27 September 2019
“The only thing that is stopping you from where you are to where you want to go is your comfort zone.”
Whether you have an interest in hypnosis or you are a hypnotist or hypnotherapist, you will likely have a range of skills and knowledge you are comfortable working within, whether it is your favourite suggestibility test, induction, deepener or technique, or simply a certain way of working with clients. It is good to become skilled and experienced in your work, which takes repetition, yet that familiarity might prevent you from considering other options. This blog explores the concept of the ‘comfort zone’ and what you might gain from working beyond it.
Finding your comfort zone doesn’t require a knowledge of geography or anatomy, rather the ‘comfort zone’ is a state of mind where, within it, we can feel in control of our own experience and are able to easily and habitually perform. The label of ‘comfort zone’ is credited, by some, to psychologists John D. Dodson and Robert M. Yerkes, who, over 100 years ago (1908), suggested that a relatively stable state of comfort, leads to a relatively stable state of performance. We can think of our comfort zone as a metaphorical space where our behaviours and activities have a routine and pattern that minimises potential stress and risk. This offers us a state of mental balance and security, with regular, relatively stable and predictable levels of anxiety (low). stress (low), and happiness (high).
What we find comfortable, we repeat. Just for a moment think about how you presently look after your health, your level of activity, your relationships and friendships, your job and your finances. Most things you are currently engaging in are within your comfort zone. This can also apply to how you use hypnosis, whether that is using self-hypnosis for personal development, your work as a hypnotherapist or as a comedy hypnotist. However, just as we can develop positive habits and routines, unhelpful behaviours and beliefs can also creep into our comfort zone…
What’s keeping you in your comfort zone?
Keeping us within our comfort zone can be any number of limiting beliefs. One of the most common ‘self-talk’ phrases (things we tell ourselves) that keeps us within our comfort zone is, “I can’t…”. It stops us even thinking about how we could do something different or new. Perhaps you have told yourself you can’t be successful, or can’t promote your business in a way that gets more clients, or you can’t do hypnosis demonstrations in public. Yet is there any evidence to support that?
As well as ‘can’t’, there are other unhelpful thinking patterns, including worry. How often have you worried about something happening? It can be easy to get into a habit of worrying and being fearful of change, of worrying about moving beyond what is comfortable. Yet that worry just keeps you focused on the problem, rather than considering and acting upon solutions where you do have control and accepting that sometimes you don’t, and allowing yourself to work within those situations that are beyond your influence.
Another unhelpful thinking strategy is that of over-deliberation, delayed deliberation, or ‘procrastination’, which is a reluctance to make a decision that may take you out of your comfort zone. Do you spend hours deliberating over something small? You may be surprised at how much energy you are wasting by trying to avoid ‘change-related fear and anxiety’, when you could be focusing that energy towards beneficial growth. As an example, let’s say you always use the same ‘progressive induction’ with your clients. Rather than perhaps wondering whether it would be better to use eye fixation with your clients instead of a progressive induction, you could simply make the decision to use it with half your anxiety clients and see what happens, evaluating the results after a period of time.
How do you break free from the comfort zone?
From an action perspective, an unhelpful change-related behaviour is inactivity, or a lack of forward momentum. By avoiding anything beyond your comfort zone you can start to reduce the level of activity you are engaged in. Yet a simple action or change gives you momentum for further steps outside of your comfort zone. Ten teeny-tiny steps soon mount up into a noticeable stride forward. For example, with advertising your hypnosis business, perhaps instead of a complex and expensive multi-stream, expensive advertising campaign, you could start with a simple Facebook advert/group post or even some local leafleting.
Personal development is a fundamental human need and a significant influencer of self-reliance (amongst other things). Are you getting the most from your life by limiting yourself to just what is comfortable? Imagine that your life is a beautiful ship, high tech and full of features. If you just sail around the harbour and never experience anything else that the vast oceans have to offer, how will you ever get to use all the features the ship has? Also, keep in mind, the ship could just as easily sink in the harbour as it could in the ocean. To go beyond what is ‘safe’ and ‘comfortable’ can take a change of mindset and how that change will be perceived will often relate to your personality. For example, some people will think of it as a challenge, others as an adventure or even, as actor Benedict Cumberbatch would say,
“The further you get away from yourself the more challenging it is. Not to be in your comfort zone is great fun”.
