Why daydreamers find it hard to step out of their comfort zone, and why we need to

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone

Neale Donald Walsch

Our biggest successes and most worthwhile achievements come from taking on challenges that stretch us or that, at least to begin with, make us uncomfortable. There’s nothing wrong with spending much of your time in your comfort zone, but if you never push outside it, you never learn what you’re capable of and you never fulfil your highest potential.

In real life, we can never be certain what the future holds. This is especially true when we’re trying something new. We can’t be sure quite how it’s going to work out. It could be a huge success, or a spectacular failure. And it’s that uncertainty, that fear of the unknown, that tells us we’re pushing outside our comfort zone. There’s a little voice inside of us saying ‘no, don’t do that; it might all go wrong; stick to what you know’. That little voice is trying to keep us safe, but that safety comes at a price. When we stay permanently in our comfort zone, we miss out on opportunities to learn, to grow, to expand our skill set, to connect with new people.

And there are a couple of reasons why being a daydreamer makes it more difficult for us to venture outside our comfort zone. The first is that we’ve never learned how to tolerate stress. Because we’ve never had to. All our lives we’ve had this magical escape mechanism that instantly transports us to another world as soon as the real one is more than we can handle. For many of us, daydreaming is how we cope with stress. But what makes it an unhealthy coping mechanism is that it doesn’t help us to cope better next time. When we escape stress through daydreaming, we’re reinforcing the idea that stress is bad and to be avoided at all costs. We never give ourselves a chance to get curious about it, to see how much stress we can tolerate, and to learn how good it feels to overcome the stress by successfully solving the problem that was creating it. Stepping out of our comfort zone, by definition, requires us to act despite feeling stressed, and that’s not something we’ve given ourselves much opportunity to practice.

But there’s another, more dangerous, reason why being a daydreamer makes it hard to get out of our comfort zone. In our daydreams, we never do it. We might think that we’re doing all kinds of difficult and dangerous things in our daydreams, but there’s never any real risk. The future is never uncertain, because we know it’s under our total control. We can attempt the most outrageous things – becoming president of the world, winning a Nobel prize, singing on stage to an audience of millions – and there’s nothing to fear. Because we can’t fail. We’ve written the successful outcome into the plot before the daydream even began. And that’s why achieving things in our daydreams is never as satisfying as achieving them in real life. Success is only rewarding if there was a possibility of failure. There’s no real risk when the outcome is 100% under your control. And that’s why, no matter what crazy plot twist you think up, it’s impossible to push yourself out of your comfort zone in a daydream.

That’s not to say that our daydreams can’t be a valuable tool in our personal development. I believe that our alter egos can be windows to our authentic selves. I’ve learned a lot about who I am by paying attention to who I become in my daydreams. But although daydreaming can help you to see your potential, it can’t help you realise that potential. Becoming the best version of yourself in real life has to be done in real life. Because it has to be done outside your comfort zone. Becoming the person you were meant to be is a process of growth, and growth only happens when we challenge ourselves, when we take the risk, when we push through the fear.

As daydreamers, it’s vital that we make the effort to step out of our comfort zone once in a while. Because when we do, we find that taking risks isn’t as scary as we thought and the better life we seek isn’t completely out of reach. Real life can be even better than our daydreams, but we have to make it so.

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