zones lie. It is a promising idea to take on challenges that lie between our panic and comfort zones.

  • What strengths do I have? Capitalising on and understanding our personal strengths can be especially useful. Most people have experienced leaving the comfort zone in at least one area of their lives. Therefore, they usually have plenty of insights to uncover from that experience. It is a good idea to use that to your advantage.

  • The move from the comfort zone to the growth zone may not be a linear move. Fluctuations and plateaus often complicate the journey. Sometimes we even need to retreat to our comfort zone for a little while before we have the strength to try and leave it again. However, appreciating the steps taken during our journey can help with our tolerance for uncertainty.

  • While we are in our comfort zone, we may feel safe and in control when our environments are static. It will feel like smooth sailing. However, the best sailors are not born in smooth waters.

What are the benefits of leaving the comfort zone?

  • The potential for self-actualisation. Self-actualisation was conceptualised by Abraham Maslow in his theory of human motivation. According to Maslow: “What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualisation.” Self-actualisation refers to our self-fulfilment needs, which include achieving one’s full potential, including creative activities.

  • Development of a growth mindset. The research of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck distinguishes between two contrasting belief systems- the fixed versus growth mindsets. With a fixed mindset people believe they there is a cap or ceiling on how much they can achieve with each ability. Failure reveals inadequacy and criticism knocks our self-esteem hard. However, the growth mindset acknowledges that humans are malleable and that setbacks become opportunities for learning. When we realise this our potential becomes unlimited. When we leave our comfort zones intentionally, we start to develop a growth mindset. The fixed mindset keeps us trapped with fear of failure, while the growth mindset expands what is possible. This inspires us to take healthy risks and learn. This leads to positive outcomes across all areas of our lives.

  • Resilience and antifragility. Life is unpredictable and, therefore, people are unpredictable. Sooner or later everyone faces adversity. When we develop the healthy habit of expanding our comfort zones, we become equipped to handle change, ambiguity, and adversity with more dignity. This leads to resilience. Nassim Taleb introduced the concept of “antifragile” systems that “thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors.” Resilient systems bounce back to the same level after shock, while antifragile systems learn to grow from them and reach new heights. When we step outside of our comfort zones and steer clear of the panic zone, we cultivate anti-fragility.

  • Greater self-efficacy. According to Albert Bandura self-efficacy is “the belief in being able to execute necessary actions in service of a goal”. Goals that lead to higher self-efficacy are specific, not too difficult, and short-term. When we leave our comfort zones, we experience a phase of trial and error in which at least some levels of success are inevitable. When we experience this success, we build our self-efficacy and our belief in our abilities starts to grow. This will not happen overnight. However, continuing to work towards our growth zone can only be an asset.

Top tips for leaving the comfort zone:

  • Do everyday things differently. There are many opportunities in our everyday lives to challenge ourselves by changing things up a little. E.g., turning off our cell phones and television while we have dinner, take a walk, look at our surroundings from a different perspective or start reading articles or books on a topic you would not usually choose.

  • Expand your professional skillset. This can foster creativity and revitalise your self-confidence, it can even make you more employable. Investing in new skills such as leadership, public speaking and negotiation may seem challenging, but can build resilience, personal satisfaction and open us up to more opportunities.

  • Work towards a positive lifestyle change. Whether this include changes to your diet or a new workout routine, it is important to retain what is serving us and discard what is not. This will also help in working towards a heathier and more balanced you.

  • Get creative! I am a firm believer in the power of creativity. Creativity can include anything from writing a poem to building a business. Creative endeavours involve stepping into the unknown and includes a lot of trial and error. It is always refreshing to see something beautiful created from struggle. This has the potential to give us hope and ignite our vitality.

  • Challenge your beliefs. Exploring new and alternative perspectives may be uncomfortable, however it enables us to grow and gain insight by challenging our ingrained beliefs. Challenging our beliefs can take various forms such as, reading various genres of books, talking to people from diverse backgrounds and visiting unfamiliar places.

  • Practice honesty. If we use our honesty sensitively it can be a remarkable catalyst for personal growth. Whether that means practising straight talk to yourself in a journal or telling someone close to you how you feel honest communication deepens our understanding of ourselves and others. It also builds trust and deepens our bonds with others.

Now a challenge…

Firstly, I would like to congratulate you on taking the first step towards leaving your comfort zone. In reading this article you have already deepened your understanding of the comfort zone and how to expand it. This is part of the learning process and a step in the direction towards a growth mindset. Well done!

Furthermore, I would like to challenge you to spend this month looking for ways to further enter the growth zone. It may be an uncomfortable process; however, the rewards are limitless, just like your abilities to reach them. Go forth and start new beginnings…

First published: Karoo Sisters Magazine September 2022


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