Comfort Zones

Many years ago when our son was 10 years old we went camping for the first time. We took a small tent, sleeping bags, and a small cooking platform that we heated with cans of Sterno. We camped in a wilderness area of the Adirondack mountains with no other campers for miles around. We have priceless memories of that trip. The next year we took a cook stove and stayed at a campground, complete with pool, store and the option to buy cooked pizza. The following year, we replaced the tent with a small camping trailer with a heater so we could avoid sleeping on the ground.

What was happening here was not that we were becoming more affluent, but that we were now bringing our comfort zone with us. We humans have a tendency to want to make experiences “better”, but in so doing we generally make them more like other experiences: we create a comfort zone. Similarly, my job used to require periodic trips to New York City. I found that when I had a travel companion I had less stress for the trip. What I discovered was that, when not alone, we tend to discuss topics that keep our minds focused on what we know, not on where we are or what we might experience. Again, we create a comfort zone that isolates us from the world around us.

Are comfort zones wrong? Should we always strive for new experiences? No, comfort zones are vital to our life and are where we do most of our thinking. My thought is that we generally keep our comfort zones too small; we reject new ideas or experiences. Consciously stretching our comfort zones to include a wider range of experiences helps us enjoy our days more. Finding our current zone is a good start. With what people do we feel uncomfortable? Do we reject certain relationships to avoid discomfort even when those relationships are important? Do we limit our reading only to novels with predictable plots? Do we always travel in controllable environments? We all find some truth in such questions.

The opposite of the comfort zone is the adventure. An adventure is any activity that is new, even if just shopping at a new store or talking with a new neighbor. Each such adventure widens our awareness of our world. Yes, it’s okay if you drive a different route to work tomorrow. You’ve been eating corn flakes for breakfast for decades? Try raisin bran for a change. Each little window we open brings in more light. Let’s open some windows.