How to change my life: Comfort, fear, and true learning
Whenever I talk about my sessions I like to stress that personal “work” must continue outside of them. In fact, it’s the most important part for me. In the sessions we can explore what happens to you, but the ultimate goal is for you to feel comfortable with your life. And that means changing things in it. And I want to make it clear that the change can be both external (doing things that others could observe) and internal, changing your attitude or how you feel in certain situations.
So today I want to talk about that using what is known in psychology as the “Learning Zone Model”. This model basically says that people have 3 zones:
- Comfort zone
- Learning zone
- Panic zone
In the comfort zone is where we’re used to being. Everything is relatively familiar to us: the good and the bad. It’s our routine, our habitual way of behaving and interacting. In this zone we feel relatively secure. That does not mean that we feel good. We can feel frustration, anger, sadness, boredom… but let’s say that we’ve “habituated” to feeling like that and that it’s preferable to the uncertainty, to the anxiety that entering uncharted “territory” causes in us. And by this I mean having new experiences, new ways of doing things and living. In this zone change does not occur. You repeat the same behaviors and experiences over and over again. So if you want to change something in your life, you have to get out of your comfort zone and move to what the model calls your “learning zone.”
Your learning zone: where you can change your life
FEAR is the emotion that is going to indicate that you’re at the edge of your comfort zone, where you usually are. And to pass from comfort to learning you have to get past your fear. How do you get past your fear? Acting. It’s the only way. You have to get out of your head and do something different. Fear is going to try to make you stay in your head, not act in the world. But if you want to change something in your life, you have to endure a bit of uncertainty, you have to risk a little. When all is said and done:
If you always do the same thing, you’ll always get the same results.
So change is always associated with uncertainty, which will cause some discomfort, because it’s new, uncharted territory. Therefore:
For something to change in your life you’ll probably have to do things that are a little uncomfortable for you.
Growth and discomfort always go hand in hand. If you really are exploring new territory, your adrenaline has to be running through your entire body!
That is the basis of personal growth, personal development. Once you explore, you expand your comfort zone. You include behaviors and attitudes you didn’t have before in your repertoire.
Here I want to clarify that:
- They don’t have to be VERY uncomfortable. We would enter the third zone, the panic zone, then. Where the tension is unbearable and we freeze.
- The discomfort will be less the more we repeat the behavior. It will stop being unfamiliar as we practice it. Like riding a bike or driving: The first time we’re very tense, the second time less so, and if we repeat it a few times we’re relaxed when we do it.
- We do not have to continue repeating the behavior if we don’t like it. We can always go back to what we were doing before. But what is important is that we compare experiences (the way we did it before and the new way).
I think that change in your life can be produced only by learning from experiences, not from ideas about how you would like things to be, not by speaking with me or anyone else. That is why in my sessions we try to find things you can do differently in your life that will bring you closer to well-being. Things that will make you feel some discomfort at first but more well-being later on. You need to experience new situations to really learn.
You can’t learn to drive only by reading a manual or speaking with someone who drives.
You can’t tell if you like a dish if you don’t try it, no matter how well it’s described to you.
You can’t know if you like living in a country until you live there.
Hasn’t it happened to you many times that you thought you were going to like something and then, when you’ve lived it, experienced it, you notice that you don’t? We learn from our own experience.
That is why the cycle of learning and change that I’m proposing is based on it. To sum up, you should:
- Do something different, which makes you uncomfortable, challenging your fears and insecurities.
- Feel. This new way of behaving will make us feel something different. It can be uncomfortable at first. After repeating it a few times, you’ll see how you really feel, not how you thought you would feel from your comfort zone.
- Once you’ve experienced it, lived through it, you decide if you want to go back and behave like you did before, stay with the new experience, or take another step forward and continue exploring. What is important is that you decide based on a real experience, not from the movie in your head that you described to yourself when you were in your comfort zone.
A word of advice: Almost everyone takes another step forward… and another… and another… because learning to be comfortable with the discomfort can be addictive: Don’t stop learning new things and having new experiences in your life. In other words: You lose your fear of fear.