Literally a comfort zone is an area where you are able to feel emotionally comfortable and unchallenged. If you compare it to muscles it is the area in which you can move your muscles without feeling any strain or stress at all.
Things that challenge your muscles are clearly defined and common to everyone.
Things that challenge your emotions are much more complex, varied and individual to each person.
What is a challenge to your comfot zone?
Walking into a roomful of strangers may challenge some people.
Standing up and giving a presentation others.
Asking for direction from a stranger may be a stretch for some.
Making a decision without running it by someone might be a real stretch too.
We all have limits to our personal comfort and things that would be a challenge for us or make us think twice.
Why do we need to stretch our comfort zone?
Just like muscles if your comfort zone is not stretched regularly then it begins to shrink and seize up. But just like muscles when you excercise them by stretching they get stronger and the things that were once difficult now seem much more manageable.
However, left unchallenged, emotional stagnation means that you start to withdraw and go within yourself, shutting yourself off from other people and life experiences.
How do I stretch my comfort Zone?
To stretch your muscles and keep them toned you would go to the gym or exercise regularly. It's not so easy to stretch your comfort zone, but equally you don't have to devote a lot of time to it by taking time out to go the the gym or exercise physically in some other way.
To stretch your comfort zone you just need to be more aware of your limitations, comfortwise, set yourself very simple and easy targets and start to expand them. You really need to be looking at a daily challenge workout.
This is also quite difficult to monitor because people tend to be drawn to where they are comfortable and indulge in a complimentary activity which might be good for some things but not stretching them
For instance if someone was shy and they wanted to work on it. Stretching your comfort zone would be ensuring that they a) struck up a conversation with someone every day b) smiled at a stranger every day c) joined a class alone, or any number of similar things. Doing any of these actions or a mix would eventually lead to you feeling comfortable with that activity as it becomes your comfortable norm. Then you would need to find another area that would stretch that zone thus over a period of time more things are available to you within your comfort zone and you also know that yet more things are accessible with a little effort.
Yet that person might well be drawn to meditation or affirmations each morning in front of the mirror. While these are methods of improving yourself and working on problems they are not stretching your comfort zone. That's like rubbing cream into your muscles and maybe even having a massage it's indirect action and not getting you anywhere. Maybe even taking you further away from your goal.
Quick guide to stretching your comfort zone:
a) Chunk it down Think about something small that would not be too much of a challenge for you and do it daily until you have 'stretched' into being comfortable with it.
Once you have become comfortable with your first activity think about another that would be a slight stretch but within your capabilities and work on that.
c) Don't stop
Keep stretching and moving on with new focus
Before you know it you will have a much bigger zone in which you can feel comfotable.
Andrea Lowe Senior Hypnotherapist at the Mind & Body centre