Turn Setbacks into Setups

Comfort Zones and Life Experiences

January 7, 2019

On the experiential spectrum of our lives, we have comfort zones at one end, and life experiences on the other. Comfort zones are hard to step out of—not just because they’re comfy, but because the desire to stick to our comfort zone seems hard-wired in our biology as we age. In other words, it’s not entirely our fault for sticking to what or who we know. However, it is a root cause of why we often feel a sense of complacency or stagnation as we get older.


We won’t lie, new life experiences can cause stress and anxiety. But this is exactly why they’re so important for your continued development!  The “right amount of stress” can have significant benefits in life, even beyond getting you that elusive “something you don’t yet have.”


“If you want something you don’t yet have, you must do something you have not yet done.” This isn’t just a saying—it’s a clear, scientific fact.


Our brain is often compared to the other muscles in our body because of how it reacts to “training.” Just like how our bodies get stronger and faster with regular exercise, so too can our brain undergo some pretty substantial changes.New experiences can stimulate increased brain development, create positive attitude changes, extend your comfort zone, reduce mental deterioration as we age, and more! Check out some of the ways research has shown that stepping out of your comfort zone is way more than just a saying.


Continuity Theory – Always Stay Engaged!

Adults who are middle-aged and older often end up maintaining the same general lifestyle and belief system they had when they were younger—including old relationships, behaviors, ideas, and activities.

This means we need to try that much harder to break free of our existing mental structure, and to step outside of this comfort zone. Thus, it becomes more and more important for us to try new things as we grow older.

Atchley, R. C. (1989). A Continuity Theory of Normal Aging. The Gerontologist, 29(2), 183-190.


Stay Sharp Longer

Providing your yourself with novel stimulation (aka: new life experiences) triggers structural brain changes, and can significantly reduce your risk of mental aging as you get older.

One study demonstrated that older adults who keep their brain sharp through regular games and puzzles, hobbies, arts and crafts, and physical exercise find a decreased risk for some of the most common mental issues as we age, such as memory loss, decreased mental processing, and even the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

La Rue, A. (2010). Healthy Brain Aging: Role of Cognitive Reserve, Cognitive Stimulation, and Cognitive Exercises. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, 26(1), 99-111.


Your Mind Acts Like A Muscle

Neuroplasticity is the human brain’s ability to shape and grow according to its surroundings or “input.” Studies have shown that novel stimulation can cause the brain to grow or change in as little as five days.

Much like any other muscle, your brain can be trained to adapt and respond to different types of stimulation more quickly, and certain skills and functions can be improved through regular usage. In other words, repeated exposure to new experiences can literally change the structure of our minds.

May, A., Hajak, G., Gänßbauer, S., Steffens, T., Langguth, B., Kleinjung, T., & Eichhammer, P. (2007). Structural Brain Alterations following 5 Days of Intervention: Dynamic Aspects of Neuroplasticity. Cerebral Cortex, 17(1), 205-210.


Novelty Has An Expiration Date

Remember, because your brain acts like a muscle, it will adjust to a new or different experience, and will begin to accept it as “normal.” This means without switching up your routine, you will create a new comfort zone for yourself, thus diminishing the returns of your “new” experience. We need to put ourselves through a little stress and anxiety every now and then in order to keep our life experiences engaging.


White, A. (2009). From Comfort Zones to Performance Management: Understanding Development & Performance. Belgium: White & MacLean Publishing.


Find the Motivation

Shaking things up isn’t always easy. But as the research shows, it’s absolutely in your best interest. For some more motivation to kick-start your next new life experience, check out this inspirational page, or make it personal and find yourself a Life Designer.

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