Getting Out of Our Comfort Zone

May 9, 2024

All this month we’re talking about growth, and today we are talking about getting out of our comfort zone. 

Amber, have you stepped out of your comfort zone in the last year? 

Well, where haven’t I stepped out of my comfort zone? I have had a really full year of change and transition. One of the most significant changes has been shifting from being the full-time custodial parent with my children (who are 19 and 21). I moved out of the house they grew up in and their dad moved in with them as of July of last year. Letting go of that control, allowing them space for connection and opportunities for growing their relationship. I’m not there 24/7. They can’t lean on me. I’m not that constant presence in their lives. I see them several times a week and we’re in touch quite often, but that was a big step of letting go. It was the right step. I know it was a healthy step, but it’s been uncomfortable. They didn’t like it at first. They were upset with me. They felt a little abandoned and had some triggers related to that because of their story, so we had a lot to work through.

We all like being in our comfort zone because it feels comfortable. When so much of our lives as single parents is challenging, it can feel really good to just simply hang out there. And after being through so much that has beaten us down, we don’t really have a clear grasp of our potential. But in order to grow, it’s important to step out of our comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory. Living within our comfort zone can be a welcome relief as we navigate the day-to-day trials of being a single parent. But if we stay there too long, it’s easy to become stagnant and just sit in that safety net and not reach our full potential. 

We’re going to cover three main points. Number one, we’re going to define the comfort zone. Number two, we’re going to talk about the growth zone and the panic zone. Third, we’re going to talk about moving into that growth zone and pushing ourselves out of the comfort zone. 

How do we know when we’re in our comfort zone?

I’m going to start off with a book that was written back in 1991 by an author named Judith Bardwick. It’s called “Danger in the Comfort Zone.” And she says, “The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.”

Amber, I want to know how you read that. What do you take away from that? Do you think that that’s true? Is “anxiety neutral” even a thing these days? 

It sounds pretty unattainable. I think it’s more like denial; it feels like you’re just dead inside. I think it’s complicated. I think the comfort zone can be exactly what this author described. There are some individuals who have reached a place in life where they’re in a situation and feel very skilled and capable. It’s no longer anxiety-inducing and they’re keeping the status quo. They’re in a rhythm. It’s routine, it’s predictable, and they’re cruising along and in their comfort zone. They’re happy with that. They’re enjoying it, delivering steadily. Do I think it’s common? Not so much. I think oftentimes we cruise along in what we call a comfort zone, but maybe we’re a little checked out. Maybe we’re a little resentful that life is so difficult. We have to stay on cruise or maybe we’re afraid to step out. I think anxiety-neutral is a pretty high bar. Underneath it all, fear is actually anxiety and it keeps you in your comfort zone. It might feel stress-free, you’re doing okay and there aren’t any surprises; everything’s in control. It’s a very steady and very predictable schedule, you know what to expect, but there aren’t any risks involved. She did say “usually without a sense of risk.” I think that might be some of that differentiator as well. Maybe there’s still some anxiety there 30 years later but the risk is taken away. 

“Anxiety-neutral” is a sense of denial where you just don’t want to deal with anything. You shut off, open a tub of ice cream and just sit there and eat it. It doesn’t mean that you’re comfortable—I guess there’s comfort to that, but it’s just status quo. We need to push past that. 

I want to point something out here. I had a successful career in the music business where I made a lot of money compared to where I am right now. I’ve had to work really hard on being content. I don’t see what we’re talking about here as being contentment necessarily. We’re talking about comfort as something that is just keeping us stagnant. Contentment is something that is a positive thing and we can be content in much or in little; we’re not talking about that. I don’t think that contentment is the same as comfort. The comfort that we’re trying to grow past is a level of complacency, which is very different from being content.

If we’re not in our comfort zone, what other zones might we be living in?

I think there are two. One is really healthy and positive: our growth zone. The other is the panic zone. They both involve something different than comfort. Let’s start with our growth zone. Our growth zone is uncomfortable and it’s challenging. We’re not getting to stay in the status quo anymore. And Positive Psychology says this, “The growth zone on the other hand is where you can set new goals, live your dreams, and there will be a learning stage which goes hand in hand with making mistakes and the risks are greater, but if you can overcome them, the rewards are significantly bigger.” So you’re laying some things on the line to go bigger and better. You’re definitely not in your status quo/predictable routine with little risk. You’re actually going toward a goal that’s maybe scary.

Moving out of the house to a new environment, trusting that my kids were going to be okay with their dad, trusting that they weren’t going to be super upset with me for a long, long time—it’s been growth for all of us. We really needed that change. The kids were overly dependent on me. It wasn’t the healthiest experience, especially as they’ve gotten older, and I really needed to move out and extricate myself from some of that to let them feel some of their growth edges.

