What is a comfort zone? I’ve been asking myself this question of late. It’s just two weeks now to the 145-mile ultra run race I’m doing, where I’ll rock up at the start line in London at 6am on July 23rd and run all the way back to Bristol, and to say I’m nervous is an understatement.
The dictionary definition of a comfort zone is a situation where one feels safe or at ease. When I initially read that, I thought of the 145-mile non-stop run and how it definitely won’t put me at ease, which means it must follow that it’s totally out of my comfort zone. And yet, is it?
Running, you see, is my comfort zone. I’ve been running all my life, in every way that phrase is possible, my go-to place where I feel safe and at ease, especially when things get tough and storms roll my way. So how could running 145 miles put me ill of ease? The answer, of course, is that 145 miles is a (very!) long way and I’ve not run more than 40 miles in one go before. And that got me thinking: can we be out of our comfort zones while still being in our comfort zones, if you see what I mean?
Take everything we do day-to-day. It’s all comfort zone stuff, isn’t it. Work, home, family, friends, same routines. These are elements that feel familiar to us, habits created that we don’t naturally want to give up. And why should we? Isn’t that where a comfort zone is a positive thing, when it fosters safety when it incubates a security that propels us with a cushion through life?
Indeed, you could argue that by having a rail of comfort zoning in our life, it enables us, from time to time, to not even step out of the comfort zone, but instead, to actually harness it, one zone allowing us effectively to move confidently, within reason, into a new zone that is oh so very not comfortable – like a scary long ultra race.
But, what happens when you don’t have many comfort zones? This, I think, is where I am at the moment. The more I dwell on it, the more I realise my life has been void of comfort zones. In fact, it’s been more about being out of them than in them than I realised. Writing this column even, for example, puts me out of my comfort zone, because, while I’m comfortable writing, I have to challenge myself to be open with you on the page, to let myself be vulnerable. It’s scary, and, to be honest, in no way comfortable.
My life has never been a continuous comfort zone, and while that’s a private story only for me, it’s one that I know drives me to push myself, drives me to do challenges where I end up channeling the familiar in order to chase the very, very unfamiliar. To chase the unknown.
And there, I believe, lies the answer. The unknown. Because isn’t that what stepping outside a comfort zone is – walking into the unknown? Yet it’s only by using what we know to step into what we don’t, that, in time, makes that unknown feeling disappear and its place we feel a new familiarity. We feel, well, like we are in a comfort zone. And, once safely there, we spy the next unknown, and off again we go.
Nikki Owen is an author and endurance athlete living in Stroud.
Nikki is using her 145-mile run to support Stroud Foodbank. You can donate today here: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/NikkiOwen5