Ever heard of the comfort zone? If you’re reading this, I’d venture to say you have. There’s a lot of talk about this zone in the self development world, most of which encourages us to do whatever we can to get OUT of it. The comfort zone is seen as a place where we timidly hide, not wanting to rock the boat, take risks, or put ourselves out there in a way that really lets us shine, because we’re too afraid. Depending on the circumstances, moving beyond such limitations can be solid advice. But, there’s another zone that’s just as important to talk about. And sometimes, the wisdom of staying IN it can appear to conflict with this popular instruction. What zone am I talking about?
Your Authentic Zone
I’m not even sure authentic zone is an established term, but if it isn’t, I’m coining it here. What does it mean? And how does it relate to your comfort zone? That’s what I’m exploring in today’s post. Both zones exist, but it can be tricky telling the difference between the two. Yet, it’s so important that we do. Especially when we’re trying to make a decision about what direction we want to take or how we want to put ourselves out there in the world. Because the fact is, it’s not always true that doing what makes us feel uncomfortable is the best choice. In fact, sometimes following that lead can take us way off track.
In this post, we’re going to look at the difference between the comfort zone and your authentic zone. And more importantly, how you can tell which one is working beneath the surface when you’re getting signals to leap forward or hold back. Deciphering between the two requires deep self-listening and self-trust, but once you hone in on your authentic zone, making decisions that align with your truest path becomes easier. You’re better prepared to stretch yourself when needed, and also confident enough with your inner radar to allow it to guide you.
While it’s limiting to get stuck in your comfort zone, where you live from a place of fear or complacency, it’s not wise to make choices based on pressure – from ourselves or others – to simply do what makes us uncomfortable. As if the fact we’re feeling resistant to something automatically signifies this is an area of growth we need to tackle. Or, it’s just a fear we have to conquer to achieve our full potential. Sometimes, we feel resistance to something because it’s not in line with what we’re trying to achieve. It’s our authentic zone that registers this.
Case In Point…
I’ve been reflecting on this topic because I just had an experience that challenged me to listen deeply to my inner guidance. Recently, I was presented with an opportunity to speak to a sizable audience. Instead of being delighted at the offer, I felt resistance to it almost immediately. On the surface, this didn’t make sense. With my work here on this blog and the book I’m writing, the whole point is to share it with as many people as possible. So it would seem I should’ve celebrated this opportunity right off the bat. But I didn’t. I struggled with whether or not I wanted to accept it.
My husband challenged me to work through my resistance. He emphasized what a great opportunity I was being handed and encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone to seize it. I absorbed this advice. In truth, I was already thinking the same thing myself. While I’ve spoken in front of large audiences several times in the past, and I’ve led many workshops for smaller groups, speaking isn’t as much my forte as writing is. I knew this opportunity would require me to step out of my usual comfort zone, and I didn’t want that to hold me back.
So I sat with my mixed emotions, giving them space to expand and then deflate. I used the techniques for building courage I shared previously here on my blog. And on the other side of all this, I decided to forge ahead and seize the day. It felt empowering! As I began planning out what to present, excitement began to brim. But over the following two days, as I continued fleshing out the details for the presentation, I realized my resistance was re-surging. Something didn’t feel right, and I knew it wasn’t fear. What, then, was getting in the way?
My Authentic Voice
When I took some time to reflect on my inner resistance to the project, the answer suddenly crystallized for me. It became so clear, I knew without question it was my truth. I could feel it in every cell of my being. The reality was, I wasn’t pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I was forcing myself out of my authentic zone. The two experiences can feel similar, because we’re not comfortable when we’re outside either zone. But there’s a huge difference in terms of what’s driving them beneath the surface.
The setting for this particular speaking engagement was a live music event. I would’ve been presenting either before it started or during the break between sets. I love live music, and I’ve spoken at events featuring it before. However, I realized this particular arrangement wasn’t ideal for what I’m feeling compelled to share at this point in my life.
I’d known this from the start. I hadn’t openly acknowledged it, but in the back of my mind, the dissonance was there. In fact, it was the source of my struggle. I’d been trying to find a way to fit my content into the context of the event, and it just wasn’t feeling right. It wasn’t feeling like my authentic voice was coming through. When I recognized this, I knew I had to make a choice. I could stick with a message I felt passionate about sharing and risk it not resonating in a mismatched setting. Or, I could push myself to create something that would likely be received well, even though I felt less connected to the content.