I do think that it’s important when you’re looking at your growth zone to also understand that you have to be in a healthy place. That doesn’t mean you have to be completely healed and everything is good. But just recognize that and start moving in a direction. It doesn’t mean you’re going to accomplish everything right away, but you’re trending in that direction of, “Okay, I’m going to take a step in this.” And I also would add to not to have too many things in the growth zone at the same time—especially single parents. It’s taking one step, one foot in front of the other. You have to recognize that growth will feel uncomfortable similar to when your body has growing pains; it’s just a natural course. So you don’t want to just grow in every single area at the same time. And we’re feeling this right now with Solo as an organization. It’s growing really fast and it’s incredible to see it. And you could have stayed [in your comfort zone] and continued the organization the same way, but in order to see the growth that we’ve seen, you had to step out as a leader. And it’s scary. We reached a place in Solo Parent where we were hand to mouth, wondering how we were going to keep the lights on. And then suddenly we had the resources in order to grow. And the natural tendency is to circle the wagons and go, “Okay, well at least we could take a deep breath here and not worry about how we’re going to keep the lights on.” But that’s not what we were called to do. We were called to take what we’ve got and invest it and take risks. And that’s scary, especially if you are used to being hand to mouth and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I could just relax for a little bit.” But that’s not what we need to do as an organization. And as a solo parent, if you start getting footing, it is time to think about growing—and that’s not comfortable.

I really liked what you said earlier, where you talked about not having everything be unstable—that you need to be in a relatively healthy place in order to tolerate some of the risk of growth. Be willing to accept that self-doubt is going to come. You may make some mistakes, but when we’re trying, mistakes are proof and evidence that we’re out there and we are growing, and so I think just accepting that is necessary. You need to understand that growth means that you’re going to be learning new behaviors, new skills. Not only are you growing as an individual, but you’re also honing in on a new muscle that you may not have worked before.

What is your panic zone and how does it inhibit growth?

I think there’s a tipping point. We have to be courageous. We have to take risks, we have to get out of our comfort zone, but sometimes we push it too far and panic zone ensues. That means you’ve gone too far past your growth edges and you are now stuck in anxiety or worry that’s so debilitating, we start to make bad decisions. There was an experiment in 1908 that demonstrated the relationship between performance and anxiety. Mice were motivated to complete a maze and they were given mild electric shocks to help them know which way to go. But when the shocks became too strong, the mice hid in fear. At first the discomfort helped increase their performance, but only to a point—too much pressure and too much shock had the opposite effect and it can cause us to panic, When there was too little risk, the performance would deteriorate, but when there was too much shock, they started to hide in fear, and there’s a lesson to be learned there. It’s why I was saying not to try and grow in every single area. If you’re trying to do too much at the same time, you will become overwhelmed and burned out and get to a place where you give up. You can’t be intentional about every single thing; things start falling through the cracks and you’re making more mistakes and setting yourself up for failure while trying to do too much. Whereas if you’re just intentional in one area, it makes it a little easier to focus on growth in one or two specific areas. 

If you are stepping into a growth zone, and then you push a little bit too far or take on too much, you may get that electric shock that’s a little too strong. It is okay to go back to the comfort zone and just catch your breath. That’s the beautiful thing. If you have stabilized a home environment, and you know how to get to this place where you feel safe, it’s okay to go back there. It doesn’t mean that you’re not growing if you decide to go back there. Sometimes we need that. As we’re growing and we tip into the panic zone, we need to run back to that comfort zone to recover and take the next step.

Let’s talk about some ways that we can move into the growth zone without getting into the panic zone. What are some ways we can take steps to do that?

The first step is to identify what’s holding you back and keeping you in the comfort zone. What are you afraid of? Where are you comfortable? Is it actually contentment? Take inventory: Where are those fears? Is it fear of finances? Is it your lack of experience that’s holding you back? Maybe you feel some discontent or boredom and you feel like you could push yourself a little bit more. Just identify what those are. Figure out what’s holding you back. And that way you’ve released yourself just a little bit. Give yourself some grace. Give yourself the self-awareness to know the deep longings of your heart, the desires you’ve had. Maybe some of your dreams have gone to sleep or they’ve felt shattered or broken, and it’s time to get back in touch, let yourself really grow and be real and true inside of you. Then you can begin to pinpoint it: I’ve always wanted to write or I’ve always dreamed about becoming a business owner, whatever it is. Let those longings and desires become really present again (which can be scary), but that’s also part of self-awareness because that desire can propel you forward.

