In a world where change is constant, it is perhaps unsurprising that the comfort zone has got a pretty bad rep.
There is no lack of self-improvement books on pushing one’s way out of this arena of all things familiar, a mental space which has even been pinpointed by certain researchers as the reason why time seems to pass more quickly as we age. Their theory is that we have more novel experiences as we grow up, and these incidents make strong impressions on our minds. However, when we go through the paces, events do not leave unique mental imprints, and time can seem like it’s flying by.
While there is no doubt that trying new things can be beneficial at any age, I think there’s also plenty to be said for being at home in one’s comfort zone. This doesn’t translate to resting on your laurels – or, indeed, on your sofa eating bonbons while overdosing on television. Instead, I like to think of it as understanding your own limitations, and making the most of them. It’s choosing to be a master of your trade, not a jack of them all.
If you can’t cook and refuse to learn, don’t beat yourself up about it. Celebrate it.
Bill Gates might not have become a tech titan had he busied himself with, for instance, trying every fitness fad that came along. The Microsoft co-founder had this to say of the time that he and Paul Allen spent on computers during high school: “It was my obsession. I skipped athletics. I went up there at night. We were programming on weekends. It would be a rare week that we wouldn’t get 20 or 30 hours in.”
In her new book, The Unspeakable, American essayist Meghan Daum sums up the idea with a dash of humour: “The key to contentment is to live life to the fullest within the confines of your comfort zone. Stay in safe waters but plunge as deeply into them as possible. If you’re good at something, do it a lot… If you can’t cook and refuse to learn, don’t beat yourself up about it. Celebrate it. Be the best non-cook you can be. When asked to bring a side dish to a dinner party, go to the supermarket and get the nicest prepared dish you can afford.”
Celebrating your comfort zone also means a greater acceptance of yourself and your unique strengths; a state of being that typically comes with maturity. A British survey found that most respondents over the age of 40 said that they were happiest after turning 33. Commenting on the survey findings, psychologist Donna Dawson says: “By this age, innocence has been lost, but our sense of reality is mixed with a strong sense of hope, a ‘can do’ spirit, and a healthy belief in our own talents and abilities.”
In other words, being in your comfort zone can simply mean being freed from the uncertainty of not knowing what you want from life – and having the power to pursue what you want.