The optimal zone
To positively increase the level of your performance beyond your comfort zone, a shift (increase) in levels of stress and stimulation are needed. This can be referred to as ‘optimal anxiety’, and if you were thinking of your comfort zone as a circle, this would be a larger circle surrounding it. However, too far to the edge of the ‘optimal’ zone is a danger or ‘overload’ zone, where we are then too anxious or stressed to be as focused and productive, resulting in a significant drop in performance. For example, if you are a new hypnotherapist, unaccustomed to speaking to groups, and want to give a talk about hypnosis to a local weight loss club (8-12 members), then that may push you into your optimal zone and help you step up and use the stimulation (anxiety) as energy to deliver a good talk. However, if you then found out the organisers had sold way more tickets and 100 people were coming to your first ever public talk, that might seem too much and you might then feel too anxious to perform well.
An observable trait of high achievers is that they allow themselves the determination to succeed and have mastered ‘being comfortable with being uncomfortable’. It may be that you go beyond your comfort zone multiple times each day, or simply that you find just one new thing to do each day. Eleanor Roosevelt is well known for her advice to, “Do one thing every day that scares you”.
If the comfort zone is so ‘comfortable’ why would we want to move beyond it? What are some of the benefits of moving to your optimal zone? Comfortable routines and habits can become stale and restrictive over time. Doing something new and challenging (exciting, scary, anxiety inducing) can have broad benefits. One key benefit is becoming more capable of coping with change. Fear of change can hamper creativity, growth and transformation. Yet by taking a new perspective, finding new ways of thinking and working you gain flexibility in times of change, becoming more able to cope with unexpected and new changes. In addition, each time you face change and work with it, you become more able to do so in future. Daniel K Pink, author of author of ‘Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us’ calls it “productive discomfort”.
Indeed, not only can you gain the habit of being comfortable with new and challenging situations, you can start to develop skills in finding areas of control that you may not previously have considered. Brene Brown, author of, ‘The gifts of imperfection’ talks of the comfort zone as the area where we feel we have some control. When we are in a time of uncertainty (e.g. a new venture) our comfort zone contracts as we feel more vulnerable. However, we can learn to find something in a situation where we do feel we have control. Thus, learning to be able to function effectively in our optimal zone.
Making a habit of stretching boundaries, and becoming comfortable with that stretching process, whatever the size of the stretch, becomes a mental skill which will boost self-esteem. As feeling better able to manage in new situations will then help you feel more capable and confident that you can productively use the increased ‘stimulation’ within the optimal zone.
Some people are more reactive to external change whereas others are more influenced by internal change. Yet, when areas of change are explored, it is clear that there is significant overlap. A clear example is that of development of mental strength. By going into your ‘optimal zone’, you become more aware of your own mental health and both the extent of secure, meaningful and engaging interactions in your work environment and how to enhance them. In addition, as you explore new ways of active participation, your ways of working may evolve, whether as becoming more collaborative, adopting new work responsibilities, duties and privileges, working more diversely with others, or even gaining a greater voice when expressing opinions. This, as a result, may not only positively influence your self-esteem and self-respect, but also enhance working relationships and gain respect from your peers and colleagues.
The more that you do engage, the greater understanding you will have of your own interactions with others, whether individuals or groups and in any setting or context. Such understanding can then enhance a broad range of creative skills, whether enhancing your use of intuition or boosting your engagement with your imagination. This can then positively support the development of new abilities, skills, and working methods with individuals and groups and even increase your confidence to seek feedback.
Overall, by working, at least for some of your time, in your optimal zone, you can develop a greater connection to your personal and professional identity, knowing yourself (habits, values) better and forming a greater sense of belonging, wherever you are. You will develop a sense of being comfortable, even in situations you may have initially perceived as uncomfortable. This then gives you a greater sense of freedom, with autonomy and choice to engage with change.
