Reaching Potential Beyond Our Comfort Zone

Fear of getting out of our comfort zone can be one of our greatest limitations to meeting our full potential… in therapy, our careers, our relationships, and in life.

This weekend I was given the rare opportunity to have the house to myself overnight and into most of the next day. Boy, was I looking forward to this quiet time! I had a list of plans, such as getting a long nap, working out, and so on. When the time finally came and everyone was out of the house, I found myself unexpectedly uncomfortable and out of place. I am so used to activities and responsibilities that come with marriage and parenthood that not having these, even for the brief time, felt strange. Even though this was good for me, I was not used to this.

This comfort zone is one of the strongest forces holding people in their current place in life. It is so strong, that even when we know that a change is needed in our life, or even in our child’s life, we will hesitate and unconsciously resist the change.

“I’m comfortable with my wall”

I met with a young lady who had recently figured out she was holding up an invisible “wall” between herself and others in order to keep from getting hurt. Painful losses in her life had left her fearful of losing another person close to her and this wall was defense mechanism. Evident to her and to me, this wall was keeping her from meaningful friendships, some that could even help her to heal from her past. “I’m comfortable with my wall” she shared. This wall was part of her for many years and there was so much fear and discomfort in the thought of pulling down the wall.

“I’ve been taking care of him for so long”

A mother sat in my office while we discussed parenting techniques and her frustrations about her son’s behavior. She described her newest plan in behavior modification. While the plan was a decent idea, I wasn’t sure she was ready to do what was needed to make it work. She desparately desired for her child to display some responsibility and ability to  handle some developmentaly appropriate self-care tasks. This new behavior plan simply put the responsibility on her son to make choices and deal with the consequences. For example, if he cleaned his room in the morning he could play basketball after school. Simple, right? Not so much. Mom had become so accustomed to being in control, so used to monitoring his actions and REMINDING him to clean his room, that committing not to continue in this role proved harder than she expected. I bet this sounds familiar to many parents.

These are just a couple examples of people faced with the reality that their comfort zone may be their greatest hurdle (at that moment). Success in therapy, as in life, is about gaining strength to move out of our comfort zone. It’s when my clients express discomfort that I know we are getting some real work done. I know they are moving out of their place of comfort, beyond what they know and into a place of newness and personal empowerment.

So how do we reach beyond our comfort zone, our place of safety?

* First, identify where your comfort zone resides. Are you a parent who tells your child to be independent, but sends a message that you still want control? Are you stuck in an unhealthy, unhappy relationship because you are afraid of what is on the other side? Are you stalling on a desirable career move because you have been at the same company for so long?

* Once you know your comfort zone, make that oh-so-difficult decision whether you will move beyond or stay put. Own your choice and own your decision by using an I statement. For example, “I will …” and “I want…” Leave out the “I think.”

* Write down your decision and the reasons for your choice. You will need to reflect back to this during your journey.

* Gain support for your goal. Whether this comes from your therapist, a friend, a colleague, or group, get others to help you along the way.

* Give yourself credit for your efforts. You are strong and you are brave!

My focus here is on the comfort zone as it relates in my therapy practice, but this topic is relevant in all areas of our life. I love this post from a blogger on Career Chit-Chat called Embrace the Chaos. It is a reminder that success in our careers often calls us to be uncomfortable!

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Author: Kim Peterson, MA, LPC-S, RPT

Kim is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Clinical Supervisor, and Registered Play Therapist in Dallas, Texas.

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