The Science of Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

We’d love to break out of our comfort zone and rock the creative life. But what do we do when even contemplating such a situation makes us feel so damn bad?

Fortunately, Alan Henry over at Lifehacker has been doing a lot of thought on this very subject. And he’s happy to share:

discomfortzoneby Alan Henry

You’ve seen inspirational quotes that encourage you to get out and do something strange—something you wouldn’t normally do—but getting out of your routine just takes so much work. There’s actually a lot of science that explains why it’s so hard to break out of your comfort zone, and why it’s good for you when you do it. With a little understanding and a few adjustments, you can break away from your routine and do great things.

It’s important to push the boundaries of your comfort zone, and when you do, it’s kind of a big deal. But what is the “comfort zone” exactly? Why is it that we tend to get comfortable with the familiar and our routines, but when we’re introduced to new and interesting things, the glimmer fades so quickly? Finally, what benefit do we derive from breaking out of our comfort zone, and how do we do it? Answering those questions is a tall order, but it’s not too hard to do. Let’s get started.

The Science of Your “Comfort Zone,” and Why It’s So Hard to Leave It

Simply, your comfort zone is a behvioral space where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk. It provides a state of mental security. You benefit in obvious ways: regular happiness, low anxiety, and reduced stress.

The idea of the comfort zone goes back to a classic experiment in psychology. Back in 1908, psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of relative comfort created a steady level of performance In order to maximize performance, however, we need a state of relative anxiety—a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This space is called “Optimal Anxiety,” and it’s just outside our comfort zone. Too much anxiety and we’re too stressed to be productive, and our performance drops off sharply.

The idea of optimal anxiety isn’t anything new. Anyone who’s ever pushed themselves to get to the next level or accomplish something knows that when you really challenge yourself, you can turn up amazing results.

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