Beware the Comfort Zone

By Dixie Andelin Forsyth

It’s common to have mixed feelings about yourself, but most of us have generally good or bad self-esteem if we’re willing to engage in a little introspection. And you’d probably be hard-pressed to name more than a handful of people you know who have consistently high opinions of themselves, and many of them probably seem a bit dysfunctional in their own way.

I find that people who have truly good and lasting self-esteem have something in common. In fact, I don’t think there’s any variance at all. They all spend more time in a state of mind that is conducive to growth instead of seeking comfort or pity. They chase goals, endure stress and hardship, they get a lot done, and they don’t have a tendency to just kill time, because they see the process for what it is and don’t always resent the bumpiness of the road along the way. They just accept it for what it is, and this is how they get so far in life and accomplish so darn much. And this is also why they’re so satisfied with everything. It feels great to work hard and accomplish something.

So, in the end, the satisfaction a person extracts from life is less defined by how much discomfort they endure and more by the attitude they adopt and how far they get with it.

When I talk about personal progress, I’m not describing a person’s never-ending quest for money, fame, and fortune, though these things can be very satisfying to acquire—more particularly what you can do with them. You can live a pretty relaxed and humble life and still challenge yourself on a constant basis. You can always keep an open frame of mind that allows you to accept when you are wrong, to hear new truths that previously seemed incorrect, and to face your fears. The growth zone, as I will call it, is a more of a mental state than a work ethic. Likewise, is the comfort zone, which is where most of our bad self-esteem comes from. It may not seem so, but good self-esteem does not include arrogance or snobbery. These traits are more indicative of low self-esteem, even narcissism that masquerades as good self-esteem.

In all my years, I have observed that there is a direct relationship between how much a person spends in the growth zone and good self-esteem, and the amount of time they spend in the comfort zone and poor self-esteem. What I’m saying is: the more time you spend challenging yourself and at least trying to improve yourself, the more you will accomplish and the better your self-esteem. And you will find similar echoes in the feedback you receive from your environment: the people and opportunities with which you come in contact. In other words, you will make what you perceive to be your own luck. Similarly, the more time you spend trying to just avoid stress and discomfort, the less you will achieve and the more this will confirm the negative views you might have of yourself.

Self-esteem is something you build, and your cruise-control is your routine, your daily habits. Change routine, and you change everything.

How do you start your day? Do you wake at an effective time? Do you engage in adequate hygiene? Do you make your bed and leave your room tidy? How do you typically smell? It may sound ridiculous, but I’ve learned that how a person smells is one of the first impressions they give themselves and others. It enters yours brain as important data fast and it leaves a big impression when it’s really good or bad. And before we forget, how much effort do you take in your presentation? Trust me when I say that how you interact with the world around you will affect your self-image and it will inform the feedback you receive. It will change the story you and others tell yourself.

I have learned that there are three fundamental forces in this world that exert power over peoples’ self-perception:

Positive external influences: It’s easy to feel great when the world seems to conspire in your favor. When the world presents itself as beautiful and convenient, it’s going to give you a boost.
Negative external influences: It can be really tough to stay up when the world seems to have it in for you. When nothing is going right, when you feel you have a target painted on your back, when you feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle, there’s almost no winning and something has got to change in your environment to get back on track.

Your power to choose: We often don’t get a vote in the really magical or cursed days we experience, but we can choose our attitude and our habits. We can choose how we react and what we say. We can change and improve ourselves, but we must take action every day. But once you embrace this notion, you’ll begin to feel like you’re the master of the first two fundamental forces.

Viktor Frankl, who survived years in a Nazi concentration camp, said that one of the things he learned after almost every human right or dignity was stripped from him was that in the end, he could control his mind and how he looked at anything. No amount of torture, hunger, or deprivation could take that from him. He not only survived but thrived and helped tens of thousands of others with his positive perspective.

Here’s a little pro-tip that I got from a neuroclinical psychologist (who also happens to be my husband): Watch what you say out loud and try to say all the good stuff for yourself and others to hear. When we speak audibly, the brain focuses and remembers better what is being said. So the next time you’re tempted to say something like, “Oh, I always mess up,” or “I’m such a clutz,” consider saying (a) nothing, or (b) something much more positive like “I’ll do better next time,” or “there’s something I can improve.” Even little attacks directed at ourselves, however humorous, can add up and change our self-image, but so can the affirmations. Remember that each person is valuable and has unique talents and gifts to add to the world and also to others. Don’t be deceived into thinking that you aren’t good enough or worth it. Because you are!

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