The Aha Moment
After some deep self-reflection and consideration of the matter, I chose a third option. I let the opportunity pass. I decided to stay true to my authentic voice and to trust there’s a better fit for a speaking engagement out there for me. It will come along, and when it does, I’ll stretch out of my comfort zone to seize it if needed. But doing so will be much easier when I know it’s aligned with the vision I’m working to create.
As soon as I came to this conclusion, I felt a peace within me. And interestingly, I felt empowered. More empowered than I’d felt when I’d decided to forge ahead. Trusting my gut and honoring my authentic zone – even when it seemed to fly in the face of common wisdom – felt like the truest empowerment I could give myself.
This was such an aha moment for me, I continued to reflect on it over the following weeks. I looked back on many forks in my road – points in my life when I’d made the decision to just push myself out of my comfort zone without really considering if it was serving my growth in the way I needed at the time. Or if it was actually taking me in a direction that would best support my life purpose. I realized I’d gone down many paths that weren’t truly suited for me. Sure, I’d grown along the way regardless. But, I’d taken side roads I didn’t need to. I’d made myself feel uncomfortable unnecessarily, because those aimless opportunities hadn’t been the right ones for me. They didn’t lead me where I wanted to go.
What I discovered was, there’s a big difference between the comfort zone and my authentic zone, even though they can sometimes offer up resistance to the same things. And that difference matters. The more I stay inside my authentic zone – whether that means staying in my comfort zone or getting out of it – the more direct my path to any goals and visions I set for myself will be.
The Difference Between The Comfort Zone & Authentic Zone
What’s the difference between these two zones? To be able to distinguish which one is influencing our decisions, we need to have a solid understanding of how each zone operates within us. How does it feel when we’re in them? What motivating forces drive them? Once we know this, we can check-in with ourselves to decipher which zone is speaking to us as we contemplate a decision.
The Comfort Zone
The comfort zone is the psychological territory where we feel most at ease. It dwells in the realm of our ordinary daily routines and doesn’t challenge us to try something different or to take action that scares or tests us in any way. It easily utilizes the skill sets we’ve already claimed ownership of, within contexts we’ve come to trust will ensure optimal results. Because of this, there’s not much risk in the comfort zone. For the most part, we know what to expect from ourselves and the world when we stay inside it.
To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the comfort zone. Without it, we’d likely live in a heightened state of anxiety much of the time. Our peace of mind, as well as our sense of safety, security, and competence would be in constant flux. Furthermore, the fact we even have a comfort zone means we’ve successfully navigated some important areas of our life. It’s a feat worth celebrating and savoring.
However, the popular advice to get out of our comfort zone holds merit. Especially if we’re trying to accomplish something new, achieve a big goal, or grow in some aspect of our life. Change always brings a degree of discomfort, but we can’t get new results if we keep doing the same things we’ve always done. When we push ourselves to do something extra-ordinary, we evolve. We get to see ourselves in a new light. The inner work required to summon courage and examine our resistances makes us stronger and wiser.
Inner Workings of The Comfort Zone
Obviously, when we’re in our comfort zone, we feel comfortable. But what is the nature of that comfort? And what are the forces that keep us from wanting to step out of it, even when doing so could open the door to that special something we’re wanting to achieve? The lists below take a deeper look at this, but your experience may vary. Feel free to add to either side what you’ve noticed within you.
What The Comfort Zone Feels Like
- Under control
- Being in your wheelhouse
What Motivates Us to Stay In It
- Desire to protect you
- Fear of failure
- Fear of loss
- Fear of losing face
- Lack of motivation
- Lack of confidence or self esteem
- Discomfort with the unknown
When we compare these two lists, it’s clear why pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone isn’t something we choose to do frequently or easily. The forces on the right are powerful motivators. Staying in that safe, secure space on the left feels much cozier than having to face them. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t rise to the challenge when we need to. And when we’re in our authentic zone, doing so becomes much easier.
The Authentic Zone
Our authentic zone is truly unique. While it may be with us our entire lives, it often takes a lot of self-discovery to clearly identify it, connect with it, and find our way to staying confidently within it. That’s because from the time we’re young, we’re confronted daily with all sorts of messages from family, friends, and society-at-large telling us who we’re supposed to be, what we’re supposed to value, and what’s possible or impossible for us. This picture gets even more jumbled when we recognize the messages we’ve absorbed often conflict with each other. By the time we’re adults, we’ve got a lot to sort through.
