Most of us will have heard the phrase “a change is as good as a rest”.
Usually this change is something big, such as getting a new job or moving to a different city.
The rationale behind this is that when we play it safe, we can get stuck in a rut. We feel the only way to jolt ourselves out of it is by making a large gesture.
This doesn’t need to be the case, however. Often, it is the smaller changes in life can make us feel more fulfilled, more resilient and less stressed.
Why do we play it safe?
One of the things that can hold us back from being more resilient is the tendency to stay in our ‘comfort zone’.
This is when our activities and behaviour fits a familiar routine and pattern that minimises stress and provides a state of mental security.
It’s much easier to limit ourselves to the things we know rather than end up feeling uncomfortable or even hurt by something unfamiliar.
That might sound appealing on the surface, however doing this will not benefit us in the long term.
Can ‘good’ stress can help us?
A healthy amount of stress can push us and help us feel motivated. Too little stress leaves us bored, while too much stress leads to anxiety and burnout.
The Yerkes-Dodson Human Performance and Stress Curve shows how it is often a fine balance.
The perfect example is how exercise helps us manage stress. When we feel stressed, the brain releases hormones, including one known as cortisol. This puts the body into survival mode where it prepares to ‘fight or flight’; ideal for escaping danger, but can start to take its toll if it continues for an extended period of time.
When we exercise, it puts our body under a small, manageable amount of stress. As in every other stressful situation, the body releases cortisol. However, the more we exercise, the less cortisol is released as we get used to it.
This pattern of releasing less cortisol is repeated when something genuinely challenging or traumatic happens, meaning we feel less stressed.
The same logic occurs whenever we try something new that gets us out of our comfort zone. By challenging ourselves in a safe, controlled way, we gradually build resilience over time.
Getting out of our comfort zone is a sign that we are willing to learn. This willingness to learn can help foster a sense of optimism that in turn makes us more resilient. Together, they produce something known as a growth mindset.
The growth mindset theory was developed by Carol Dweck, who identified two types of people; those with a fixed mindset, and those with a growth mindset.
Someone with a fixed mindset believes that their character, intelligence and creative ability are static traits that cannot be changed. They believe that success comes because of that inherent intelligence, and any failure is a sign of weakness. Because of this, they aim to maintain the illusion of success at all times.
People with a growth mindset view a failure as an opportunity to learn. Rather than seeing failure as a sign of a character flaw that cannot be changed (e.g., a lack of talent or intelligence), they’ll look at how they can improve themselves in order to succeed next time.
Trying new things will contribute towards gaining a growth mindset. It starts with realising you have a choice; to stay the same, or pushing yourself just a little bit and gradually becoming more resilient.
Trying new things
A healthy amount of stress can act as a motivator and help get the best out of people. Too much stress leads to distress, with all the negative symptoms associated with it.
The key is to make the process gradual. If we do accidently put ourselves through too much stress, we then have a tendency to back off and return to our comfort zone with a reluctance to try anything new again.
It important to break this cycle, as there are advantages to be had:
- – You’ll be able to deal with change. Taking controlled risks on your own terms will help you be more resilient when the unexpected happens.
- – You’ll perform better at work. Staying in our comfort zone means we’ll just do enough to get by, and end up perfecting the “art” of looking busy. It’s common knowledge that having some pressure (such as a deadline) can focus us and make us work harder.
- – You’ll get better at pushing yourself. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Once you’ve experienced a tiny bit of stress and come through it, you’ll be able to handle a little more, and so on.
How to get out of your comfort zone
Here are some tips for getting out of your comfort zone:
1. Try to do an everyday task differently. This is the first step and can be something as simple as taking a different route to work, or walking instead of taking the bus.
2. Be spontaneous. You can try a lot of new things without consequences! Try somewhere new for lunch, for example. If you don’t like it, you know you don’t have to go again.
3. Take it in small steps. Getting out of your comfort zone can be intimidating if you do too much too soon. Trying to make a major change to early on may lead to you becoming distressed and returning to your comfort zone disheartened. Keep the changes small until you’re sure you’re comfortable.
Make a ‘wish list’. Is there anything you’d like to do in future that you can’t do now? Think about what it may take to get there.
It can help to write things down in order of difficulty. Aim to do one of those things a week, and then move onto the next one.