Breaking Out of Our Comfort Zones

Image courtesy of p_x_g via Creative Commons.
Like many couples, my husband and I have certain roles and responsibilities in our household. I cook the meals; Edwin does the dishes. I do the gardening; Edwin fixes everything. This works out very well for us. Edwin doesn’t enjoy cooking or gardening, and I don’t enjoy doing dishes and haven’t a clue how to fix anything.

But over time, it’s easy to get stuck in one’s roles and fail to branch out and grow in ways that might be positive and healthy. And so, every so often I push myself out of my comfort zone to do something I wouldn’t normally do.

In addition to being the family dishwasher and fixer, Edwin also does the heavy lifting. If we go canoeing or kayaking, he’s the one to lift the boats on the car and tie them on securely (while I’m usually busy making sandwiches). Edwin got me a paddleboard for Christmas last year after I raved about an experience using a friend’s paddleboard last summer. I love paddleboarding on our beautiful bay, but it’s not easy for me to carry the board very far to go elsewhere. It’s awkward and heavy after about 100 yards or so. But I wanted to venture beyond the bay, specifically to a wilderness area, where we’ve canoed many times, that’s full of wildlife and so serene and lovely. But that meant figuring out how to carry the board a third of a mile, get it on my car, maneuver it over some rapids to get to the flat part of the stream, and portage it over beaver dams and through woods and brambles.

As I headed to where I would put in, I felt my heart beating a little faster than normal. I knew I was about to embark on something challenging for me. Every time Edwin and I had canoed at this spot, he’d always been the one to deal with the canoe, the rapids, the portages, etc., while I simply carried our lunch.

But despite my worries, I did it all with no mishaps. I waded and pushed and lifted the board over the rapids and through the woods. And alone on that beautiful stream, I noticed even more than usual: the green stream grass that looks like gorgeous hair, undulating in the current, turning frizzy when the wind dances on the surface of the water; the hundreds of small and medium-sized fish everywhere in the water; the ubiquitous and postcard-perfect frogs sitting on blooming lily pads; the bald eagle who was so close because she or he didn’t notice me (quiet as I was on that paddleboard); the fluttering black-winged, iridescent green and turquoise damselflies; the dozen beaver lodges and the dearth of dams (most broken, some seemingly being built).

Although the word empowered is so overused, I felt empowered. It was good for me to practice a certain kind of strength and independence. Interdependence is wonderful, and I’m blessed by my 27-year partnership with Edwin, during which we’ve found our best roles; but pushing myself out of my comfort zone has its benefits.

Yet while I’ve shared this personal story about pushing myself out of my comfort zone regarding paddleboarding, the truth is that the even more important ways to push ourselves our of our comfort zones are in relation to how our choices affect others. As readers of our blog know, I try to live by the MOGO principle: to do the most good and least harm to people (including myself), animals, and the environment, and as a humane educator I try to inspire others to do this as well.

We all have not only roles but also habits. And the truth is that many of our habits are destructive to others. The foods we eat may cause suffering and harm to people, animals, and ecosystems; the clothes we wear may have been produced inhumanely and unsustainably; the energy we consume always has its negative effects; the time we spend outside of our work and family responsibilities may not include the kinds of volunteerism and changemaking that our world most needs from us.

Breaking habits and breaking out of limiting roles may be just what we and the world most need. And chances are, if we’re willing to take the plunge and leave our comfort zones and make some choices that at first appear challenging, we just might find greater purpose, joy, meaning, and a sense of empowerment in our lives.

~ Zoe

Zoe Weil, President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDxConejo talk: "Solutionaries"
My TEDxDirigo talk: “The World Becomes What You Teach"

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