October 13

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Are You Trapping Yourself In Your Comfort Zone?

By Zoe Clements

October 13, 2020


Meet Brian...

Brian is The Comfort Zone King.........who lives inside my head. 

Yep I actually said that out loud! Let me explain . . .

Brian is the part of my brain who LUURRVVES it when I live in my comfort zone and who can blame him eh? Our comfort zones can often be warm snuggly places full of safety and certainty. Whether I be under a blanket on a cold winters day or emotionally tucked away from the world, Brian knows how to keep me safe and there are times when I blumin love Brian.

However. . . there are also times when Brian can be, let's just say, a little on the controlling side. He gets sooooooo focused on me being in my comfort zone that he will resort to anything to keep me there.

Now he might look like a harmless little fella but when something threatens his bubble of safety he kicks off big time. So for example, when I recently got the chance to be a guest on a Podcast, something I have never done before, Brian was not a happy chappy.

As soon as Brian detects I'm about to do something outside my comfort zone he starts being super NEGATIVE. WHAT IF this happens? WHAT IF that happens? Blah blah blah. To make things even worse, because he is throwing out disaster scenarios worthy of an Emmerdale plot, my body believes it's in mortal danger and decides to pump me full of anxiety! 

Arrgghhh! Talk about unhelpful!

So picture this scene, there I am at my desk, Brian is kicking off in my head and my body wants to do a runner and all I have done is open an email asking me to be on a Podcast! So at that moment it's really easy to start thinking that maybe, just maybe, Brian is right, maybe I should stay in my comfort zone! I mean I'm already full of fear and super uncomfortable and all I did was open an email so maybe I should say No and stay nice and safe in that comfort zone.....

And that, Ladies and Gentleman, is how crafty Brian tries to trap me in my comfort zone. His negative thoughts fill me with fear and anxiety, all with the intention of ensuring I stay in my comfort zone.

Over the last 15 years I've realised everybody has a version of Brian in their heads. For some it's more like mouse whispering doubts in their ear and for others it's more like a screaming monkey jumping up and down! 

Why do our brains try to trap us in our comfort zones?

As we found out in Part 1 of my Taming Negative Thoughts blog series, our brain is always scanning for danger as it wants to keep us safe. Unfortunately our negative brain either sees you as safe or in danger! This totally worked for us when we were cave people as we were either safe in our cave or in danger of being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger. However the negative brain now has to deal with things that tip us outside our comfort zone, but which aren't going to kill us, so it does a really crappy job of assessing the situation!

So how do we escape the trap and step outside our comfort zone?

The first step to change is always awareness. Knowing, and accepting, that Brian lives inside all our heads, to some extent, means we can start to take back some control over that voice.

I can almost hear you saying....

"Erm that's all very well Zoe but how do I escape the trap when I'm full of fear and I want to hide under the table?"

Let me first say that I'm not going to trot out the famous phrase "Feel The Fear & Do It Anyway"! That is all very well and good but if it was that easy then you would already be doing that. So I'm going to recommend using a CBT technique called the STOPP Method which we looked at in-depth in Part 3 of my Blog series on Negative Thoughts.

How does the STOPP Method work?

By going through the 5 steps we are able to recognise the trap and challenge the negative thoughts. We then gain a more rational perspective, reducing fear and anxiety and this puts us in control of our behaviour. WHOOP!

So let's use the example of how I went from being trapped by Brian, and wanting to say No to the Podcast, to making a more rational decision...

STEP 1) I noticed the SIGNS that my negative thoughts were out of control i.e. (Brian kicking off)

Knowing the signs of when Brian is trying to trap me means that I can start to take back control. The signs I noticed were:

  • Thoughts - Brian played the What IF Game (What if this happens, What if that happens). He turned into a massive drama queen, created disaster scenarios and called me an Imposter (What a charmer eh?!)
  • Feelings - I felt a bucket load of fear
  • Body - In my body I felt my heart racing, my stomach churning and I was tense
  • Behaviour - I wanted to hide away and say no

STEP 2) I TOOK a break to calm down

As Brian freaked out my body I needed to take a break and calm myself down so I could think more rationally. So I took myself off for a cuppa tea and distracted myself with some Netflix until I felt calm and then returned to the email.

STEP 3) I objectively OBSERVED what Brian was trying to tell me

  • He was right, I hadn't done a Podcast before so this was outside my comfort zone
  • He wanted me to be safe, say No and stay safe in my comfort zone
  • I identified the types of unhelpful negative thoughts he was using to create the fear: Catastrophising; Imposter; What if (learn more about the different types of types of Unhelpful negative thoughts here)
  • I recognised it was the catastrophe thought of "It's going to be a disaster" that produced the most fear

STEP 4) I then got a rational PERSPECTIVE by challenging his thoughts

  • I grabbed a pen and paper and listed the evidence FOR & AGAINST the thought 'It's going to be a disaster.'
  • As the evidence didn't support the thought I was able to create an alternative thought which significantly reduced my fear and anxiety

STEP 5) How do I need to PROCEED?

As I had a different perspective I felt less scared and I didn't feel like I had to say no and hide! I had escaped the trap! 

So now you would be forgiven for thinking I said yes and did the Podcast. Well actually that's not quite the end of the story and it's why STEP 5 is so important.

Before I get to that I want to spend a moment busting a myth about comfort zones.

Quotes like the following are misleading:

  • 'Life begins at the end of your Comfort Zone'
  • 'Outside your Comfort Zone is where the magic happens'

Why?

Whilst getting out our comfort zones helps us grow, we cannot ignore the fact that feeling safe is a basic human need and therefore we wouldn't be able to survive without it! Now I dunno about you but I think that makes our comfort zones pretty magical too.

In my experience comfort zones look less like this this cheesy picture...

And more like this....

We all need a safe place to be and there is no shame in retreating to it when we need to. So STEP 5 is important as we ask ourselves 'What do I need now?'

When I asked myself this question I found the answer wasn't straight forward.

As I looked down the list I recognised that doing the Podcast would very much satisfy my need for growth but I also acknowledged it was the anniversary of the death of a loved one and I needed to be in my comfort zone and look after myself mentally and emotionally.

So what do I do?

Now I was no longer trapped by Brain I realised I could step outside my comfort zone and do the Podcast however I knew I needed to delay this for a while. I contacted the Podcast person and we arranged to make the Podcast a little later meaning I could look after myself for a bit and then do it!

The Moral of the Story is...

Our needs change all the time. Sometimes we need to stay in our comfort zone and sometimes we need to step out of it and grow. So the moral of the story is always ask yourself why you are in your comfort zone, is it because you are trapping yourself with negative thoughts or is it because you really need to look after yourself. If its the former then try the STOPP Method and wrestle back that control.

The Punchline...

Oh so I never told you what the topic of my Podcast ....wait for it..

'Unhelpful Negative Thoughts and How to Challenge Them!'

Turns out I know a lot about this subject!

If you would like to hear the Podcast then follow this link: The infamous Podcast

Zoe Clements

About the author

Zoe Clements is an experienced BACP Accredited Counsellor and Author specialising in overthinking, anxiety, people pleasing and pesky self doubt.

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