You've heard people say you need to get out of your comfort zone, right? You need to stretch yourself, they say. It'll be good for you, they say. Everyone seems to agree with this idea, but what do we actually know about the comfort zone? Although people often refer to ‘getting outside your comfort zone’ in terms of trying new things, anything that raises your anxiety levels can be counted as being outside that zone.Although anxiety isn’t something we’re prone to go looking for, a little bit can be surprisingly beneficial. We often need just a hint of anxiety to push us to get our work done, or to improve our performance. A lot of the anxiety that comes from leaving your comfort zone is due to uncomfortable levels of uncertainty. Familiarity is comfortable and enjoyable, so it’s no real surprise that new things get our guard up. From an evolutionary perspective, we see familiar things as more likely to be safe, and so we’re more drawn to what we know. Trying new things takes energy, so when we’re feeling tired or flat, we’re more likely to lean on old habits than take a new risk.
So why leave your comfort zone?
Well, it reminds me of my days playing college basketball. I was the starting point guard, highly recruited and thought I was a star. Every year, there were new recruits who came in, recruits that wanted to have my spot and were willing to put the work in to make it happen. I hated that time. I was the starter, the one the team counted on to make the big plays, the veteran. I didn't need some new Freshman to come in straight from high school and make me look bad, but looking back that was exactly what I needed. I needed someone to come and push me out of my comfort zone. To make me continue to improve my game and prove to myself and my team and my coaches that I was the one for the job. I hated the anxiety I felt at preseason each year, but it made me the player I was. It forced me to not get complacent. The same is true in teaching. We need new people to come in and push us out of our comfort zones. Our students deserve it. So keep pushing. Whether you are the newbie or the veteran, we all need a push sometimes.