Add to this our own natural tendencies to question ourselves. The gradual process required to master a talent or skill, which sometimes requires trial and error. The vast field of potentiality we must narrow down in order to determine our life path. And all the obstacles and unexpected twists that can arise along the way. It’s no wonder discovering – much less stepping into – our authentic zone takes time and intentional effort.
But once we find it, we know it. It feels right, as if everything fits precisely as it should. Our life purpose becomes clear. We know we have the skills and knowledge we need to rise to this purpose, and if not, we trust we can acquire them. Our authentic zone is that sweet spot where our values, beliefs, intuitive wisdom, and actions synchronize with our goals. And our body-mind-spirit system aligns with this synergy. Because of this, we trust ourselves to find our way forward. We turn inward to find our answers and feel confident in sharing our authentic self with the world.
What Authentic Zone Feels Like
What Motivates Us to Stay In It
- Desire to express one’s self
- Desire to achieve a purpose
- Desire to stay true to one’s values, beliefs, life purpose
- Desire to see one’s self clearly
- Respect for one’s inner experience (physical, emotional, mental & spiritual)
- Love of life
- Love of one’s self
You may notice confident and competent appear on the list for what it feels like for both zones. It could be argued self-supportive applies to both zones as well. These lists aren’t conclusive, nor are they exactly the same for everyone. But what’s important to note is that sometimes our authentic and comfort zones can feel similar. And when we have resistance to taking some step in life, either or both of these zones can generate discomfort. That’s what makes it tricky to determine whether we’re merely hiding in our comfort zone, or what we’re contemplating doing is out of alignment with our authentic self. Observing our motivating forces can shed light.
How To Distinguish Between The Comfort Zone & Authentic Zone
To identify which zone is offering up resistance, we have to turn inward and listen closely to what’s happening in our body-mind-spirit system. The goal as we do this is to recognize which motivating forces are being triggered. There are a variety of ways to access this clarity, some of which I’ve listed below. You can use any one of them, or better yet a combination of them, to help you see your decision-making process more clearly.
Give It Time
First and foremost, it’s important to give yourself time to explore your inner response before making a decision. With my recent experience, it took several days to get to the bottom of my resistance. My realization came in layers, as I first dealt with my comfort zone reaction and then later, discovered an incongruity arising from my authentic zone. We’re complex creatures. Oftentimes our first reaction is knee-jerk. If we only pay attention to this, we can miss other, just as valid factors at play. When we give our decision-making process space and time, we allow underlying forces to make their way to the surface for our evaluation.
I know I talk a lot about body awareness here on my blog, but that’s because it’s such a rich source of insight and wisdom. Observing our bodily sensations, and especially how our emotions show up in our body, can reveal much about what’s motivating us and what’s in or out of synch in our lives. The more we pay attention to this, the easier it is to access our intuitive wisdom.
In this case, you can check in with your body to notice where you’re feeling resistance as you contemplate your decision. Closing your eyes, take some time to notice what sensations are present. What do they feel like? Where do you feel them in your body? What emotion(s) do you connect with these sensations?
Anxiety and fear often cause elevated heart rate, increased temperature and tightness in the chest. For me, it can also manifest as a difficulty connecting to my bodily sensations, especially in my legs and feet, because I’m not grounded. If you’re feeling your resistance in your chest area, or your pulse and temperature are elevated, you’re likely experiencing fear. Explore what’s triggering it. Fear is a strong motivating factor that can create resistance to taking a big step in your life, and it usually arises from your comfort zone.
Intuition feels markedly different. It tends to make itself known in your gut. When it’s offering up resistance, it often feels like a twisting into knots, a sourness, or other general uneasiness. When you listen to your intuition, this dis-ease dissolves. In its place, you feel a calm resoluteness. Your whole body, in fact, feels more at ease. Intuition arises from your authentic zone, so if it’s telling you something isn’t right, it’s a good sign the action you’re considering might not be aligned with your values or life purpose.
Journaling can be a powerful way to access clarity and insight. Especially when you use stream of consciousness writing. This means, simply writing whatever comes to mind – without editing yourself, worrying about someone else reading it, or trying to achieve a specific goal. You’re just letting your thoughts flow onto the paper (or screen). This free form bypasses your analytical mind, so your subconscious mind can make itself known.
