Are You Tied Down to the Familiar in Your Life?

December 6, 2019
It's hard to step out of your comfort zone - your brain finds comfort in the familiar. But there are many benefits to trying out new things. Discover how here!

We might all feel attracted to the unknown once in a while. Who doesn’t want to learn and discover new things? But the truth of the matter is – how many times have you really been able to leave your comfort zone? How many times have you put your habits aside in order to do things a different way? Do you live tied down to the familiar or do you dare to throw yourself into adversity?

At the University of St Andrews, Victoria Horner conducted an experiment in which she taught a group of students how to get a reward. The way for them to obtain this reward was through a box upon which they would have to perform one of three different actions. The first choice was to use a cane to release the bolt on the box and open it. Second, they might have to place the cane through a hole that was in the box and strike at it repeatedly. Finally, there was the option of going through the trap door in the box to get the reward.

As the box was darkened, none of the children could see whether the action they chose was the right one for obtaining the reward. It was all a matter of trial and error. What happened then? The researchers changed the box. In this case, the participants could see how it looked on the inside. They would be able to know whether it had a bolt, trap door, or needed to be hit with the cane.

The researchers first used children for this experiment and then chimpanzees. In the second part of the tests, the children kept repeating the same actions even though it didn’t make sense to do so. However, as they had previously learned the three actions, they kept repeating them. In the case of the chimpanzees, on the other hand, when they were able to see the nature of the box, they managed to get their prize on their first try.

Chimpanzees participating in an experiment.

The comfort of the same old familiar routine

Your behavior patterns are guided by the familiar. When you’re faced with new situations, your brain is wired to offer solutions from the point of view of that which you already know. It might also draw from decisions you’d taken in the past, especially if you got good results from them.

When the world puts new information in front of you, the brain asks itself “where have I seen this before?” It then makes decisions based on past experiences in order to organize the new information. These processes in your system make you faster in terms of both making decisions and organizing content in memory. But does this take place if you’re tied down to the familiar? How can you escape the cycle?

You find confidence in the things you do over and over again and the things you feel comfortable doing already. That’s because you already know how they work. Nevertheless, there’s a lot more beyond that. There’s a whole world of possibilities out there. It’s up to you to erase the patterns you’re comfortable with and try out new ways of going forward.

A person standing in a circle representing their comfort zone or familiar zone.

A simple thing that can take us a long way

What could be a good first step to take when you want to get out of this cycle? When you want to free yourself from the strings that keep you tied to the familiar? Trying new things is, in fact, very easy. Here are some strategies you might use to achieve it:

  • Try out new routes for going to work or getting home.
  • Have more conversations with strangers. Some good people to do this with are the baker, the bus driver, someone waiting in line, or a neighbor you wait at the elevator with.
  • Try to do things differently. For example, use your non-dominant hand in order to perform simple activities such as brushing your teeth.
  • Try out activities that take you out of your comfort zone. For many people, this might be dancing, singing, alternative sports, or cooking recipes from foreign cuisines.

All of this can help you get a taste of the new. These activities can give you the opportunity to become aware of different points of view. Furthermore, they can help you discover yourself. That is, your free self that’s not tied down to the familiar. This can be good for you even if the new is a little uncomfortable for you at first. There’s a world of possibilities just beyond your comfort zone. Broadening this zone can bring you both challenges and opportunities for growth.

You’re more than just what you know about yourself. You’re more than just someone who keeps doing what you’re already comfortable doing. In fact, you’re a being with the desire to grow and improve. And you can achieve this on a daily basis. Challenge yourself to do something new. Once you get over your fear, you’ll be opening the door to a new world.