Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Life Outside The Comfort Zone

I have noticed that I am my happiest self when I am not stuck in routines, so usually after I have just made some (big) change in my life: moving to a new place (or a new country), trying out new activities, discovering new places on hikes, finding new (and more sustainable) ways to do things, working on the fields and planting onions or small plants (which I have been doing quite a bit lately), foraging and learning about plants, creating new recipes, and so on. Anything that breaks my usual routines and enriches my life in a new way makes me a happier person.

Why is that?

I think it is because it helps me stay present. This is also why the nomadic life appeals to me so much and why I regularly like to change surroundings and try out new things. It brings me into a state of mind where everything seems new; a place of learning without limitations. I love living life from that place.

'Comfort zone' is a slightly misleading term though, because it implies that going outside the comfort zone is somehow uncomfortable. Yet this has not been my experience. Perhaps sometimes initially, but most often it has only been very rewarding. Staying stuck in your "comfort zone" on the other hand, is mostly very uncomfortable (even though you may not realize it until you get out of it), because you are going against your nature. Your nature is to flow with life; to change and evolve. The mind wants to grow and expand. It doesn't like staying stuck in one place for too long. Change doesn’t have to involve big outer changes though. It can take many different forms and different people prefer different types of changes. Change can happen in the types of activities we do, our surroundings, mental states, thought processes, the skills we practice, etcetera.

And yet, most people’s lives are boring and consist of the same pattern of clustered routines day after day, and week after week. And we seem to cling to these routines like it’s our only hope for survival. Perhaps because it is the only thing left that we know…. No wonder we are such an unhappy bunch and depression is rampant.

The importance of following your own voice
At times getting outside your comfort zone can get uncomfortable, but usually this is only the case when you go for something that somehow feels unnatural to you. This could happen when we do things for the wrong reasons (more for others instead of for ourselves), for example if we let ourselves get dragged into things that we don’t really want to do by well-meaning friends or relatives.

There is a fine line between going outside your comfort zone and doing things that we are not entirely ready to do at that moment, or that are simply unnatural. Going against your nature is highly uncomfortable and has no rewards in terms of personal development other than discovering that it is probably something you never want to do again. And that could prevent you from staying in the flow of discovering new things and trying out exciting stuff. So it could even contribute to you getting stuck in a rut, or get you stuck even further. So it is important to follow your own voice at all times, even though this does not rule out that you might need a little push from others from time to time, or inspiration to know what is possible and what options are available to you (because sometimes we simply don’t realize that there is another way, or we don’t know how or where to start). But you will know when you need this input from others too. Also, no one but you knows what is within the ‘comfort zone’ to you and what is not. It consists of different things for different people (and it changes with time).

Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between natural and unnatural ways to break routines, but there are some signs that let us know when we are about to cross that line. For example, when we consider doing something that is not in line with - or even opposed to - our values or priorities in life. Then what is the point? However, if something is in line with your values and you are not doing it - because fear or other uncomfortable emotions are holding you back (or if you are already doing something even though it is not in line with your values), then perhaps it is a good idea to test the waters a bit and break those habits.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you tell the difference:
1. Is this something I want to do? Is this something I really want to experience? (You don’t need to know why; sometimes there is no why and searching for it can keep you from taking action).
2. Would I do it in a world without fear?
3. Is it something that is in line with my values and what I believe in? Is it important to me?
4. (Optional, but it may provide extra motivation) Is there something really valuable I can learn from doing this?

For me, traveling has all those qualities, which is why I enjoy it so much: it keeps me from getting too stuck in my "comfort zone" (or perhaps 'habitual zone' would be a more suitable term). It allows me to explore, expand and see the world through different perspectives. It encourages me to be creative. Also, doing things differently and challenging myself (such as the Moneyless Challenge) has helped me to practice living outside the comfort zone.

Here are some things you can do regularly to avoid getting stuck in a boring life:

1. Step out of routines
Routines are a survival mechanism for boredom. Autopilot helps us to manage when our brains are overstimulated. It is supposed to be a state used for emergencies; not as a general state of being. On top of that, living a life of routines makes us VERY tired (have you noticed that?): it drains ALL our energy, so even if we wanted to change, this makes it very difficult and becomes another obstacle on our journey for change. The risk of exhaustion (and burnout) is yet another reason why breaking up with routines (one by one) is a great idea.
Also, routines create habits. And habits can be beneficial or not.  If you have no habits or keep breaking them, then you have no bad habits either and you can decide in each moment what feels right. Habits and autopilot also stop you from asking questions. It can lead to people taking things for granted and it can rob you from awareness. For example, it can lead you to forget how uninteresting your life has become, so that you don't have to make any changes.

2. Question everything
Just like behavior becomes habitual, thought processes do also. Investigate automatic judgments. Is it really true? Do some research. Investigate the way you do things. Is it the only way, or are there other ways? Try to put some variety in the way you do things, so that you don't get stuck into rigid patterns or routines. Question your fears and other emotions. Emotions will pass. Do not let them get in the way of new experiences! Of course it is always good to be sensible, but it is never sensible to jump to conclusions (like: It’s not possible. I can’t do this. There’s no other way. It’s too difficult. It’s dangerous; and so on). Also, life as it is, is dangerous and none of us will get out alive. Don't let this stop you from living life to the fullest! Life without (ad)ventures is like champagne without bubbles.

3. Be open to new experiences
Try out new things. Seek them out. Keep an open mind, because you never know what life might bring you, and this is good news! So always be on the look-out for something good coming your way. Because there is always something good on the way (even though it doesn't always seem like it).

4. Feel the fear and do it anyway
Courage is not about the absence of fear. It is about overcoming it. Letting it be there without letting it get in your way. And after a while it will just be background noise. It won’t bother you anymore.
There is even a book with this title and apparently it is very good (so I’ve heard).

Getting outside your comfort zone (= habitually getting out of habits, habitual thinking and routines) can get you to a space outside what you know and believe. It is a space of wonder and a place of learning, with the freedom of not-knowing. It is an open space, with no place to hide.  This may sound very special, and it is, but it is also easy. It doesn’t have to involve anything spectacular.
Here are some ideas of how to get out of your comfort zone, or break your routines:

* Go hitchhiking
* Sing karaoke
* Use couchsurfing - either as a host or as a guest
* Try out busking (and donate the money to a charity of your choice or to strangers on the street)
* Give Free Hugs
* Move abroad for a while
* Travel alone
* Volunteer
* Take a dancing class
* Dumpster dive
* Climb a mountain
* Learn horse riding
* Plant something: food or trees
* Go foraging

What routines do you need to break through to be a happier person?

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