Mind & Body

How to break out of your comfort zone, according to a neuroscientist


Alexis Fernandez loves the brain. This passion for its complexity became her life’s purpose: she returned to uni to study neuroscience, started the hit podcast Do You F***ing Mind? and helps people to align their physical and mindset training every day through tailored workouts and strategies. Be Bold is her first book.

When we think about our comfort zones, we think of what makes us feel protected, safe and secure. But I challenge you to look at it differently. What if you saw your comfort zone as everything you’re afraid to lose?

Our comfort zone is just a collection of people, places, jobs, homes and life situations that we are afraid to lose – even if they aren’t really what we want. It represents the safest option currently available. Not the best option, the safest. The one less likely to cause us pain or discomfort.

Take stock of your current comfort zone. Some things you have here are actually the best option for you; you may be in a relationship with the love of your life, or in your dream job. Love this for you! That is fantastic. BUT I’m sure some things are not your best-case scenario.

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Let’s look at all those other things. Typically, you would not give them up unless you had a sure thing to leap over to. Again, grab that notebook and start listing all the things that in your life that represent protection from pain and discomfort, but don’t make you feel empowered or happy. Then next to each item, write down what the best-case alternative would be if you knew you couldn’t fail.

Why do we hold onto things that are bad for us?

The brain likes consistency, it likes the familiar and it likes to protect us. So often you will find yourself holding onto something that is not ideal or just straight-up toxic for you if the alternative is the unknown.

Take relationships, for example. People who love being in a relationship and hate the idea of being single are likely to stay in an unhealthy relationship because being single and not knowing what is out there feels threatening, scary and risky. So they stay in what they consider a safe zone.

It’s that whole concept of ‘better the devil you know’. We see this with jobs ALL the time. Unless you have a locked-in thing at another employer, you’re unlikely to leave the job you hate, because the thought of being unemployed or working for yourself, not knowing when the next paycheque is coming in, can be extremely daunting.

Now, I’m not saying go quit your job. But it’s a good example to show why people stay where they stay. Safety. Security. And although adventure seems inviting and super appealing, at the end of the day, for most people, security trumps adventure. Time and time again.

But what if I told you that you already have the resources to bridge that gap where fear currently lies? What if you knew you could leave that situation behind, because you can grow into something new?

Staying in your comfort zone keeps you in a place of fear

The problem is, that the less adventure we take, the more we lock ourselves into this place of ‘security’. But the truth is NOTHING is ever 100 percent fail-proof. No job, no relationship, no friendship, no home is ever secure enough that nothing could ever go wrong.

We live in a constant state of flux, and so do all our relationships and life situations. Nothing is ever stagnant. And change will happen whether you initiate that change or whether you don’t. If you live in a state of constantly wanting to protect what you do have, and fearing losing it, you are resisting the nature of life: change and evolution. You are resisting the inevitable, and at the same time you lose out on new experiences, new opportunities and new connections.

What would happen if you were to let go of your comfort zone? Could you fall? Yes. Of course! Could you encounter something you didn’t expect? Yes. Could you regret leaving what you had behind? Maybe … but it’s not as likely as you think.

We anticipate regretting something when we feel fearful and protective of what we currently possess. We are so terrified of loss that we judge that even the smallest risk is not worth taking a leap of faith.

You will start to notice that if you live just outside your comfort zone, you are pushing yourself into new experiences constantly. You discover that even if your goals don’t work out, you will grow, learn new things about yourself, meet new people and make some new memories. Eventually you reach a point where returning to what you thought you wanted would probably feel like a step back; you have outgrown your past self.

Tackle regret head on

Never fear regretting something; chances are you won’t. Even if you fail. You will be a bigger, better and wiser version of yourself for it. And not to mention more resilient.

Usually the things people regret are the decisions and actions that they didn’t take. If something seems like a good idea at the time, then it’s not really something you can regret later. You followed your intuition and your heart. Your comfort zone is a big fat lie. If anything, it serves to strengthen your fear and reinforce self-doubt, but nothing more.

At the end of the day, the things that are for certain are the things that are within our control. Which is not much! And trying to deny that to yourself keeps you in a spiral of trying to protect what you do already have, and keeps your focus on that instead of expanding your mind to new opportunities.

The funny thing is it often takes losing something or failing at something to realise it isn’t that bad; you will survive. In fact, you are stronger and more resilient than you gave yourself credit for. Why not give yourself that credit now and try and step out of that zone?

You are more prepared than you think.

This is an edited extract from Be Bold by Alexis Fernandez ($29.99), out 30 March with Affirm Press.