Many people believe the key to happiness is changing who you are. The shy person should come out of their shell and learn to network, and the person who fears heights needs to consider bungee jumping. But you don’t learn to swim by cannon-balling into the deep end. What if true happiness comes by being true to yourself?
“Many of us are busy escaping from the deficits of our personality by trying to be something we’re not,” says Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress: A Woman’s 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life. “We wish we could trade places with people who appear to be more successful at work or in their relationships.”
Unfortunately, trying to change your nature–especially in big and bold ways–causes stress: “Stress is so inflammatory and it’s become the root cause of all disease,” she says. “It zaps energy, creativity, and sabotages relationships.”
Combat stress by establishing equilibrium and finding your own set point. Mandel shares five reasons why staying in your comfort zone will help you increase productivity and happiness.
Instead of trying to be like someone else, appreciate your own qualities. For example, if you’re an introvert, don’t assume life will be better if you transform into an extrovert.
“Everyone enjoys being around the life of the party, but introverts contribute to the world differently,” she says. “They think deeply about matters before they speak. They are great observers of human nature. Identify your strengths and qualities.”
It can be tempting to try the latest trend or technique, but if it causes you to struggle outside of your comfort zone, it may be time to try something else.
“Many people find meditation to be healthy and helpful,” says Mandel. “For others, this spiritual prescription is stressful–you write a grocery list in your head just to get through it. Don’t do meditation because it’s in vogue now or you feel pressured to be enlightened. Any form of fun and laughter for its own pleasurable sake will contribute more to your spiritual growth and overall happiness than mandatory contemplation.”
Solutions to problems are often found by stepping back and finding solitude, but few of us take the time because we’re multitasking in the fast lane, says Mandel.
“It’s easy to get used to the high being busy brings,” she says. “Who brags to their bosses that they had a good night’s sleep? But it’s important to slow down and rest.”
Mandel says busyness is a great escape from contemplating what’s not working in your life. “By getting quiet with your thoughts, you might figure out what makes you happy and that might mean making tough decisions,” she says. “Learn to listen to your inner voice.”
Staying in your comfort zone doesn’t mean being stagnant; you can still try new things and evolve.
“Change is easier when it starts from within your comfort zone because that’s where you feel secure about who you are and what you want to do,” says Mandel. “Leave your comfort zone only because you want to. Too often we take on big changes because we’re trying to prove to other people that we can.”
Start with very small changes and see how that goes. “When you go too far outside your comfort zone, it’s hard to come back to center,” says Mandel. “Get comfortable, then try going a little farther. You can return right back to your comfort zone if it doesn’t work out.”
Another reason people move outside their comfort zone is because they’ve been told their habits are bad, but Mandel says that isn’t always the case.
“My desk is messy, but clutter is my creative process,” she says. “It gives me clues as to what’s important to me. If I listened to people who say I need to clear my desk each night, I would feel uncomfortable with myself.”
You might have another habit you feel guilty about keeping, such as nail biting or being late. When you find out the benefit these activities bring, you can decide for yourself if it’s something that needs change or not.
“We all have a core identity,” says Mandel. “Honor it and embrace who you are, flaws and all. When you’re able to take off the mask and be your natural self, you’re doing the right thing.”