There are many reasons to stay in your comfort zone and avoid risks – but it’ll cost you.
I wish I’d taken Polaroids of people’s faces when I told them I was quitting my job to become a writer: “What was I thinking leaving a steady paycheck behind?” they seemed to ask. “How would I ever make enough money?” Oddly enough, the uncertainty was what I was looking forward to most.
Yes, fear was part of the equation, but not in the usual way. I didn’t fear becoming a writer – I feared staying in my comfort zone and not becoming one. Even if I ended up living in my mom’s walk-in closet, at least I was going after my dream.
That’s the thing about risks: they’re all around us, whether we choose to engage them or not. What many of us forget is that not taking risks is also a risk – maybe the biggest risk of all. When you spend too much time bubble-wrapped in your comfort zone, you’re doing your mind and body more of an injustice than that time you ate an entire carton of ice cream in one sitting (oh wait, that was me).
Your comfort zone should be a place to rest when your life is giving you a beating, but for many of us it’s our status quo. “I believe that in childhood, for the most part, we’re taught not to take risks, which leads to all kinds of limiting beliefs as adults that we have to overcome,” says life coach Kristi Blicharski. “Taking a risk is empowering, whether it works out or not, because taking action is one of the key elements of creating a full life.”
According to a new study by researchers at the Yale School of Medicine, our ability to take risks decreases as we age. So if you’re constantly anxious and worried about risk, your comfort zone will get smaller by the day. Here’s what else that cushy comfort zone is costing you:
1. The lifestyle you really want.
I know what you’re going to say: “Job this, husband that, kids this, friends that, money, money, money!” Blah. What good are you to anyone if you’re always settling for less (or worse, for what other people want for you)?
2. A healthy brain.
“If we only stay within our routine, we aren’t giving the brain the exercise it needs to stay flexible,” says Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety. “Change makes life more interesting and stimulating, but it also translates to changes in our wiring we can’t see.”
3. A boosted immune system.
According to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that there’s a strong connection between living your life with a sense of purpose and a healthy immune system, and that shallower forms of happiness (i.e. buying all that “stuff”) actually weaken your physical defenses.
Taking risks is exhilarating – in fact, it’s borderline addictive. Risks don’t have to be huge, they just need to offer some form of personal growth. This will boost your confidence in a big way, and soon, you’ll seek out new ways to challenge yourself. (Don’t you want to know you can handle anything?)
Here’s the biggest thing I’ve learned since becoming a freelancer: people suck at trusting themselves. We’re given this amazing set of survival instincts, and then we do everything we can to avoid using them by staying well-within the comfort zone! Meanwhile, our anxiety would actually decrease if we took them for a spin more often, boosting our resiliency and diminishing self-doubt.
6. Actual comfort.
“When we engage in activities that are moderately difficult, our sense of joy and accomplishment increases,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. When you hang out in your comfort zone for the right reasons (you know, instead of letting fear call the shots), it becomes that much more… well, comfortable.
Don’t fear taking risks – fear not taking them. When was the last time you ditched your comfort zone and took a risk?
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Image: Alyssa L. Miller