Stuck in Your Comfort Zone?

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Feeling Stuck? This is why.

If you’re like many individuals, you may want to make some changes in your life.

But despite your best efforts, you find yourself stuck in your comfort zone repeating the same frustrating patterns or behaviors. This phenomenon is so common because of how our minds are designed. Evolution has given us two different aspects of our mind that have worked in conjunction to help our species survive and put us on the top of the food chain.

The Conscious Mind

The first is our conscious, explicit mind. This is the smart, rational part of our mind. This part of your mind tells you it would be in your best interest to eat healthier, exercise more, manage your money more effectively, and be more communicative with your spouse or family members.

The Unconscious Mind

The other aspect of our mind, which often makes our lives more frustrating, is our unconscious, implicit mind. If you’re feeling stuck in your life, this part of your mind is most likely the culprit. The reason your unconscious mind is likely frustrating you is not that it’s out to drive you crazy.

Although at times, it feels like it.

It tends to frustrate us because it’s not the smart, rational part of our mind.

I refer to our unconscious mind as a database because, similar to a computer, once it’s programmed in a certain way, it simply creates an output that fits that programming, no questions asked. A computer does not have the rational ability to look at a command and question the programmer as to whether that’s really the output one wants or not. Similarly, once your unconscious mind is programmed, it will dutifully create an output (i.e., your life) based upon the programming, even if that output is frustrating or destructive to you in some way shape or form.

The other tricky thing about the unconscious mind is that, while it’s not smart, it’s the more powerful part of our mind, much more powerful than our smart, conscious mind. It’s estimated that the ratio of our conscious mind to our unconscious mind is 5% to 95% respectively.

One way to think about the relationship between our conscious mind and our unconscious mind is to picture someone riding an elephant. The rider would be your conscious mind while the elephant would be the unconscious. So, imagine you’re the rider and you want to direct the elephant to go a certain way, but that elephant is used to going a different path. How hard would it be to get an elephant to cooperate? That’s often the same challenge we face when trying to redirect our unconscious mind.

What is our comfort zone exactly?

The path that the elephant is used to going is representative of our comfort zone. What we experience as our comfort zone is the neural pathways (or programming) that we’ve developed largely from our younger years. As we began interacting with our family, friends, schools, society, culture, media and technology, from our earliest days, our unconscious mind began forming mental models, core beliefs and behavioral patterns related to ourselves, others and the world in general. We experience being in our comfort zone when we act in ways that are consistent with the way our unconscious mind is programmed (even if those ways of behaving are counterproductive to us in some way shape or form).

Why is our unconscious mind so motivated to keep us in our comfort zone?

Our unconscious mind is so motivated to keep us in our comfort zone not because it’s out to perpetually frustrate us. Instead, it’s often just misguided. See, our unconscious mind’s primary mission is not our happiness (sorry to break that to you but it’s really important to understand this). Instead, its primary concern is our safety and survival. The unconscious mind loves when the world makes sense to it, when it’s predictable based on how it’s programmed. In such situations, “all is right with the world.” Now, ironically, it does not matter if the world is predictable in a positive or negative way. As long as the world makes sense, the unconscious mind is more at peace, even if your conscious mind is perpetually frustrated.

What happens when we try to move outside our comfort zone?

When your conscious mind finally says, “enough is enough,” and looks to start changing some of your dysfunctional patterns, the unconscious mind tends to respond in a fairly predictable way. While the unconscious mind may allow you to venture out of your comfort zone a bit on a temporary basis (e.g., it endorses you going to the gym for a few weeks following your New Year’s resolution when exercising had not been a part of your life), if it thinks you are going to make significant, lasting changes in your life (start permanently exercising on a regular basis), it tends to sound the “alarm” – something’s not “right” with the world. In this example, you exercising regularly would not make sense to your unconscious mind.

When there’s a discrepancy between how you are thinking and behaving in your life relative to how your unconscious mind is programmed, your unconscious mind will tend to try to get you “back in line.” That is, it will try to get you to fall back into your comfort zone, how you typically behave (in this case, it would try to sabotage your efforts to exercise on a regular basis). Some of the typical tactics the unconscious mind might use to get you back into your comfort zone include fear, doubt, guilt, insecurity, or making rational excuses as to why you shouldn’t persevere with the new behavior. Unfortunately, these tactics are all too often highly effective which is why making lasting changes outside your comfort zone can be so difficult.

What’s the cost of staying in our comfort zone?

If you do end up reverting back to your comfort zone, you’ll likely feel a sense of relief emanating from your unconscious mind, even though you may be consciously frustrated that you weren’t able to keep up your New Year’s resolution beyond a few weeks. That sense of relief is one of the ways our unconscious mind reinforces our tendency to stay within our comfort zone.

But is it so bad if we choose to go through life in our comfort zone? To answer that question, you need to really understand what that means. In essence, it means that you are living your life according to other people’s design for you (your family, friends, schools, society, culture, and media). If you endorse the programming you’ve inherited from your upbringing in all aspects of your life, then you may be content to live within your comfort zone. However, most of us would like to do some “editing” of the programming we’ve inherited and change at least some aspects of our lives.

What would happen if I ultimately broke free from my comfort zone?

If you were to continue to take constructive action in spite of your unconscious mind’s tactics to try and get you back into your comfort zone, you would become what I refer to as a conscious creator of your ideal life. As a conscious creator, you would have mastered the power of your unconscious mind. In essence, the elephant would now yield to your desires. You would have learned to harness the incredible power of your mind to create the life of your dreams. It’s true freedom in every sense of the word.

How can I finally break free from my comfort zone?

If you’re someone who feels you’re finally able to let go of worry, push through the resistance of your unconscious mind and become a conscious creator of your life, then my advice is to find yourself a coach or mentor. The reason I’m such an advocate of coaching is that the unconscious mind can be so sneaky when it’s trying to sabotage you and get you back into your comfort zone. The support, encouragement, new perspective and accountability a skilled coach can provide can absolutely be the difference between living the life of your dreams versus one that may leave you with regrets.

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The world needs as many people as possible to live their lives in alignment with their innate talents, passions and true purpose. I sincerely hope you one of them!

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