What we call the “ok” life is probably one of the toughest places to be in if it comes to initiating change. Life is ok. No crisis, no major issues, no drama. All things on the surface are “nice”, but still, something doesn’t feel right. And the month and years are ticking by. Until panic sets in that “this can’t be it”. Comfort zone? Yes. Happiness and fulfillment? No. And it gets worse over time as you realize what’s happening, but you can’t really see a way out. There is no urgency, tomorrow will be just as ok as today, so let’s see what happens. Perfect, great opportunity to procrastinate, our favorite! Except that nothing will happen – until it all does turn into drama and often short fused reactions lead to a drastic change. Which may be great, but it is often far from a well planned decision that actually has a destination. It is then not about going somewhere, it is just about getting away from where we are. The quest for excitement grows and can easily become destructive when we engage in “excitement” that destroys (cheating on partners, leaving the family, quitting jobs) – ouch.
So what’s going on here? It goes back to the main task of our brain to protect us. It all sits in the subconscious mind, so don’t be surprised if you (the conscious mind) disagrees. Safety and security. Our subconscious loves those two. We’re safe, don’t move, stay where you are! So that part of the brain is very happy, it’s doing a great job at keeping us in a safe place. But it’s boring. Little fun and excitement. But the conscious mind wants to be happy and fulfilled and it normally doesn’t find that in the comfort zone. “Get out and play, have fun!” it shouts and the less you act on it, the louder it will shout.
The problem is that these two parts of our brain are both important but they don’t communicate very well. And because our active thinking takes place in the conscious mind, we only see that part and wonder why we are not acting on it. But the subconscious mind is very well trained in keeping us “safe” and it couldn’t care less about us being happy and fulfilled. It cares about survival only and loves the comfort zone. Boring is great, it means safe and low risk. The subconscious mind loves the “ok” life. And it will come up with lots of reasons not to leave the comfort zone while your conscious mind tries to explore new things. That’s the famous “I would love to, but I can’t, because…”. Aren’t we great at coming up with reasons not to do something? And to avoid feeling bad about it, our subconscious is very sneaky. It creates reasons that we can’t influence (external), so it’s not our fault that we don’t do it (which would mean admitting failure), but it’s the fault of something out there. Feels better, but it’s normally not true. Sorry to pop that balloon.
So what is the way out? You need teamwork. Teamwork between the two parts of our brain that fight against each other. And this requires concessions on both sides. But that’s fine, they are concessions, not sacrifices. So one part of you wants to stay safe and comfortable, the other wants exactly the opposite. And you can’t be in and outside the comfort zone simultaneously, right? Well, maybe. There is actually no reason to pack up overnight, leave everything behind (and make a lot of people wonder what the heck is happening with you), you can test the water. And don’t misunderstand this, you may actually pack up one day, but you want to make darn sure that this is the right decision as it may be a one way street.
How do I get the two parts of my brain to work together?
- First, work with conscious mind. Ask yourself what it would be that would make you happier or more fulfilled.
- Then go deeper. How would you feel when you get what you are looking for? What do you gain? What do you lose?
- Look for alternatives. What else could you do to feel similar without dropping everything you have.
- Look for small steps. What could you do that would get you what you want at least for a small part of your life? Kind of like part time break outs.
- Test the water. Go out and test carefully if what you thought would make you happier actually will. If it does, do more of it. If it doesn’t, change the plan. But make sure you don’t do things you may regret.
- See how the comfort zone is not that bad. When you get some of what you are looking for you will see that the comfort zone doesn’t feel just ok, it will actually feel great. The issue for most people is not about not wanting to be in the comfort zone , it is to get out of it occasionally. So the magic word is balance.
All easy said, we know. That’s where Coaching comes in, consider working with someone who can hold a flashlight for you while you explore a new path. Bepatient. Try stuff.
There is a part of our brain that wants to protect us and it loves the “comfort zone”. Comfort zone means safe and protected. And that’s what often keeps us from taking action for big change. On the other side is the conscious mind that is looking for happiness and fulfillment and wants change big time. That leads to frustration, because we seek change, but something stops us from pursuing it (the subconscious mind pushing us to stay in the comfort zone). Unfortunately the two don’t communicate very well, so for lasting change the two need to communicate and work together.
First, recognize the trend. Are you in an ok life, everything seems great on paper, but something is “missing”? Write down the reasons that prevent from initiating change. Are they external? Are they really true? List the things you could do to test life outside the comfort zone without giving everything up that gives you comfort.