A comfort zone is usually defined as the areas in life in which people feel most comfortable, and it can be considered a mental rather than a physical space. Obviously, physical aspects of comfort can influence where a person will be at ease, but usually this is because these physical things are interpreted by the brain as safe. For instance, a person’s comfort zone might include defining sitting on their comfy couch at home as comfortable, and that person could feel distinct unease if they have to do something else, like attend a party at someone else’s house in lieu of getting to be at home and spend time on the couch. This event might push a person out of their “zone.”
Much of the reason comfort zones are discussed is because they become a reliable predictor for how people will behave or respond to situations, and they can be viewed as a stagnating element in people’s lives. Remaining inside a comfort zone that doesn’t allow for mental expansion or consideration of new ideas means people will stay relatively the same through life. Exterior factors may most contribute to breaking down zone barriers. Great tragedies or changes in life may push people to change. It could be said of things like the 11 September 2001 attacks on American soil that all Americans were pushed out of a comfortable belief that America was somehow safe from terrorism, and this contributed to the way Americans would interpret any event that followed and even how they would differently interpret the US Constitution to return to a comfort zone where these attacks couldn’t occur.
Leaving a comfort zone deliberately is an opportunity for personal growth, and it doesn’t have to be caused by drastic or difficult events. Students who head to college often find they’re asked to look at new ideas and interpretations, and these can push the student to mentally expand zones and evaluate things in new ways. Leaving the comfort of homes also changes the perception of comfort zones too, and students learn that they must redefine the space they mentally consider as “home.” Some may be extremely relieved when they actually get to visit home, especially during the first few years of school when a new comfort zone hasn’t been fully defined.
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In fact, during the years of growth and development, children and then young adults are constantly asked to expand their zones, to take on new ideas, to parse things more complexly, and to interpret their world in a growing way. What many people find though is that while definition of a comfort zone is expected to expand in youth, once these “growing” stages are over, people may stagnate. They may refuse to move any more or think anymore about ideas that are different than their own definitions of comfort.
Personal development books often focus on this issue of learning how to stretch beyond defined zones to continue personal growth. Ultimately, mental comfort can be an enemy that keeps people from continuing on a path of change. Yet those that welcome stepping outside their defined zones may have a life of learning and development ahead of them.