At Times We Must Step Out Of The "Comfort Zone"

At Times We Must Step Out Of The "Comfort Zone"

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

A survey published in the June 2004 issue of the Journal of American Medical Association queried over sixty thousand people in 14 countries across the globe and found that the highest incidence of anxiety and depression is in the United States!

The incidence of mental illness is 26.4 percent in the U.S. compared to 8.2 in Italy, for example. How so? We are the most powerful and the most prosperous country in the world now or ever in the history of human kind! Yet, we are more unhappy than are our brothers and sisters in Europe, Asia or Africa!

Americans are more unhappy today than they were fifty or a hundred years ago, and yet we are more powerful and more prosperous than ever before.

The most common disorder in all the thirteen countries, with the exception of the Ukraine, was the anxiety disorder, which includes panic attacks, phobias, post-traumatic disorder and generalized anxiety.

Some say fear can rob you of success and many other life accomplishments. Is it really the fear that is the real culprit? Or, is the desire to stay in your "comfort zone" that's been preventing you from reaching for the stars?

Fear doesn't rob you of anything directly. Fear simply creates an uncomfortable physical and mental state. It's up to you what you want to do with that discomfort. Many of us naturally avoid that which we think would make us even more uncomfortable than what we already are.

Some validate their avoidance behavior with a postscript such as "I am so glad I turned down the offer to speak. I would have been totally tongue tied and made a fool of myself in front of all those people." How very short sighted! The one who avoids is not thinking far enough. He or she does not visualize the completion of the speech and thus misses experiencing the adrenalin rush of "I did it" feeling.

Talking about the discomfort of public speech, did you watch on TV the finale of the National Spelling Bee 2004 contest? Did you notice the breathlessness of the young man who was awarded the national championship? The breathlessness perhaps resulted from enormous stress the champion might have experienced.

I guess the young man, prior to getting to the stage experienced a little acceleration of breathing and some discomfort in the belly or the chest, but it did not cause him to drop out of the competition. He went ahead from an already uncomfortable state to an even more uncomfortable one. The reward for such determination was huge! Had he opted out of the contest to merely escape from discomfort, he would have missed out the opportunity for national recognition.

The story of the runner up in the same national spelling bee contest is even more inspiring. Many avoid taking part in a situation because they dread becoming a laughing stock in front of others. We all know a person or two who are afraid of going out lest they faint or fall in front of others. The mental image of people peering over their collapsed bodies and thinking of them as "some weirdo" or "crazy" person robs them of the freedom to participate in life at large.

The winner of the second prize in the contest wins the first prize for the "fall and rise" contest. He is my hero! When he was given the final word to spell, he faints and falls down. Had he gotten up and made a beeline (pun intended!) to the exit door, he would've been one more candidate in the long line of losers waiting in the wings.

He got up and instantly came back to the microphone to finish his turn. That wins our admiration. The fact that he spelled the word correctly in spite of his fainting and falling is not the cause of our admiration. But the act of not giving in to the feeling of embarrassment and coming back to face it is.

Many of us prefer to stay in the comfort zone and then, over time, the comfort zone becomes more uncomfortable than ever before. How ironical! The act of avoidance that offers a temporary sense of security becomes a source of all pervasive and ever present insecurity. And, thus a disabling condition of worries, anxieties and phobia sets in.

If you don't step out of your comfort zone and face your fears, the number of situations that make you uncomfortable will keep growing. Over time, you run the risk of feeling "surrounded" by previously avoided situations. It is like sleeping in a forest where wild animals freely roam.

I like the definition of courage as recently offered by John McCaine. Courage is not lack of fear. Courage is doing the right thing in spite of the fear.

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Copyright 2004, Mind Publications 
Posted June 2004


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