At the edge of our comfort zone
At the edge of our comfort zone is a place of expansion. When we find that edge and play on it, we increase our capacity for life.
It's a delicate balance. When we stay in our comfort zone and seek only safe options, we don't expand. This is OK for a while: it's important for us to feel safe in the world and not to get overwhelmed. This is particularly true when we're young and we're discovering what feels right for us. However if we spend most or all of our time in our comfort zone, not only do we not grow as people but our comfort zone shrinks. As we get older the range of 'safe' options narrows and we limit our capacity.
Going too far out of our comfort zone is equally dangerous. When we dive into things that feel unsafe without awareness of where our edge is, we go into the 'terror zone' - a place where we're easily overwhelmed, quickly lost and often hurt. This also affects our capacity: by going too far beyond our edge we retreat back to our comfort zone and it shrinks.
This diagram illustrates the range of movement in a simple way:
Just beyond the edge of our comfort zone is the 'magic zone' (also called the 'stretch zone'): a place of expansion and transformation. If we keep 'daring greatly' into this zone, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and take the right amount of risk, amazing things happen. This is the place where we expand our capacity, stretch ourselves and become bigger, bolder people. This is the place where the magic happens. By spending time in this zone we expand our comfort zone, so that we are able to do, feel and experience more.
So how do we find the magic zone? First we need to discover and honour our boundaries. One of the biggest misconceptions among personal growth seekers is that throwing boundaries out the window is the way to expand. It is not. When we overlook our emotional and spiritual safety we quickly go into terror, and this causes us to contract not expand. Knowing our boundaries is absolutely essential for safe exploration beyond our comfort zone.
Knowing our boundaries is an important step but it's not the final destination. When we find our boundaries and play within them, it helps us build trust and confidence in ourselves and in our relationships with others. There is a close correlation between boundaries and our comfort zone: too tight and we don't grow, too loose and we lose any benefit. As with most things in life, it's the exquisite edge that we are looking for.
Some people are natural 'no' people and others are natural 'yes' people. The challenge for 'no' people is to let their boundaries be a little more permeable; the challenge for 'yes' people is to define and hold their boundaries. Knowing what kind of person you are is a great starting-point.
Once we know our boundaries and we feel safe, we can venture to our edge. The edge is different for each person, and also different in different situations. The kind of openness that's right when making love or doing BDSM is very different from the kind of openness that's right when we're on the Underground. Our boundaries change from situation to situation and sometimes from moment to moment; the better we get at knowing and honouring them, the better our chance of finding the edge of our comfort zone.
With boundaries in place to create a safe container we can venture beyond our comfort zone to the place where magic happens. By bringing awareness to this process and getting support from people who love us, we can do this safely over and over again. And it's wonderful to see what happens when we do: each time we venture into the magic zone our comfort zone expands a little more. By risking it we allow a little more life in.
Nothing is assured and there's risk inherent in this process. For this reason we also need to be gentle and forgiving with ourselves and others when we venture beyond our comfort zone. Knowing and stating our boundaries helps a lot. It also helps to know that the people we are exploring our edge with love and respect us. When we are outside our comfort zone we are vulnerable and exposed, and it doesn't take much to push us from here to terror. For many people this is an excuse not to go there, to avoid risk at all costs. But to do this is to deny ourselves the possibility of expansion and growth, and in time our comfort zone shrinks and shrinks. I saw my dad and stepmother do this as they got older, with the result that their world became painfully narrow and their feeling of unsafety grew and grew.
We must continue to be brave and play on our edge to keep growing, and this is particularly important as we grow older. Naturally the body slows down and stiffens as we get older, yet some older people seem vibrant and full of life while others feel old and tired. Our society supports the idea that ageing equals contraction, but I don't believe it's necessary. I believe that if we keep venturing beyond our comfort zone to the place where magic happens, we can stay young and flexible in spite of our ageing bodies.
Often it's hard at first to know our boundaries, to know how to find the edge and to expand our comfort zone. For this reason it's great to have the support of someone who's experienced in this work. A lot of my work as a Personal Growth Coach is about helping my clients to find their exquisite edge and explore it safely. I do this by placing a great emphasis on boundaries and safety when inviting people outside their comfort zone. The combination of being safely held and being taken to scary places is hugely expansive.
Whether you choose to work on this with me, another practitioner or friends and lovers, I encourage you to find your edge and play on it as often as you can. You'll be amazed at what is possible when you allow yourself just beyond your comfort zone.