We always knew that it was a good thing to push yourself outside of your safe place — your comfort zone — to grow and challenge yourself. We did not, however, know that there is real science behind this theory and that we actually perform better when we do it scared. Your Mom was right!
We always knew that it was a good thing to push yourself outside of your safe place — your comfort zone — to grow and challenge yourself. We did not, however, know that there is real science behind this theory and that we actually perform better when we do it scared. Mom was right!
The concept of one’s comfort zone can be attributed to a classic experiment in psychology. In 1908, psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of relative comfort created a steady level of performance. However, in order to boost performance, we require a state of relative anxiety—a place where our stress levels are higher than normal. This space is called “Optimal Anxiety,” and it’s just outside our comfort zone. Basically, we have to leave the snugness of what we know and cross over to a distressing and awkward space to attain awesomeness. But be on your toes! The researchers found that too much anxiety and subjects are too stressed to be productive, and performance decreases exponentially. There is a sweet spot lurking somewhere in between your safe space and sheer terror, and you have to find it.
Many experts espouse, “Comfort zones were made to be breached.” But who wants to leave the couch on a cold winter’s night, cozy in stretchy pants, while you are wrapped in blankets, sipping a nice Sancerre and binging House of Cards? No one. It is like leaving a bed with a naked and ready Ryan Gosling in it. There is an irksome and untamed world outside your cozy comfort cocoon but it also holds reward and fulfillment. I guarantee you that the angelic and beautiful actress Charlize Theron, who typically portrays princesses and beauty queens, was more than anxious playing real-life serial killer and prostitute Aileen Wuornos in “Monster.” Her risk paid off in spades. She won an Academy Award for her incredible (and very ugly) performance.
The majority of us will never win an Oscar (or even be invited to the Vanity Fair party) but we’re still winners. Winners for putting on the elementary school talent show with little talent and very few tears. Winners for making that big board presentation when your boss’ flight canceled. Winners for trying that insane megareformer class that FLOTUS swears by, winners for dumping that jerk you’ve been with for years, winners for wearing a bikini after three children. Winners for getting out of bed on the hardest of days. Put on your big girl panties, step out of your blissful little nest, embrace the jittery butterflies and uncertainty. You own that sweet spot.