This month’s topic is “Walls”. Rather than perceiving walls as a ‘physical’ object, we may also view walls as psychological barriers and mental limits. We all have walls in our minds. Walls that are difficult to break through or overcome, because the thing that is waiting on the other side may be daunting or scary, because it’s just so new.
Whether it is leaving the country for a few years to move to an unfamiliar place, or telling our crush how we feel about them, or even trying out a particular type of food that looks weird to us – every single one of us has at least one big red STOP sign that starts flashing brightly, sounding an internal brain alert whenever that one crazy thought pops up in our mind. But how about instead of enforcing that stop sign, we ignore it? What happens when we decide to go for something that we are afraid of; when we decide to jump into the cold water and accept our faith?
It’s called “leaving the comfort zone” and, as it turns out, it’s good for you! Your comfort zone is an artificial mental boundary, which gives you a sense of security and feelings of, well, comfort. Within this artificial comfort zone, everything is routine, familiar and safe. Instead of locking ourselves up in our dull, routine-filled lives, we ought to try new things in order to form new opinions and grow. It’s scary as hell, but very often worth it. Here are a few benefits of leaving the comfort zone that have been proven in studies and are backed by science:
1. A challenge can improve your performance
Perhaps you have faced this situation before: You have a deadline for your paper looming tomorrow. And unless you are a super punctual, totally organized person, you may have not finished your 3000 Word paper yet. Yes, you still have more than half to go in fact. What happens? A break of sweat and lots of cursing later, you write more than 1500 Words in just 24 hours and hand it in in time for the deadline (even if it’s a minute before), right?
Well, this is not unusual. It has been proven as early as 1908, when two Harvard psychologists, Robert Yerkes and John Dodson, conducted a study, that anxiety enhances performance. However, there is a flip side to it. The same study and many others that followed, also showed that when stress gets too high, performance suffers. The challenge, therefore, lies in finding the magic middle ground between beneficial anxiety and paralyzing anxiety.
Leaving your comfort zone will improve your overall performance
2. Taking risks helps us grow
Leaving the comfort zone means taking risks. Taking risks has an enormous impact on our personal development, studies have found. Remember when you were a kid. Most likely you took many more risks back then, than you are now. As kids we are not accustomed to following strict rules and worrying about what other people think we should do; we are much more inclined to go with our gut feeling and without judgment or fear of failure do what we feel like doing at that very particular moment.
It has become clear over many studies that taking risks and personal development is what ultimately makes you “you”. In his book Self-Renewal: The Individual and Innovative Society by John W. Gardener, he talks about how we need to take risks in order to learn and grow. However, as we age, we loose the ability to be risk-happy and instead develop a fear of failure. Many reasons contribute to this: The current education system, sometimes our parents and ultimately society. We need to regain our love for learning by embracing failure, not fearing it.
To grow, we need to make risk our friend
3. It can boost your creativity!
Openness to new experiences can actually boost your creativity. A Research conducted in 2012 tested three groups of students: one that was studying abroad, a second group that was planning to study abroad, and a third group that never studied abroad and did not plan to. Students in the first group, that were studying abroad for a semester or two, scored higher on two creativity tests than the other two groups in the study. Staying in the familiar environment – a neat, clean bubble where life seems to be more predictable – will inhibit your ability to be creative. Leaving the comfort zone can be messy. But within mess usually creativity is born and can flourish. One of Albert Einstein’s most famous quotes demonstrates this with an interesting metaphor related to your desk:
“If a desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” -Albert Einstein
So go ahead, make that desk of yours messy!
4. It can improve your mental health in the long run
Leaving your comfort zone every now and then does wonders for your brain. One study showed that learning mentally demanding skills improved mental health in the elderly. In this study, 221 adults, aged 60 to 90, were put in several groups. Some had to learn entirely new skills which demanded a lot of mental concentration, such as photography or quilting. Others were merely asked to listen to classical music or engage in social activities such as field trips.
The findings of the study were that, after three months, adults who were learning entirely new skills showed improvements in memory compared to the other groups, who engaged in social activities or non-demanding mental activities at home. “It seems it is not enough just to get out and do something—it is important to get out and do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging, and that provides broad stimulation mentally and socially,” says psychological scientist and lead researcher Denise Park.
Try it out!
All these benefits are a good reason to go out there and try something new. It doesn’t matter what it is, but you just have to do it. Apply to that university that is 3000 Km away from your home, try out that new hobby, or just ask your crush out for coffee. Life is too short to stay in our bubble and live alongside a wall. A whole world is out there, and unless we actively grab it, it will slip through our fingers, if we don’t ignore that flashing stop sign in our heads every once in a while.