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Getting out of your comfort zone with behavioural science


The comfort zone is the bubble in which we are born, live and die. The days are never the same, but we choose to live them defensively in such a way that we always want to be comfortable and in control. The main objective of this article is to reveal what the so-called comfort zone is and how to gradually get out of it, using behavioural science tools. You will notice that, sometimes, you just need to know why you behave in a certain way, to see things more clearly and, thus, progress in search of self-knowledge and fulfilment.

Built in habits

Humans develop numerous habits, several of them contributing to help satisfying their needs in an efficient way. However, some of the incorporated habits in the humans’ brains are not positive and might bring more problems than help.

For a behaviour to stick, we need a cue, something that activates our mind to begin that action again. Next comes repetition, where the action needs to be executed frequently. According to a study by the Health Behaviour Research Center, from 2009, it takes between 18 and 254 days to form a new habit. Additionally, rewards might also play a role, since it is easier to repeat an action if our brain knows it will be rewarded after completing it, and, once the habit becomes incorporated into our routine, there will be no need for the reward anymore.

The more regular a behaviour is, the more automatic it becomes, and people tend to lose the full control of that behaviour, sometimes ending up even forgetting if they did that action, for example locking the door when leaving the house. Habits are so incorporated on the humans’ brains that they can perform these behaviours even if they had no intention to do so. It is therefore challenging to drop habits, even the harmful ones.

Our comfort zone

As the name says, it is the zone where people feel comfortable and confident about their behaviour. Here, everything is at its least to survive: happiness, effort, adrenaline, proactivity and finally, challenges. Because people live not to die or to fail, this zone is where they feel in their best, or at least winning.

The Education system is formatted in a way that having nothing is better than losing something, but the point is: it does not say what to do when the loss occurs. Can it be that, when there is a loss, there is a much higher winning? This is what people are afraid to find out.

Why challenge ourselves?

Is it because everyone wants to be rich? It can be! But this “rich” is followed by many “selfs”: self-knowledge, self-confidence, self-esteem and self-actualization. First, knowing our strengths and weaknesses will help us face the opportunities and threats of getting to know a new environment. Second, if we do not trust and believe in ourselves, how can we expect someone else to do it for us? Everyone is worried about their own business, so we are the main character of our life story. Third, be the person you admire so much. By loving that person, you will love yourself. Not to do, but to be! The secret is on the “be side” of yourself. And forth, throw the bait and catch your goal. Find out what you love to do. Although this is the difficult part, you always know what it is. You are just afraid of realizing it. This will guide you through the purpose of your life story.

How behavioural science can help

Small nudges can lead to substantial changes in humans’ behaviour, meaning that behavioural science insights can be advantageous in getting out of the comfort zone and creating new habits.

Implementation intentions is an area of behavioural science that can be truly useful for getting out of the comfort zone and creating new habits. It is like a plan made beforehand that specifies when and where to act, for example if X happens, I will respond by performing Y. According to research, implementation intentions are successful to help us achieve our goals, improving the chances that people will stick to new habits, for instance start exercising or quit smoking. A four-week study shows that people who delineated when and where they were going to floss their teeth each day, flossed their teeth more often that the ones who also had the intention to floss their teeth but didn’t outline when and where to do it. By setting implementation intentions, people don’t have to make the decision whether to do something now or later, because they will already have made that decision when they were planning what to do and what goals to achieve. It is then easier to challenge ourselves because when the time to try a new activity comes, we would have it already planned, having less tendency to push that activity for later.

Wrapping up

Carrying out new activities and projects might seem difficult, and people may prefer to have their routine, with habits that they are used to. Nonetheless, it can be advantageous to try new behaviours and to be challenged outside the comfort zone. Behavioural science shows that often people don’t lack the motivation to try new activities, they instead lack clarity, not planning when and how to do them, ending up always putting them off.


M. Graybiel, Ann, and Kyle S. Smith S. Smith. 2014. "Good Habits, Bad Habits".

Marinoff, Evelyn. 2019. "Want To Succeed? Nudge Yourself.". Medium.

Hollingworth, Crawford, and Liz Barker. 2017. "How To Use Behavioural Science To Build New Habits". Thebearchitects.Com.

Written by:

Catarina Chambino, Research Analyst


Natízia Oliveira, Research Analyst

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