I think we need to be prepared to make mistakes in the growth zone. Growth requires making mistakes. You just don’t make all the right decisions; you have to have some grace for yourself knowing that it’s going to get clumsy and it’s not going to always go the way you think it should go. As much as you stretch and start getting into it, be prepared for negative feedback. Be prepared for making mistakes. Mistakes are a sign of progress. If you make no mistakes, you’re not doing anything. 

For me, this looked like dating. I wanted to be married again, but it was a major step of growth for me to go, “Okay, I’m going to actually join an app.” And that to me was a sign of failure for me. A friend of mine was like, “Well, how are you going to meet anyone? You’re just at home raising your girls.” And he prompted me, “Robert, in everything else in your life, when you want to do something, you try to go and do it, but you’re not doing anything about this.” I’m like, “Well, what am I going to do?” He said, “Join a dating app.” And so I did and it was clumsy and I felt awkward and it was not the norm for me. I won’t say it took a lot of courage—I mean, it was kind of courage, but it was just uncomfortable. It was really weird. I didn’t enjoy the dating app at all, but I met my wife and I never would’ve done that if I hadn’t stepped out of my comfort zone.  So often we can just get stuck in this place of “I’m just going to go home, watch Netflix, get the kids to bed.” And there’s some beautiful moments that you can have at home, but inside [you’ll know] when it’s time to push yourself. This was one of the areas that I needed to grow in. Some people don’t have that problem. Some people can’t wait to date again, but that wasn’t my story.

With the mistakes, there are also setbacks. You take two steps forward, one step back, three steps forward, four steps back. You realize that’s part of learning. There’s resilience built in setbacks as well, whether those setbacks are mistakes or life happens and time gets away from you, or any number of things. I think of it as having open hands. I don’t want to say to not take it too seriously but at the same time, just go with the flow with it and allow growth to come to you. Allow it to happen. If you’re open to it and you’re moving and taking the steps forward, even if life knocks you back a few steps, it gives you that much more courage and that much more strength to push forward. Don’t let life knock you down to the point where you don’t keep getting back up. And I think a huge component of that, at least for me, is community. Having people in my life who I can say, “Oh my goodness, I was running full steam ahead. I hit this obstacle and bam, I’m on the ground.” And they’re like, “Hey, that’s cool. We get it. You can get back up again. Amber, we’ve seen you do this again, it’s not the end.” Other people whose voices can speak out when you’re discouraged—does any growth happen in a vacuum all alone? I absolutely have to be my own best friend and cheerleader and talk to myself with a voice of compassion and have people in my life who speak into what I’m doing. And when I’m discouraged, asking, “Will you say to me, ‘Hey, don’t give up. You’re doing great. Take a breather and then get back on the horse.’” 

For accountability, tell someone else that you’re going to grow in an area. Tell someone, “I’m going to try something.” It’s important to bring someone into the journey.


  1. Being in our comfort zone is easy. It’s usually without any risks, surprises, or stress, but it does not hold opportunities for growth. 
  2. In order to grow, we need to get past our comfort zone and into our growth zone. But if we push too hard, we end up in the panic zone. It’s best to move between comfort zone and growth zone, knowing that if you ever do get into the panic zone, you can go back to the comfort zone just to catch your breath.
  3. Moving into your growth zone is an intentional move and it will involve trial and error, but that’s okay. Identify what’s holding you back and move forward with courage, not trying to take on too much.

Listener Question

Now that I’m a single parent, I have a lot of fears about how my children will cope. Is there anything you are really afraid of that never came to fruition?

One of my fears was that whenever I would say no to my kids that they would just hate me and I would ruin our relationship. So I would be doing really positive parenting, saying “no” at the right times, and I would think, “Ugh, they just hate me.” And they might even say it: “We hate you. That’s so unfair.” And then other times, I would do something I didn’t want to do as a parent and I would think, “They’re going to hate me. It’s going to really mess everything up. I screwed it up. Yeah, I blew it.” Thankfully, they’re 19 and almost 22 and thank goodness they love me. We have a great connection. And so that fear never came to fruition. I’m still pretty humbled by the whole experience though. Parenting, especially single parenting is no joke.

There were a lot of things I was afraid of because I just didn’t know. I was afraid of all kinds of litigation and things that my ex was threatening that never really developed. There were times when I had to be the heavy with my girls that I thought, “There’s no way that we’re ever going to have a normal relationship” because the hate they felt or the anger they felt eclipsed any kind of love or foundation that I was laying. And I was afraid that would stay that way. But, we have a fantastic relationship from a communication standpoint. So that not only didn’t come to fruition, it actually was the opposite of that.

You know what one of my fears is right now? That something happens to me. I also had that fear. Their mother was not a safe place—and I’m not trying to disparage her at all—it’s just that she was dealing with some things that created a very unsafe environment. And I was terrified that something was going to happen to me and then they were going to end up [in a similar situation]. That didn’t come to fruition.

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