Comfort zones…the enemy of most people in the self-help world. The way some people talk about comfort zones, you’d think they were akin to the plague. I’m going to do something bold here. I’m going to talk about the beautiful importance of staying inside your comfort zone. Yes, you read that correctly.
I believe that identifying (and nurturing) my comfort zone is essential to my sobriety. I can manage anxieties and cravings when I feel safe. I enjoy activities that help me learn about myself. I’ve done Naked Yoga. I’ve spent 3 days alone in Paris without knowing French. I moved to New York City without setting up a long term living situation or knowing people with couches I could crash on. I participate in my friend’s epic Scare Your Soul Challenge. I’m not completely dissing the “get outside your comfort zone” mentality; I’m simply stating that there’s also some pretty cool stuff that happens inside of it, too.
A Google search for the term “comfort zone” turned up countless articles and quotes telling me what’s wrong with comfort zones. While motivational rhetoric can be helpful at times, some of the following affirmations can be borderline delusional and factually inaccurate. I broke down a few of my “‘favorites” from said search:
Inside my comfort zone there is a couch, a cat, cookies, tea, and Netflix. And I want all of those things. The internet doesn’t get to tell me that I need to step outside of my coziness to get everything I’ve ever wanted.
I’ve been seeing a therapist weekly for the last year. One of our main topics of discussion is boundaries. I’m happy with the boundaries I’ve set with my friends, family members, and myself. Reading a quote like “push your boundaries” does not inspire me at all. It actually turns me off. It suggests unwanted compromise or false consent. I consistently work hard on establishing and maintaining said boundaries in order to prioritize my mental health and recovery. Knowing my limits helps me maintain a grounded lifestyle.
Goals and standards are important, but they’re not worth taking over your life. My addictive personality got me suuuuuuuper into vision boarding and goal setting. For years I would set audacious goals for myself, then feel devastated when they didn’t come to fruition. For example, I’d write out statements like “I’m a contributor to Rolling Stone by January 2016”. While that would be cool AF if it happened, it wasn’t fair to put that much pressure on myself. I had absolutely no control over Rolling Stone’s selection of contributors. So I cried. A lot. Then I got to beat myself up. It was a fun little self-destructive game that my subconscious enjoyed playing. Now I set more realistic goals that I have control over, like writing three times a week and prioritizing yoga. Knowing when to say “yes” to the temptation of my comfort zone helps me set realistic goals.
My therapist’s beige, fluffy couch is very comforting to me. Physically, it feels good to sit there after a hectic week of city life. Mentally, it feels good to know that my thoughts are going to receive objective advice for 45 minutes. I’ve grown more on that couch over the last year than I’ve grown in my whole life. I’m learning fundamental concepts like self-acceptance and maintaining peaceful relationships with loved ones. My creativity also grows in my comfort zone. I write more when I feel safe and content with my daily life.
I didn’t always feel this way. My old Instagram feed probably has the aforementioned quotes sandwiched between quotes from Tony Robbins and Gabby Bernstein. I was a self-help junkie who was trying to life coach my friends that never asked for my unqualified life coaching lectures. I thought watching Brene Brown’s TED Talk made me an expert on vulnerability. Projecting my issues onto other people allowed me to ignore my personal problems at hand. I got past that delusional phase of my life with therapy, sobriety, and a supportive community.
There’s a reason why comfort zones exist: to feel safe. I’m lucky enough to have several safe spaces: Inside my New York City apartment. At dinner with a loved one. FaceTiming with a friend. Rocking out at a concert. Relaxing with my family back home in Texas. When I’m in these situations, I feel…comfortable. That feeling should be celebrated, not shamed.
I fought the concept of comfort for a very long time. I chose a life of chaos and disorder and substance abuse and instability. Maybe it’s the punk rock attitude that I’ll never completely shake, but structure always seemed like a synonym for conforming. I don’t know if it’s age, sobriety, NYC life, or all of the above, but I’ve learned that I truly thrive when I feel comfortable. This doesn’t mean that I avoid obstacles or opportunities to grow. This means that I value accepting who I already am.
I know when it’s time to actually step outside my comfort zone. When I’m bored. When I genuinely want to try something new. When I’ve mentally prepared myself to explore. When a friend or family member suggests it. Not because of a meme or a self-help book or any objective “pushing”.
I know the overarching theme with these motivational quotes is to help us grow. Personal growth can be beautiful, but does it need to happen all the time? There’s a time and a place for everything, including self-help rhetoric. I’m not suggesting that we stop taking risks or chasing our dreams. I’m suggesting that we embrace the idea that it’s more than OK to be content with where we are right now, too.
Copy Editor: Tracey Stubbs of Creative Pension
Photographer: Alli Knoth of Guaranteed Giddy
Photo Location: Houston, Texas