Supported by our brains, we are instinctually comfort-seeking creatures and don’t care much for uncertainty and risk. This is why our brains will fight anything risky or new.
Comfort is experienced in the absence of stress; when we feel calm and in a state of balance or homeostasis. These feelings which are stimulated by our thoughts are caused by the release of chemicals like dopamine and serotonin in the brain which leads to feeling good.
Our brains like familiarity and predictability, which is why we create habits and comfort zones to minimize risk and stress. For example, we keep our socks in one drawer and underwear in another, which allows us to find them easily every time and without too much effort or thinking.
The Brain and Discomfort
When we feel uncomfortable, we can experience feelings such as anxiety, fear or stress. These too are caused by the release of chemicals like adrenaline and glutamate in the brain which acts to prepare us to deal with a potentially harmful or undesired situation in order to keep ourselves safe and return us to a state of homeostasis.
Even though we intellectually know that personal growth takes place only when we step outside of our comfort zones, we often struggle to do so and revert to our old ways fairly quickly in favor of the familiar – until the next “crisis” shakes us up, and makes us rethink our lives. At which point we try again, but soon the allurements of safety, backed by our risk-averse brains, pulls us back to familiarity. Every successive attempt creates more resistance, which drains the resiliency we need for following through to the end.
In reality, our comfort zones act as the greatest built-in obstacle of growth since it keeps us within our present boundaries.
We can overcome this obstacle by making small changes in things we routinely do. This will help the brain to slowly learn to change without getting alarmed and creating resistance.
If you go to lunch at a certain time every day, go ten minutes earlier or later. If you get your coffee from certain place, try a different place once in a while. If you watch TV every night as a way of relaxing, listen to some music instead. If you eat fast, eat slower. If you tell yourself depressing stories which make your mind unproductive, tell no stories.
Notice what you do out of habit, then do it differently for a while. Keep breaking your ingrained habits consistently. The mental flexibility you gain will serve you well in your personal growth process.
Start small, since big efforts tend to create disappointment. “We should be able to have our goals in our pocket,” Gurdjieff used to say. This means they should be small enough so we can more easily achieve them and build a trail of success.