So I’m going to deviate from poetry to address a recurring concern that ails us all in varying degrees in various facets of life; the dynamics of our comfort zone. Everyone has a comfort zone- a behavioral space of low anxiety and stress, along with a stable rate of performance, triggered by a sense of safety that comes with the presence of the familiar and known. It exemplifies the paradox of duality the way this much needed and coveted state of being serves to encumber personal growth and thereby contributes to making one unhappy.
Our comfort zone is crucial in that we, as functional beings, need to experience environments of familiarity and comfort, characterized by friendly company and positive regard, to maintain mental stability. It also ensures reasonable levels of productivity by bolstering the cognitive processes that stimulate learning by providing a conducive atmosphere to assimilate new data.
But research shows that in order to achieve our highest level of productivity, we need to experience our “optimal sweet spot”. This is a state of moderate levels of anxiety where performance and alertness are optimized. Moderate levels of anxiety and stress stimulate one to perform better by providing necessary motivation and incentive to get work done. Statistically, performance improves with increase in stress upto a certain point, before plummeting again. This state of optimal anxiety can be achieved only outside our comfort zone. Thus, it becomes incumbent that we break out of our comfort zone intermittently and embrace productive discomfort. But like all useful tasks, it isn’t that easy. A comfort zone is a state we automatically trend towards. After all, it is an evolutionary mechanism developed to keep us out of harms way, by ensuring we always seek the safety of the familiar and the tried and tested.
Just yesterday, I attended my first day of college. It goes without saying that this new atmosphere had me dragged outside my comfort zone, away from the sheltered environs of predictable and relatively dull school life, and into the choppy waters of a sprawling campus, where I promptly got lost every 50 minutes (that’s the length of every lecture). The strength of every class, the introductions at the beginning of every lecture, the perilous task of having to talk to new people had me mentally squirming with discomfiture. Of course, college with all its new prospects didn’t fail to instill in me zeal that had me waiting to take on the world, but I can’t pretend I wasn’t still a trifle daunted by the…. newness of the situation. Thus, I found myself falling prey to the discomfort that inevitably comes creeping with new situations in life. This unease is negligible for many, and is felt in varying degrees. I have always had a very small and tight comfort zone that I have found very difficult to break out of, and the subsequent uneasiness felt is inversely proportional to the size of my comfort zone. It is comforting to know that each time one breaks out of his comfort zone, it gets easier to do it the next time. Also, one’s threshold to perform well regardless of persistent anxiety is improved, as he “becomes accustomed to optimal anxiety and productive discomfort becomes normal” to quote an anonymous writer.
I think I wrote this piece merely to acknowledge and thereby accept my discomfort and strive to transcend the fetters of its clutches. I love my comfort zone, but have decided to leave this treacherous territory to fray, as I find it encumbering my personal growth. In time, I will have broadened the boundaries of my comfort zone to accommodate even that which frightens me now. And until then, I shall embrace optimal anxiety.