Rose Keating’s weekly column as published in the Waterford News & Star’s Well! magazine
COMFORT zones can feel so safe, but can they be more dangerous than they feel?
When I was about fifteen, maybe even sixteen, I had a teacher who told me I was a creature of habit. I remember being deeply insulted by this; the words ‘creature of habit’ brought to mind all things dull and ugly, beige and boring. Me, a vibrant teen with all my youth ahead of me, couldn’t possibly be a creature of habit.
Truthfully, I know now that I am most definitely a creature of habit. I have come to accept what I once found so insulting – if anything, I have now come to embrace this monotonous part of my being.
I love my habits. I love my daily regimes. I love the reassuring stability of an unchanging routine.
That probably makes me sound quite boring. Maybe I am quite boring. That’s a very strong possibility. But that doesn’t change the fact that no matter how much I’d love to be a flighty, changeable being of excitement and spontaneity, I am, in fact, very predictable.
‘If comfort zones stop us from experiencing new things, from being even happier than we already are, then there’s a possibility that they’re not as safe as we might think.’
In the morning, I like to have a slice of toast and an egg. I like to put on my lipstick, always the same shade of pink. I like to listen to The Beach Boys on my walk to my lectures. I like to sit in the same spot in the lecture hall, every time – farthest on the side, so I’m next to the wall. I like to eat the same soup I always have with my friends at lunch, in the same place we always go. I like to see the same friends, every single day. When I come home, I like to wear my most worn out hoodie, and re-watch a movie I’ve seen before. I love to re-watch movies I’ve already seen, over and over. My mum thinks I’m crazy for doing this; she doesn’t understand the point in watching something I’ve seen before, when I know what’s going to happen.
But if a movie made you happy, why wouldn’t you want to watch it over and over? If something brings you enjoyment, why wouldn’t you want to experience it, again and again?
If a routine brings you comfort, why would you ever stray from that routine, when you know it will make you happy?
The problem is I sometimes forget that happy can be a very, very vague word. It can encompass so many things.
‘Happy’ can be what you feel when you’re swaddled up in blankets, hands wrapped around a cup of something hot and steaming on a Sunday evening.
‘Happy’ can also be the feeling of adrenaline and electricity inside your gut when you reach the highest part of a rollercoaster, at the moment just before you fall. When your lungs will be flung into a blue sky as you plunge down into a screaming, singing unknown.
These are not the same feeling, but we call both of these things happiness. I don’t think either of these things are bad feelings, but I find it very easy to forget that having one does not mean I have both. Being buried in blankets is not the same as flying high in the sky – it is too easy to forget that we can, we should, have both.
Sometimes I like to tell myself that I like routines because the things I do make me happy; if I changed my routine, I would cease to be happy. If I sat somewhere else, if I wore different lipstick, if I talked to someone new, I wouldn’t be doing the things I enjoy most, and I would cease to be happy.
If I was being honest with myself, I would acknowledge that I like routines because I am not a very brave person. Because routines are safe. Maybe a routine isn’t as exciting as a rollercoaster, but nothing can go wrong. Knowing the end of a movie might be boring, but I also know that nothing bad will happen. It will always be the safe option.
Last year, I broke out of my routine and moved to the Netherlands. A lot of the time when people ask how my year was, I smile and say it was good, which is a lie. Or, not the entire truth. Some (a lot) of the time , I was confused and scared and lonely and overwhelmed.
But then, I think about other moments. Moments on planes, trains, buses. In the bustle of new cities, on new streets, with new friends. Moments where I had never felt more free, more strong, more blindingly full of joy than I had ever felt before.
‘Good’ doesn’t quite encompass either of those extremes, but it’s an easier explanation. But I do know the kind of ‘happy’ I felt in those moments of joy was more powerful, more transformative than a single, safe, comfy Tuesday evening of soup and Netflix.
Routines can feel comforting, but I don’t think they’re as good as I have led myself to believe. If comfort zones stop us from experiencing new things, from being even happier than we already are, then there’s a possibility that they’re not as safe as we might think.
Change is scary, but maybe doing things that scare us is what makes life interesting. Neale Donald Walsch once said that life begins at the edge of your comfort zone, and I think he was probably right.
I love you, comfort zone, but I think it’s time we say goodbye. The rollercoaster is waiting – I think it’s time for me to get on it.