Imagine being in a faraway house in the countryside and it is night. Deep silence covers everything and in a strange cooperation with the darkness makes everything around your house unknown and scary. But when you are inside the property you don’t even think about all these. You feel safe and comfortable in a lighted place where all are familiar to you. Unless the idea of opening the door and exploring what is hidden in the open but unseen nature crosses your mind. So you pass from the door and get out in the dark. At that time feelings of fear and anxiety are starting to manifest on your body. You wonder: “Was it right what I did or should I return back to the safe and familiar?” This is how the brain works.
Every knowledge we have acquired through our lives or has been given to us from birth is a set of neural connections in the brain. The better we are at something, the thicker is this set of neurons that concerns this activity. This explanation is significant first of all because it describes in simple terms how knowledge is practically applied in the brain. Apart from this, it raises a discussion about the concept of humans being able to train their brains to become more capable in skills they decide. This means that we are able to create the appropriate circumstances so that we build thicker connections that concern these skills. There haven’t passed more than ten years since neuroscientists have come to the discovery that indeed, the brain is plastic for the whole of our lives!
Coming back now to the concept of comfort. In our comfort zone belongs everything we are good at, we find familiar and is easy to do. For example, if you are 30 years old and have been playing the piano since 5 of course playing the piano has a very good place in your comfort zone. Before you play you don’t feel stress, when you play you may not be so focused as a new player. You have a brain that is chiseled to be efficient in this hobby, your neural connections that concern it are extremely thick.
Imagine now what happens to your brain when you get out of your comfort zone. When you start engaging in activities, behaviors and ways of thinking that aren’t common to you. You feel lost. You don’t know where to look, what to do more and how you can evolve. Maybe you are scared the others will make fun of you. By the way the last is a very pessimistic mentality. Instead you should have understood that the others must admire you because you show the courage to go out in the dark and feed your curiosity to find out where it leads. Anyway, the fact that you are scared should be accepted as normal as it’s an automated survival mechanism that is activated in our brains when we face a new situation and is called Fight or Flight Response.
When the brain is faced with a situation and doesn’t have the appropriate capabilities to handle efficiently it is obvious that cannot be left untouched. The influence to its system from the outside environment is significant and the laws of nature say that there must be a reaction. This reaction is your feelings.
When you are trying something new you are scared, anxious, sometimes sad, many times you want to give up or you regret that you decided to engage in it in the first place. These feelings are usually so direct that explain why most of the people give up in their first steps when trying something. In a sense it’s not all our fault, this high natural tendency to return to our known things sometimes wins.
Here then is the crucial point, the point which will define who will succeed and who will not. If you manage to overcome this reaction from your brain that is expressed through feelings you know what will soon happen? After sometime they will go away. The continuous stimulant will result in changing the shape of your brain and making it capable to now easily perform the activity that before used to be out of your comfort zone! In other words you will have built then strong neural pathways for these circumstances. The brain is plastic in the whole of our lives, remember before?
Think now that all the things you find easy and common, you find them like that because your brain has the shape appropriate for you to behave like this. And up to a point this is OK, it is calming and safe in the comfort zone. However, you know that this cannot be enough. Among different ideologies, sciences and religions in the world you will find basic differences in their scriptures or mentalities and very few commonalities. One very major commonality is that all are in favour of creativity, all of them believe (at least this is what they say) that humans are made to be creative. But can you be creative if you only stay inside your comfort zone?
You can understand that the answer is obviously no. Remaining on your own point of view is also remaining in your comfort zone. If you don’t expose yourselves to the possibilities that your beliefs are wrong then you stop your creativity. In order to come to an insight you need to be open, to be ready to challenge ideas you have been believing for years. Most of these succesful people that we admire have in their biographies many insightful moments that made the difference. And they happened because they were ready to go beyond the common. But be careful, insight is not enough. An insight with no action either just fades or remains in the memory and leaves a feeling of regret. Comfort zone is a happy place, sometimes we need it to relax but all the time in that will not lead to defining moments in your lives. And you know what, one characteristic of an old brain is that is not changing a lot. Remaining in the comfort zone is like making our brains older. Action is half the distance to success.
At the same time look what happens with our levels of happiness when we are getting out of our comfort zones. As time will be passing there will be ups and downs. We will sometimes be happier and sometimes incredibly sad. This is human and normal. However research has shown that over the long-term our basic levels of happiness are increasing, our medium state is in a higher level. After seeing ourselves falling down and standing up again we raise our levels of belief, we gradually boost our self esteem. And all because of Coping! The Gilbert Research has, as well, shown that the pain associated with the fear of failure is much more than the actual pain from failure itself.
Actually if something wrong happens, after some time we return to our basic levels of happiness. At the same time through action we train ourselves even to be used to the pain from failure. So we find it normal, we have less negative feelings and more clarity to use it in order next time to correct our mistakes. One reason that we don’t succeed is because we haven’t failed enough! By not having failed enough potential failure scares us and that’s why we avoid doing that step.