We all have it, that little area in our heads that we like to stay in, because it’s predictable and safe: the comfort zone. For some people it’s big, and for some people it’s small. For one person walking on stage in front of a crowd of fifty thousand is nothing, while another gets the creeps walking into a room with a few strangers in it. Our comfort zones are varied and different, just like us, but they have huge effects.
Cognitive dissonance is one aspect of our comfort zones. It’s the uncomfortable feeling that we get when we realise that we were wrong about something, when something we believed and trusted to be true turns out not to be. It’s amazing the lengths people will go to in order to avoid that feeling, and you can see it all the time around you. People refuse to believe things that are proven if they clash with their beliefs, for example, giving rise to some popular movements that on the face of it deny reason – like climate denial, creationism, 9/11 “truthers” and so on. The acknowledgement of reality becomes a step too far out of the comfort zone, and people find creative reasons not to do that.
Now there are good reasons for staying in our comfort zones at times: the world is a dangerous place, and when you mess with what you do not understand you can get hurt. Where you have the most expertise is a good place for you to be in society and contribute the most, you earn the best salary in your field. Don’t take time considering ideas that are outrageous, it’s a waste of energy that will almost certainly not be rewarded.
But there are many reasons to step outside our comfort zones too: if you do not challenge entrenched ideas, how do you know they still hold true? If you don’t try something new, how do you know you aren’t passing up on something good?
Now I will make a confession: I am on the high-functioning end of the autistic spectrum, and I have some serious comfort zones, and major problems stepping outside them. I used to be quite unwilling to get outside my little zones of safety, until I absolutely had to.
But when I did, I found that more often than not I loved it. Every time I have learned something new, done something different, and even if I didn’t like what I did, well I’d tried…
So we should step outside our comfort zones sometimes. We should think outside the box. It does us good whether we are right or wrong. Remember that the next time you reflexively say “no!” to something…you could be missing out on a LOT of fun!