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The importance of leaving your comfort zone

One of the most common pieces of advice is about “leaving your comfort zone”. Its almost seems cliche at this point, along with “be yourself”, “work hard” and “have a positive attitude”. But, what does it mean? Why do people give you this advice so often? Also, is it even good advice?

What “leaving your comfort zone” means

Your “comfort zone” represents what you see as familiar. They’re our routines, sometimes unconscious. They represent the decisions we make without thinking. The average person makes over 35000 decisions per day, and a day contains 86400 seconds. Given that we’re likely only awake for less than 60000 of those, that’s one than one decision every two seconds. These decisions can be as life changing from “do I go to college” or “do I marry her” to as mundane as “should I try one more set on the bench press?” or “what condiment do I buy?

Now you’re probably thinking “I don’t make nearly that many decisions. After all, I make no decisions when I drive to work.” However, you are wrong. You make plenty of decisions when driving “do I try and make it through the yellow, or stop?” “Should I change lanes?” “Do I pass this guy?”. Heck, I’m making decisions right now in my writing as I write this blog! Humans develop these things call habits, when we make decisions automatically. This is done to save brain power on the important decisions. After all, choosing who you’re going to marry is difficult if you’ve spent all your decision making power on deciding ‘Ketchup of Catsup’, so your brain defaults to ‘Ketchup’, saving you a tiny bit of brain power. This may not seem like much, but when it happens thousands of times per day, your brain saves itself a lot of stamina.

Leaving your comfort zone refers to taking some of these routine decisions, and going against your habits. Maybe instead of watching the hockey game on TV, you PVR it for later and go out and do something. Maybe you take another route to work. Maybe you learn a new skill instead of indulging in a hobby.

Why people suggest it

Something you notice in the previous paragraph is that the later suggestion suggests you do something new, it provides opportunity to grow. You’ve been doing this all along your entire life. You left kindergarten for the ‘grades’ you left elementary school for high school, you left high school for post secondary.  If you never did this, you’d still be in kindergarten.

This is you never leaving your comfort zone

Now, people who give this advice (usually) want you to evolve, and to grow. You’ll notice that if you do the same thing, over and over, you stagnate. Growth occurs outside of your comfort zone.

Is it good advice?

Yes and no. As with most things in life, there’s a balance between the two extremes. Nobody’s saying you should do anything to put yourself in physical danger, so no need to go sky diving wit a cheap parachute, or drive like a maniac. However, doing something that occasionally scares you on a purely emotional level is good to do every now and again.

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