3 Tips to Escape Your Comfort Zone for Better Work and Life

Madelaine Weiss
5 min readJul 18, 2023

Table of Contents

Question: Why is Resistance to Change So Strong?

Answer: Because resistance to change helped us to survive and to thrive so well that it is hardwired into our brains, as follows:

  • Survival Instincts: Humans evolved to prioritize safety and security. Change can bring uncertainty and unfamiliarity, which can trigger a survival instinct to stick with the ‘devil we know’ rather than try something new. This resistance to change is rooted in the need to preserve and protect oneself and one’s kin in the context of unrelenting social and natural world threats.
  • Cognitive Bias: Cognitive biases, such as the status quo bias, influence our perception and decision-making. This preference for keeping things the same rather than changing them assumes things may well be better as they are than they might be in the unknown.
  • Emotional Attachment: Because changes or disruptions in our attachments to people, places, and routines can make us feel sad or anxious, we have a tendency to resist that which could cause emotional discomfort.
  • Risk Aversion: We humans have a preference for avoiding risk in many areas of our lives. Change is often accompanied by uncertainty and potential risks, and people may be reluctant to take on those risks, especially if the current situation seems secure enough or at least tolerable.
  • Cognitive Effort: Change often takes a lot of effort to learn new skills, adjust habits, and overcome the pull of the comfort zone we like to live in. We only have so much time and energy, and the prospect of investing in adapting to change can be perceived as too much, resulting in resistance.

Considering all of the above, resistance to change sounds like a handy skill to have, and is likely not going away anytime soon even if we wanted it to. And why would we even want it to? What’s the downside?

The Downside of Resistance to Change

Resistance to change can hold us down and hold us back. In organizations, resistance to change can lead to stagnation that only the competition will enjoy. The benefits and opportunities associate with innovation and exploring new markets, technologies, or business models are lost.

As an organization stagnates, employees may be filled with fear, frustration and a malaise that affects other areas of their lives. The stress of it all can further inhibit the change and growth that could make things so much better.

On the personal side, just this week I witnessed resistance to change in all its glory with a number of clients. One client apologized and said that she was filled with shame that she had not carried through on the commitment she had made to herself to do something different in a relationship than she had ever done before.

I explained to her that one of the first and most powerful things I learned as a budding psychotherapist was that “The Resistance is The Work.” In other words, resistance to change — the clinging to our comfort zones — is a normal, predictable part of our human nature.

Whether at work or in our personal lives, sometimes we are clinging to the devil we know, because we know how to do that. Been there done that. It may not be our happy place, but we know how to manage there.

In some cases, people even take pride in how well they have learned to handle the challenge of it all (e.g., the strife, the boredom…). They don’t want to give that up that know-how for a new way of life they have not yet learned to master.

Then again, from an earlier post, the father of Flow, Csikszentmihalyi wrote:

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

One Yale study found that optimal learning takes place when we are 70% outside of our comfort zone. And the brain does love how good new learning can feel, making us want more, more, more…giving us more energy to keep moving forward.

Although it makes sense that being where we know the ropes, doing things we know how to do, can help us feel confident — there is nothing like going where we never went before, doing what we never did, to create the courage and confidence to do even more.

But old ways and habits die hard. It is as if they fight for their lives. This means that we may have to fight just as hard to escape the pull of the comfort zone so we can enrich and enliven, if not heal, our lives.

3 Tips to Escape Your Comfort Zone

Science of People offers 20 ways to step out of your comfort zone. Forbes offered 16 exercises to help out with the feat, and here are my 3 favorites just to get things off the ground.

  1. Do something new, something outside the comfort zone — something scary — every single day. Here is a post I wrote for this on “Benefits of Fear: Do 1 Scary Thing Every Day for Mental Health and Growth.”
  2. Try using the The Goldilocks Principle: Do something not so new and scary that the brain is overwhelmed and shuts down, and not so close to the comfort zone that the brain is bored and also shuts down. Not too little, not too much, but something just right to keep the momentum alive.
  3. And if you are having trouble with where to start, click here for a free copy of the Life Satisfaction Matrix to help you decide which areas of your life you want to leave as is for now and which areas you may want to experiment with outside of your comfort zone. Then you can use this Power Breathe tool to quiet the mind, and see what comes up.

Practice, practice, practice…and let us know what you find.

Warm wishes,

Madelaine

Photo by Freepik

--

--

Madelaine Weiss

Licensed Psychotherapist, Board Certified Executive, Career, Life Coach. LICSW, MBA, BCC