What makes it such a struggle for women to step into a new phase, even when we know it’s the right thing to do? It’s hard to make big changes because, however unsatisfying it is where we are, it is also comfortable.
The routines and habits of our comfort zones make us feel safe: our coffee shop or book club; the well-known route to work, the weekly shop at the familiar supermarket or the regular date with a friend. We construct a bubble of activities that are predictable.
But at some point dissatisfaction sets in. The job becomes too stressful, the marriage takes strain; you’re not earning an adequate living, or you feel numb and unfulfilled. Doing something about that means challenging your comfort zone, and that means stepping out of your perceived ‘safe’ place, which is going to cause you anxiety. What if you are making the wrong choice? What if there’s too little of what you want on the other side of the fence?
So you wait for a guarantee that you will be safe and comfortable if you shift. Perhaps you say when I (have enough money, am 10kg lighter, find the right partner), then I will do whatever it is that will make me happy. Meanwhile, you stay stuck.
If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you keep getting what you’ve always got. To create a different life you have to do some things differently. You have to start something or end something or shift a pattern of behaviour. Change is the one thing we can be sure of, and yet it can be terrifying. Even if the comfort zone is painful we still don’t step out of it until the discomfort of staying where we are is greater than our fear of the unknown.
What strategies do we use to put off the moment of truth? The first is avoidance. Alcohol, drugs, shopping, work, food, computer games, TV, exercise, sex, sleep and perfectionism are all avoidance techniques. So is the chronic complaint – being a victim.
The second is blame. We look around for someone to take responsibility for the fact that we are stuck: our parents, our partners, our children. The third is denial, which helps us to ignore our problems until they blow up in our faces. Or we may indulge in fantasy: a belief that a solution will fall from the sky without us having to do anything at all.
But there is a cost to your health and well being if you sabotage your growth and deny what your nature is calling out for. This doesn’t mean you should never consider anyone else; it means that you must acknowledge your feelings and find ways to accommodate them.
To move out of the comfort zone:
Face what hurts: What’s missing from your life? What’s past its sell by date? Where are you stuck? What do you want? What distractions do you use to avoid taking the first step?
Face your fear
What scares you about making a shift? Who or what is holding you back? What will you leave behind? What might you become? What limiting beliefs do you have to challenge?
Create a vision
Where would you like to be? Can you visualise a new situation? Is this truly what inspires you or is it something you think you ought to do? Spend some time defining your purpose and your passion.
Make a decision
Decide whether this is something you want to achieve or not, and if it’s the right time to act. Ask yourself Could I take this step? Would I? When?
Do something, say something or commit to something. You may not be able to make the big leap all in one go; sometimes you take a series of small steps to inch towards your goal.
This is the last of five columns in which Cape Town-based writing coach and journal-writing facilitator, Catherine Eden (firstname.lastname@example.org or www.cathyeden.co.za) offers questions for you to mull over, quietly, privately and without self-judgement. Journal writing – the process of putting your thoughts down on paper and reflecting on them – is an easy, therapeutic way to explore life’s big questions and begin a constructive dialogue with yourself.