How Your Comfort Zone Can Keep You Stuck in Your Driving Fears

comfort zone“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin gave us that gem of a quote, and it is an excellent one to apply to that thing called a comfort zone. Despite its cozy-sounding name, a comfort zone is not necessarily a place of comfort at all. In fact, the place can be quite uncomfortable. Yet it’s a place we choose to stay, quite simply, because we are accustomed to it. We know how it feels, what to expect and what’s expected of us if we stay in that zone.

Some examples can include:

  • The comfort complainers: Folks who seem happiest when they’re acting miserable, always complaining about one thing or another
  • The comfort dead-end jobbers: Workers who cry about their dead-end jobs that will never take them anywhere yet continue to show up each day for that same job for years on end
  • The comfort drama queens (or kings): People who appear most comfort and at home in a life that is swirling with drama and chaos

And let’s not forget the potential comfort zone that is one lined sweetly with driving fears.

What Happens to Driving Fears in Your Comfort Zone

  • You can become complacent and eventually cemented in unwillingness to change
  • Your fears can start compounding, feeding on each other until you’re not only afraid of driving but you become fearful of social situations or even leaving the house
  • You can become sullen, miserable and unproductive

A long-ago yet still famous 1908 experiment using mice showed just how important a bit of stimulation is to productivity. The experiment found that situations with no stimulation, like the no-stress arena of your comfort zone, produced poor productivity. At the other extreme, situations with high amounts of stimulation, like the high-stress arena of just jumping into a car and saying to heck with it all, produced equally poor results.

Productivity was instead at its best with a bit of stimulation, or a little edginess at moving outside your comfort zone.

“We need a place of productive discomfort,” motivational author Daniel Pink told The New York Times. “If you’re too comfortable, you’re not productive. And if you’re too uncomfortable, you’re not productive.” 

Another side effect of sticking around in your comfort zone for too long can come if you want to move out of it yet seem unable to take any action. Your lack of action, in turn, makes you feel awful.

“You can get down on yourself because you see yourself as stagnant,” The New York Times quotes business consultant A. J. Schuler. 

What You Can Do to Break Free

When it comes to change for a business move, Schuler recommends getting two or three people together as a kind of mini-support group that listen to your litany of difficulties making that move.

Perhaps the same tactic can work for your driving fears.

Brené Brown, University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work research professor and author of “The Gifts of Imperfection,” told the Times what she believed was one of the foremost roadblocks in the quest for comfort zone escape.

“I think the biggest mistake people make is not acknowledging fear and uncertainty,” she said.

The next step recommended by Schuler is to recognize and set aside the time you’ll need to get over the loss of your comfort zone. While this may sound a bit strange, any loss can result in some type of grief. In the case of your comfort zone, you are losing a self-made safety net of sorts. True, the safety net has morphed into more like a straightjacket, but it’s a jacket you’re used to wearing just the same.

As strange as it may seem, mourning the loss of your comfort zone can be a necessary and vital step in moving forward. Heck, even people recovering from addiction often find themselves mourning the loss of the addictive substance, even though that substance may have been killing them.

The uncertainty and discomfort that always comes with change can do that to a person.

The finale in Schuler’s three-step plan of action for change is to look for opportunities to enact the change you want to occur – and keep on keeping on with it. While Schuler’s recommendations may be geared toward moving forward after a career change, they can apply to change in any of life’s arenas.

What Else You Can Do

Tiny Buddha goes for what may seem like an easier-said-than-done strategy, but that doesn’t mean the tactic is impossible. That tactic is not only facing your fear, but respecting it and embracing it – then using your fear to your advantage. 

“The trick is to not let it immobilize you, but instead, use it as a driving force to take you where you want to go,” Tiny Buddha blogger Jacob Sokol writes.

This tactic can be most effective when you remember that fear and excitement are two sides of the same coin. Both produce the same pumped-up, high-energy feeling. The fear side just makes the energy negative while the excitement side transforms it to a positive experience.

Practice turning that fear into excitement by changing your outlook. Instead of saying “My nerves are fried and I’m too scared to try driving,” flip it around. Say something like, “My nerves are alive and I’m feeling amped-up to try driving.”

Tiny Buddha points out an even better way to think about it by taking a cue from Gestalt therapy founder Fritz Perls.

“Fear is excitement without the breath,” Perls tells us. 

Remember to breathe, and you have a good chance of making the fear-to-excitement transformation.

Tips for Facing Your Fears and Moving out of Your Comfort Zone

Additional tips come from the A Lifetime of Wisdom website:

Move in baby steps. Don’t expect to conquer years and years worth of built-up driving fear in a single fell swoop. Don’t even try to. Instead take bite-sized positive actions in gradual increments, small things you can handle on a daily basis. Before you know it the small steps will indeed lead to a giant leap.

Arm yourself with knowledge. Read up on the real dangers of driving to see where, or even if, your fears match. When they do, beef up your driving skills with more knowledge and practice. When they don’t, remind yourself that the unrealistic fears have no basis in reality.

Arm yourself with motivational stories. Research and read up on the experiences of other people who have successfully moved through their driving phobias or any other fears. Take a cue from their actions. Use their stories as motivation. You can even reach out to them or others for support – and may one day be a successful motivator for others yourself.


Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc