‘Comfort Zone’ Can Put Your Brain to Sleep. Here’s How to Break Out of It!
The appeal of the ‘comfort zone’ lies in the name itself. Our brain likes sticking to the known because it is comfortable, and much less work.
Put simply, staying in the comfort zone means putting your brain on autopilot by doing the same things every day. Your brain falls into a habit and requires less and less energy and work to perform that particular set of task as days go by.
Perhaps you can already see where the problem lies.
Just like any other body part, our brain too needs exercise to keep itself healthy and sharp. When you stay inside your comfort zone, you are essentially depriving your brain its much needed dose of exercise that it needs to stay healthy in the long term.
Why do we fall into the ‘comfort zone’?
Our brains are busy – At any given moment, your brain is performing countless functions simultaneously. It is home to more than 100 billion cells that are constantly forming different neural pathways for processing different kinds of information. It needs a huge amount of energy for doing all of that; in fact the brain alone hogs the lion’s share of your body’s energy reserve.
We are designed to conserve energy – Because our brain needs so much energy just to function, we have evolved to seek out ways to perform any given actions using the least amount of energy possible. Falling into habits and following the same neural pathways all the time help conserve energy, so our brain is automatically predisposed to the comfort zone.
Our brain wants to keep us safe – Humans are evolved for survival, and the best way to do that is to avoid danger. Our brain’s threat-response system works according to that design. Any new thing awakes our primal fear of the unknown. The comfort zone is basically our survival instinct working overtime, telling you to stay away from potentially threatening situations, and walking the tried and tested road.
Why do we need to escape it?
It’s good exercise for brain
Putting your brain under a little pressure actually helps enhance your memory, creativity, focus, and executive skills. All of this contributes to keeping your mind sharper and in good working condition for a longer time.
It builds tolerance for change
Adaptability is a key survival skill in a world that keeps changing almost by the minute, but evolution is a slow process. So it is up to us to give our brain that extra push it needs. Exposing your brain to the stress of learning new things little by little trains them to handle stressful situations better. The more you willingly challenge yourself, the better your brain gets at resolving unexpectedly stressful situations.
It helps make positive change
Even if you need to make necessary and positive changes, for example starting a weight loss diet, your brain will create resistance. It does not differentiate between positive and negative changes – any change is a potential threat for your brain. When you practice breaking out of your comfort zone, it makes easier for you to mitigate that threat response.
How to nudge your brain out of the zone
Read more and more. There’s no upper limit for knowledge gathering, as the more information your brain gathers the better prepared it is for handling unknown situations.
Tease your brain with new activities. Perhaps start a new hobby, or try a new skill. The more new pathways you open up in your brain, the more it boosts your ability to efficiently process new information.
Build a plan and break it down step by step. Sometimes a big new change can overwhelm and paralyze your brain even before you start. Breaking it down to actionable steps helps keep your brain occupied with the task at hand. Steps are smaller than the whole task, so they produce smaller threat responses, which are easier for you to tackle.
Comfort zones are, well, comfortable. So it is extremely tempting to fall back to the steady flow of routine. But that is actually counter-productive, because refusing to engage with the unknown in our daily life actually weakens our brain’s capacity to do so when we actually need to do it in times of crisis. So let’s step out of the comfort zone, and give our brain the nudge it needs to survive in this new world.