I’m sure you’ve heard the common wisdom that all growth happens outside the comfort zone. You’ve seen the images showing you in a circle with growth outside the circle.
This is commonly accepted wisdom.
And it’s wrong.
Growth does not happen outside your comfort zone. In fact, pushing outside your comfort zone is more likely to lead to stagnation or regression.
In this article, I will share two science-based reasons why leaving your comfort zone is the wrong move.
In Part 2, I’ll share what you should do instead.
Why You Should Stay in Your Comfort Zone
(1) The Longing to Belong
Human beings are biologically wired to seek love and connection. Over the span of time, our survival depended on being a part of a tribe. Exile from a group led to death.
We have an innate longing to belong.
This desire is so universal that the need to belong is found across all cultures and different types of people.
Abraham Maslow proposed that belonging was a core human need. The need to belong is so strong that it can override the need for physical safety — which is why some people stay in abusive relationships.
This longing to belong is one of the reasons we feel stress when relationships end.
Consider the traditional advice about leaving your comfort zone through this lens of belonging.
Imagine the comfort zone as a tribal camp. Leaving your comfort zone is the physiological equivalent of being exiled from the camp. It creates a situation in which your nervous system, on subconscious levels, feels unsafe.
A prerequisite to growth is that we feel physiological or psychological safety. Outside the comfort zone we feel neither. Therefore, we cannot expect to grow.
The Rubber Band Metaphor
The comfort zone is a perfect example of how structure provides freedom. Within the container of our comfort zone, we feel freedom to experiment.
Imagery is a powerful tool to understand concepts. I like to think of the comfort zone as a hair band, or a rubber band.
Occasionally when I put my hair into a ponytail, the hairband snaps. This tends to happen when I try to stretch it to wrap it around my hair too many times. If this has ever happened to you, you know it is very annoying. (If you don’t have long hair, think of what happens when you try to wrap a new rubber band around something that is too big for it.)
One time when this happened I realized it was a perfect metaphor for the comfort zone.
Once broken, the hair band cannot hold anything. And if you have long hair, and you’re without a spare hair band, it really puts a damper on your activities. (Sidebar Tip: always carry spare hair bands. I even keep one in my wallet.)
Growth results from action. If you’ve broken the container that allows you to act with a feeling of safety, you won’t take action. No action, no growth.