As you’re journaling, you might explore the following questions:
- What am I feeling?
- What am I afraid of?
- What do I hope to gain from this step?
- What would my future self tell me to do?
- What would my younger self tell me to do?
- If I take this step, how will my life be different five years from now?
- What’s the worst that could happen?
- What’s the best that could happen?
- If I had a spirit guide, what would it tell me to do?
These questions are just jumping-off points. You don’t have to stick to the train of thought you start out with. See where your intuition takes you as you let whatever comes to mind find expression in your journal.
Pay Attention to Your Dreams
Dreams can offer powerful insight when we’re feeling conflicted about something that’s happening in our lives. They’re a direct line to our subconscious mind, so they communicate intuitive wisdom. However, they do this in their own language, which is comprised of symbols, so they can also be difficult to interpret. Whether or not you’re familiar with dream interpretation, you can set the intention to pay more attention to what’s happening in your dreams.
Much of the time, our dreams are comprised of random content from our daily lives that doesn’t hold significant meaning. But when there’s resistance in our lives, or something’s lurking in a blind spot that our subconscious mind wants us to see, our dreams can serve it up on a platter for us to look at. These types of dreams tend to be more emotionally charged and stand out to us in some way, as if they’re begging for our attention.
If you have a dream like this, examine it soon after you wake up. Consider what stands out the most about it to you. Maybe even journal about it. How does it relate to the decision you’re trying to make? What can it tell you about your comfort zone versus your authentic zone?
The last technique involves visualizing yourself taking the step you’re considering taking. See yourself following through from beginning to end, including what you imagine might come as a result of it. As you’re doing this, notice what comes up for you in your body, mind, and spirit at each phase of the process.
If you initially feel fear, or any of the motivating factors associated with your comfort zone, imagine yourself rising above these obstacles. See yourself successfully facing your fears, and hold that vision until you no longer feel them in your body. Until all you feel is the glory of having championed your fears. In this way, you temporarily remove the obstacle of your comfort zone.
Stay with your inner awareness to see what arises next. If there’s any sign of resistance lingering, explore it to find out where it’s coming from. This is your opportunity to check in with your authentic zone. Is something not clicking right with your values, beliefs, life purpose, etc.? Try to pinpoint what’s out of alignment. Then visualize yourself taking a step forward that is in alignment. What would that look like? How does it feel to envision yourself doing it?
Avoiding Self-Deception From The Comfort Zone
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how powerful the fears and limiting beliefs that keep us locked in our comfort zone can be. We can sell ourselves all kinds of lies and half-truths in the name of keeping ourselves safe and secure. And when we do, it can be difficult to recognize it’s happening. The only way to avoid this is to ask ourselves the hard questions. Am I taking the easy way out? Is this really my authentic voice speaking? Or, am I using that as an excuse to not do something that challenges me?
If you ask these questions with a sincere desire to know the answer, your authentic self will give it to you. Maybe not instantly, but somehow, it will be revealed. As I mentioned earlier, the process of discovering and stepping into our authentic zone takes time and deep self-work. As we do this work, we develop self-trust and self-love. Every time we honor our authentic self by aligning with it, our capacity for this trust and love grows. If you sincerely seek an answer within yourself, you can’t hide the sincere answer from yourself. Not forever.
Along the path of developing self-trust and self-love, we may not always seek our answers sincerely. We may go into the process halfheartedly, so we can give ourselves more time to stay in our comfort zone. Or, for the sake of conquering some fear, we may push ourselves down a path that’s not entirely aligned with our authentic zone. And if so, that’s okay. We find our way eventually, and we learn valuable lessons all along the way, if we look for them. Regardless, we’re okay.
The important thing is that we’re seeking. Each time we uncover, and more importantly, honor the difference between our comfort zone and our authentic zone, we move closer to the fulfilling life we want to create for ourselves.
I’d like to close with a quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ powerful book, Women Who Dance With Wolves:
Practice listening to your intuition, your inner voice; ask questions; be curious; see what you see; hear what you hear; and then act upon what you know to be true. These intuitive powers were given to your soul at birth.Clarissa Pinkola Estes
The answers we seek are already within us. And the more we tune-in to our authentic zone, the more we come to rely on this innate, inner source of wisdom. I hope this post helps you come to know and trust this part of you more deeply. Namaste.
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. What has been your experience with the comfort zone? What’s your relationship to your authentic zone right now?