My daily life is fairly routine. I wake up, make coffee, feed my dogs, have breakfast and sit with my dogs on the couch. I like this routine—it sets me up for the day and helps me focus and prepare for the day ahead.
However, life can start to become too routine, too comfortable. I come home from work, take the dogs out, sit on the couch and watch TV while eating dinner. This routine has developed because it’s easy and doesn’t challenge me. It has become my comfort zone.
We all have comfort zones that can help get us through the struggles and stressors of daily life. However, challenging ourselves to break free of our comfort zones is important. Stepping out of a comfort zone will help us learn new things, try new activities and gain a new perspective on how we see ourselves and the world. It can help us learn more about ourselves and how to better love and accept ourselves. It will help us to grow.
Recently, I changed jobs. I am still a nurse, and I still work in an operating room, but it’s a different one, with different surgeons, different coworkers, different routines, even different surgeries. I’ve spent the past three weeks learning new things and challenging myself with tools and procedures that are brand new to me. It’s been a hard, exhausting challenge that I was not always sure I was up to. This new job is definitely not in my comfort zone.
Most people are happy to go about their daily life and routine repeating the same thing day in and day out. It’s working for them, and it’s easy. Challenge is hard, new skills are hard, and breaking free of that comfort zone is overwhelming. We have a naturally ingrained system in the reflex arc of our spinal cord within the central nervous system. I won’t get technical here, but the basics are as follows: you touch a hot stove, your hand will automatically respond and pull away before your brain has a chance to register that it has touched the hot stove. This reflex arc protects us; we don’t even have to think to respond.
Also ingrained in us over time is something called a learned response. A researcher named Pavlov discovered that if he rang a bell and gave a dog a treat, the dog would respond by salivating. Over time, he would ring a bell and delay the treat, but the dog would start to salivate just from the ring of the bell. Pavlov called this a learned response because it is something that does not involve conscious thought but is a conditioned reflex.
What does all this mean to us every day? Science works against our attempts to change. I want to get out of my comfort zones; to get better at weightlifting and running; and to be more skilled, efficient and comfortable in my new job, but there are naturally ingrained parts of me working against change—especially when it’s hard. We fight this by working every day to make slow, gradual changes.
I have to study manuals on total knee replacement to learn what tools are used when, I watched videos on the steps and procedures, and I went to work as prepared as I could to assist the surgeon. I paid close attention and took notes on what I need to learn to improve myself in my new job.
We might have an initial negative reaction to a new skill, food or a new exercise that is scary and hard, but that doesn’t mean we always have to react like that. Practice, patience and consistency will help us learn, and as we learn, we will become more comfortable with our new skill or task and our reaction will change.
Having the courage to change is the start of a journey and the first step out of our comfort zones.
I had the courage to change my job because I needed something different. I wanted a new challenge and skills, and I’m glad that I have started toward these new skills. Learning new surgeries and tools has been hard, but every day, every experience I have at work helps me to build my confidence and to find my new normal. This new job will be my new comfort zone.
What comfort zone do you want to change?