… for your identity has been shaped by your past but it is not intrinsically tied to it.
Humans have always been creatures of habit. However, habit is rarely a synonym of happiness. Yes, you can be happy because you’ve built a certain comfort zone of habit around yourself over the years, yet, comfort alone does not guarantee happiness by itself – and maybe it isn’t even as comfortable as you think.
Paulo Coelho once wrote “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.” Nevertheless, most people will pick habit over advenure because it looks like a safe haven, a place to come back to whenever they feel like the world is turning too quickly, making their heads spin. After a while they’ll end up believing this safe haven is where they are happy, it becomes a part of their identity and they keep overlooking its flaws. I am not saying the place where you feel happy needs to be perfect, but you need to keep your identity out of it because you’ll end up believing you cannot exist beyond this safe haven and that you cannot be happy outside of it.
We’re rarely alone in our comfort zone, there is always at least one person there who acts as a kind of guardian – or gatekeeper. Your fate seems linked with them because you define happiness on the basis of the comfort zone and what’s in it. So the equation becomes comfort zone / habit + gatekeeper = happiness. This may be well true for a while, but more often than not it’s not enough to keep happiness alive.
So how do people and their identity get trapped inside the comfort zone ? Often enough it’s because they are at a turning point in their lives and need to cope with change. They start making new friends and, sometimes, they run into people who they like having around. At some point, routine takes over and the people they’re spending important moments with, who they are living adventures with become part of their identity, linked to good memories and personal growth.
One might wonder when routine starts killing you slowly from the inside. That’s an interesting question but one that has many possible answers. People say it does happen that that moment never arrives. However, more often than not, it creeps in sooner or later. It might start with the feeling that there has to be more to life than just the comfort zone. It might come disguised as the desire to break out every once in a while. Or it might just be a nagging feeling of sadness here and there. When the feeling that something is wrong but you can’t even pinpoint it sets in, the first and most logical reaction is remembering the good times, clinging to memories. Sometimes this is enough to drive us right back into the comfort zone so our identity is not challenged in any way, subdueing the desire for adventure altogether or making us believe our routine is adventure enough. This is also when the gatekeeper might come alive, reminding you of the good times, keeping you from wanting to leave. What should not be forgotten is that sometimes the gatekeeper is in the very same position as the one wanting to break out and it’s a matter of co-dependency who’s the gatekeeper and who’s the “prisoner”, who makes whom forget the feeling that something is not quite right.
When do we feel the urge to break out? As stated before, that moment may never come, but when it does it might not have an easy-to-name trigger. Time might be crucial – for some comfort zones come with an expiration date, some people are meant to accompany you only part of the way. It might also be a matter of change – for people change, even though we might not want to admit it. Sometimes it may just be the growing urge to set out for new adventures or the decreasing influence the comfort zone and its guardian have on you. Or it is simply the realization that you suddenly feel like something has been waiting for you at the gate of the comfort zone, something you can neither really explain nor understand, but it’s there, obviously present and slightly beyond your control. This does not necessarily mean that you become oblivious to the comfort zone or that it suddenly ceases to exist. It just means you need to break free because it’s time to be happy again, time to set out for new adventures without denying or forgetting the past – for the past has made us who we are today. We just need to understand that turning the page does not mean burning the book, it just means not settling for being stuck on a page that’s been read over and over again, in a story that doesn’t seem to progress anymore. Once you’re stuck, the time has come to set yourself – and others involved – free and to treasure memories for what they are: memories that have helped you become who you are but that cannot replace living the present or become your future.
Does breaking free hurt? Yes it does. Of course it does. No matter if you’ve been inside the comfort zone for months or years, whatever is linked to it is part of you. It’ll cost you tears, but tears do not mean what you’re doing is wrong, they’re just the price you have to pay for a happy future. Look at them as the liquid that washes the stains off your memories so you can wrap them and take them with you wherever you may go. In a way, they’ll make them sacred so you can always cherish them but they will also put a protective layer over them that’ll stop you from wanting to go back to them. Breaking free will also require a lot of strength and willpower to go the very last step, to release the past and take it for what it is: namely the past. It also takes courage because you risk hurting people. However, the odds that you will ruin someone’s life are way smaller than the odds of you ruining your own life by ignoring the hints that show you you’re ready to move on. This is especially true if you have the feeling that something is waiting for you to be explored, for you wouldn’t be receptive to any such thoughts if you weren’t available.
The question is: What could possibly go wrong? First potential outcome: You speak your mind and your gatekeeper turns into a fire-spitting two-headed dragon, accusing you of being responsible for whatever you said about why you needed to move on. It doesn’t really matter if this happens because it’s their way of dealing with disappointment, if they are incapable of questioning themselves or if they are just not who you believed them to be. Their reaction, in that case, speaks for itself and you’ll realize it was high time to set yourself free. Second potential outcome: The people involved agree that something’s been slightly off for a while (for you’re hardly ever the only one having that feeling after all, it’s just that some people are better at ignoring it than others) and it’ll be a joint decision to treasure the past and to get up the nerve to grow up and become who you really are. Third potential outcome: you make someone cry – but you save yourself some tears of your own and possible regrets, for you cannot stay inside the comfort zone for the sake of someone else. If they love you, they’ll set you free because they want you to be happy – and they might even be a little relieved because you were brave enough to take that step. One way or the other, staying inside the comfort zone called habit is not an option if you want to be happy but are not. For you wouldn’t feel the slightest urge to break out of it if you were actually as happy as you believed to be.
Is there a way out of going round in circles? I believe there is: Basically, if you want the equation comfort zone / habit + gatekeeper = happiness to be true, you need to replace the term gatekeeper by “kindred spirit,” someone who will stand beside you without keeping you from leaving. Someone who wants you, wants you in their life but also wants you to be happy and will not put chains of any sort on you. If you’re free to go wherever you want (within reasonable limits) going back there will make you perfectly happy but it won’t define who you are and you will not feel the urge to break out again. For only if you consciously choose habit over freedom can you be truly happy – and the freedom of choice may become a synonym of adventure.
No matter what, never be afraid of the future, of setting out for new adventures, of making memories on your own or with someone else. Life is there to be lived boundlessly happily – it is not meant to be lived in a quasi-inert state of fake happiness your subconscious has made you believe in. There is no black-and-white definition of happiness either, happiness is relative. As for me, if something feels good, it was put in your way to be explored and if it seems like you haven’t reached the point of ultimate happiness you should move on and find it.