“I think the biggest advice that I could give people is to actually try and live beyond your dreams by pushing yourself, challenging yourself to do things a little bit outside of your comfort zone.”
Peggy Whitson – American Astronaut
Peggy Whitson makes a good point about working just a little outside of your comfort zone. Whilst some people might follow the concept ‘go big or go home’ going too far outside your comfort zone can be less productive. Beyond the optimal zone is an unproductive zone, whether you think of this as an overload zone or even, as it has been referred to, as the ‘zone of terror’. When we are overwhelmed and overloaded, rather than stimulated, we lose our ability to focus and, as a result, performance and function significantly decline. Interestingly, whilst every time you engage with the optimal zone, your ability to further engage can increase. However, subsequent visits to the overload zone can increasing the feeling of overwhelm but with lower levels of anxiety. In other words, you can get overloaded more easily as your tolerance to overload can actually reduce. Hence, working a little outside your comfort zone is probably the best place to start.
There can be a fuzzy divide between the optimal and overload zones. For some, they will perform better when they are on the far edge of their comfort zone, finding that the excitement leads to an increase in emotional/nervous arousal, which can lead to better performance. Although, move too far and the cost outweighs the benefits with anxiety or stress detracting from their ability to perform. For others, they perform much better only just outside of their comfort zone.
Simple tasks to get started
How can you find your optimal zone? A great way to start is to do something different each day. This may be as simple as ordering a different coffee, driving to work a different route, doing a morning task after lunch. It can be a small or large change. However, the ‘change’ is the key. Notice the change in perspective during and after your experience. Break larger challenges into chunks or steps. For example, if you are socially anxious but want to meet other hypnotists, go to a small group meeting and then a larger event before going to a busy conference. If you’re not exactly sure yet where you want to be, perhaps set yourself some goals in order to figure out how to move beyond your comfort zone.
Another approach is to pay attention to being decisive. Give yourself a time limit for thinking about decisions, based on their significance. For example, if you spend ages thinking about what to have for lunch, give yourself a time limit to decide in just one minute. It is one meal, and not a significant life event. The worst that might happen could be that you won’t choose it again. However, you will have freed up a lot of thinking time that you can use on other tasks.
One of the most powerful ways of developing your optimal zone is to learn something new. This will stretch your mind, influence your perceptions, boost self-esteem and add to your skill base, whilst proving to yourself that any negative thoughts (e.g. “I can’t do this”) are unfounded. Want something new to learn right now? Check out our range of new hypnosis/hypnotherapy training courses on hypnosis-courses.com:
Comfort zone benefits
With all this talk of ‘moving beyond the comfort zone’, we should also consider whether the comfort zone has any benefits. Which, indeed, it does. The comfort zone offers a state of balance, where a person feels in control of their environment, familiarity, safety, security and where they feel at ease. It can be easy to become accustomed to a certain level of stimulation. Perhaps you have been on an amazing holiday. The first week may seem wonderful, yet by the end of the second week (or even sooner) you have already adapted. If you only ever seek new stimulation and quickly get bored with what was new yesterday, it can be called ‘hedonistic adaptation’. Some people naturally get used to new things more quickly than others and revert to their baseline setting for happiness relating to the ordinary aspects of their lives. Rather than strive to do massively new things every day for a new ‘buzz’, it can be good to both be aware of the ordinary (and appreciate it), as well as increasing stimulation from new yet smaller changes. For example, moving the chairs in your therapy room, or changing the location you would usually visit for street hypnosis demonstrations.
So perhaps take some time to think today and explore where your comfort zone is. Do you have habits or beliefs that hold you back from achieving your potential? Could you expand your hypnosis knowledge or skills? Build your business? Gain confidence? To move to your optimal zone, it is good to know where you are moving from and what you would like to achieve when you get there. We hope that this blog on going beyond your comfort zone has been useful for you. If you have any questions about this topic or anything else for that matter, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks