In the 2000 movie, Pay It Forward, Haley Joel Osment plays a child named Trevor McKinney. His teacher, played by now disgraced actor Kevin Spacey, gives his class an assignment. It is to think of an idea that can change our world and put it into action. Trevor comes up with the idea of paying it forward.
This quote is spoken by Trevor and shows just how easy it is for all of us to stay in a situation that is objectively bad for us, just because we are used to it or scared of change. He also highlights the rippling effect of giving up.
We all have things that we want, yet we are scared to go after it. That frustration, when you want something so badly, but you still don’t go for it or take action, can be incredibly, well, frustrating. Maybe you wanted to move to a new city, but you couldn’t take the step. Maybe you wanted to break up with your partner, but something held you back.
Humans like to stay in our comfort zones. We like to be in familiar situations. Think about your own life. Do you tend to go to the same restaurant or order the same food? Do you have some favorite stores you shop from? Or maybe a preferred route to take to work or a select spot on your couch at home. We love familiarity. But why is this?
The Need for Familiarity
The craving for what is familiar stems out of fear. We are afraid. We are afraid of change because that often means danger.
This is caused by the ancient evolutionary instinct to stay in our safety nets. Don’t fight with someone, don’t do something too crazy, don’t wander out of the tribe alone, don’t try out a new berry (that might end up poisonous).
These restrictions helped us survive. So, our brains processed this information as: fear is helpful and it is good to follow this fear instinct and stay within familiar territory and follow a predictable routine.
Outdated Human Instincts
Fast forward to the 21st century. Countless humans still fear and restrict themselves to familiar territory. The only difference is that the unfamiliar territory is hardly dangerous to our survival and the familiar territory presents itself in situations like toxic relationships, unfulfilling jobs, and mundane routines.
Familiar Thought Patterns
In fact, we can even get attached to our ways of thinking. Let’s take Negative Nancy. She has kept herself from disappointment by always focusing on the negative. She keeps herself safe from heartbreak, broken hopes, and failures by assuming nothing is going to work out. Being negative is her safety net, her defense mechanism.
However, by recognizing this need for safety, one can start to challenge this pattern of thinking. Remind yourself that you are safe, even if you think positively. You are safe, even if sometimes things don’t work out.
Along with our thought patterns, we also get attached to our routines. Whether it’s the same breakfast we eat, the same daily spin class, or the same bar for happy hours. While this can bring a sense of security and comfort, it also can cause us to slip into autopilot mode, where we begin going through the motions of life, without truly experiencing each moment to its fullest.
Sometimes, in order to rekindle the spark of excitement in your life, you have to switch things up and step out of what is familiar. Change it up. Even if it is just one small thing that you can change, like where you stop for your morning coffee or ordering a different sandwich for lunch.
The more you practice trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone, the easier it will become. Soon enough, stepping out of your comfort zone WILL be your comfort zone. While a sense of familiarity can be comforting and help us feel safe, always staying within our comfort zones can hold us back from living our lives to the fullest and keep us stuck in situations that aren’t serving us. Remind yourself that you are safe and supported, and stronger than you think. So, this is your sign to chase after your dreams, do the scary thing, and go for what your heart is telling you!