You’ve probably heard the expression about how it’s good to “step outside of your comfort zone”. It’s bandied around a lot.
Here’s my explanation as to WHY it’s good to get yourself uncomfortable. It’s particularly relevant to us when we stop drinking because each time we go into a situation where we used to drink but we approach it sober, it feels uncomfortable. Whether it’s 6pm/7pm in the evening in front of the TV, whether it’s going to a party or meal out at the weekend, these events are often associated wholeheartedly in our minds with drinking or getting drunk. And, that association is embedded at such a deep and unconscious level that it can take some conscious commitment and energy to shift it.
So, the first time I did my Saturday evening in without alcohol, cooking a meal in my lovely kitchen as I got ready to relax in front of the TV, it felt strange. It felt uncomfortable. It felt wrong. I had to steel myself to drink tonic without the gin. I had to force myself to take a herbal tea to the sofa with me instead of a bottle of wine. I missed the comfort of a familiar routine and the effects of the alcohol. Ditto for the first wedding I attended, ditto for the first party I went to and ditto for the first family meal.
It can seem really scary to go into these situations without alcohol when that’s what you’ve been used to.
But, stepping outside of your “comfort circle” is good for you. It helps you to grow, to learn and to become more confident. It adds new experiences, insights and wisdom into your life.
I was at a conference once that was opened by a guy called Miles Hilton-Barber. He describes himself as an adventurer and a motivational speaker. He was awesome. He is also completely blind. He said many things that day that I found inspiring and that resonated with me as a great way to approach life. And one of them was about “Comfort Circles”.
He proposed that you could look down at your feet and you could imagine a circle drawn on the ground, with you in its middle. That circle represents your comfort zone. Everything that you have done, known and experienced in life so far is within that circle. The thought of stepping outside it can be scary because outside it is what you don’t know.
He then asked the audience, “What do you think happens to that circle when you do something new and you take a step outside it?”
The answer was, it moves with you. Each time you take a step outside of that circle and introduce a new experience, the circle expands to include that experience. So, what was uncomfortable and even scary before, now becomes familiar and part of your comfort circle.
The more we expand our circles, the more we step outside them, the wiser we become and the more confident we become at navigating the world around us. The larger the circle, the more “rounded” the person. The smaller the circle, the more likely the person is to experience poorer mental and emotional health and to not reach their potential or be the best version of themselves.
We don’t need to take huge, adventurous steps like Miles (who has set some amazing world records running, mountaineering, flying, driving and travelling across Antarctica) to expand our circles. A step towards the outside of that circle can be as simple as drinking tea instead of alcohol on a Wednesday evening. Or making yourself go for a walk on your own even though it scares you. Or, drinking non-alcoholic lager at the bar. Or, going to your first party sober. All of these things, whilst they might be nothing to someone else, if they are uncomfortable for you, are helping you expand your own circle.
I would extend the metaphor of the circle even further and suggest that it doesn’t have to be a neat circle with a clear, delineated boundary but that there might be grey areas and a less visible boundary in places. In other words, when I first went to a party sober, my circle expanded a bit, but it wasn’t that I suddenly became confident and comfortable with going to parties sober. It took going to a few before I became so comfortable with partying sober that I didn’t have to prepare or think about it in advance.
The point is that each time you step outside of that circle you help it to grow. And, everything you’ve done before with alcohol in tow is likely to seem uncomfortable at first when you’re sober. And, that’s actually a good thing, because it gives you the opportunity to grow your circle and develop resilience and strength.
Expect to feel uncomfortable sometimes. Know that this is okay. You can do it anyway. You can survive it. And, when you repeat the experience often enough sober, you will become comfortable with it.