I’m sat in a conference hall a couple of rows back from the front staring at the parquet floor around my feet. The 500-odd people in the room with me are all doing the same. The room is silent. It’s as if our heads are bowed in prayer.
The guy on the stage is Miles Hilton-Barber. He describes himself as an adventurer and motivational speaker. He’s been on adventures all over the world and has endured many gruelling experiences. As a speaker and a person he’s awesome. He’s also blind. He said many things that day in that conference hall that I found inspiring and that resonated with me as a great way to approach life. One of them was about “Comfort Circles”.
He proposed that you could look down at your feet and you could imagine a circle drawn on the ground, with you in its middle. That circle represents your comfort zone. Everything that you’ve ever done, known and experienced in life so far is within that circle. So, he had us all looking at the floor and picturing a coloured circle around our feet.
He then asked us, “What do you think happens to that circle when you do something new and you take a step outside it?”
The answer was, it moves with you. Each time you take a step outside of that circle and introduce a new experience, the circle expands to include that experience. So, what was uncomfortable and even scary before, now becomes familiar and more comfortable. Your circle expands each time you do something that scares you.
But why would we want to expand our comfort circles?
This question is particularly relevant to us if we want to stop drinking and get sober because each time we go into a situation sober where we used to drink, it can feel uncomfortable.
Whether it’s 6pm/7pm in the evening at home in front of the TV and you’re used to cracking open the beer or the wine, whether it’s going to a party or bar at the weekend and you can only imagine yourself being fun and sociable once you’ve necked a few drinks, these events have become programmed into you so they’re associated with drinking or getting drunk.
So, the first time I did my Saturday evening in without alcohol, cooking a meal in my lovely kitchen as I got ready to relax in front of the TV, it felt strange. It felt uncomfortable. It felt wrong. I had to steel myself to drink tonic without the gin. I had to force myself to take a herbal tea to the sofa instead of a bottle of wine. I missed the comfort of a familiar routine and the effects of the alcohol. It was a big step outside of my comfort circle.
Ditto for the first wedding, the first party and the first family meal I attended sober.
It can seem scary to go into these situations without alcohol when that’s what you’ve been used to.
But, stepping outside of your “comfort circle” is healthy and necessary when you’re changing a habit like drinking. It helps you to grow, to learn and to become more confident. It adds new experiences, insights and wisdom into your life and ultimately leads to a stress-free and fulfilling life sober.
The larger the circle, the more “rounded” the person. The smaller the circle, the more likely the person is to experience poorer mental and emotional health, less life satisfaction and the less able they are to reach their potential or be the best version of themselves.
We don’t need to take huge, adventurous steps like Miles (who has set some amazing world records running, mountaineering, flying, driving and travelling across Antarctica) to expand our circles. A step towards the outside of that circle can be as simple as drinking a cup of tea instead of alcohol on a Wednesday evening. Or making yourself go for a walk on your own even though it scares you. Or, drinking non-alcoholic lager at the bar. All of these things, whilst they might be nothing to someone else, if they’re uncomfortable for you, are helping you expand your own circle.
Feeling some fear when you stop drinking can be a good thing because it gives you the opportunity to grow your circle, grow your confidence and develop resilience and strength.
If you’ve had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, you might experience some discomfort when you first stop drinking and start learning how to navigate life sober. Know that this is okay. You can do it anyway. The more you repeat your new sober habits, the more you practise them and keep stepping towards the edge of your circle, the more comfortable and confident you become with living life sober.