How to ER: Early retirees leave their comfort zone

Published December 16, 2015   Posted in How to ER

Welcome to the first installment of “How to ER“, an article series that describes the techniques that early retirees (and future early retirees) use to escape the rat race early and start enjoying their lives in jobless bliss. In this post, we will discuss how early retirees leave their comfort zones.

Pinterest: Leave your comfort zone behindOur comfort zone is a powerful thing, and it is only natural that we human beings crave safe and familiar surroundings – me included. When we are enveloped within our comfort zones, we relax. We feel safe. We need not worry about the unknown, learning new things or changing up our world around us. It’s like our nice warm bed on a cold, dreary night.

In short, our comfort zone makes us secure in our surroundings.

But unfortunately, people’s comfort zones are also a big reason why many of us fail to achieve our goals – whether financial or otherwise. Why? Many of us spend too much time within them.

And very often, our goals are outside of what makes us feel safe and secure.

It is a mind-game. Spending is an addiction, and people’s minds keep planting the seeds of comfort within the decision-making process.  “Come on Steve, that new Corvette will make you happy”, my mind once said.  “Oh dude, wouldn’t it be cool if you supercharged that Corvette?”

Shut up, brain.  You are not helping me to achieve my goal of quitting my job and traveling the country.

1999 Corvette Convertible

My [sold] 1999 Corvette Convertible

Over the years, I have discovered a profound truth about financial independence – the key isn’t necessarily in the HOW.  Instead, the key lies within the MIND.  Once the mind has been tamed, one can truly begin to control their own destiny.

After all, it’s your mind that tells you what’s comfortable, and your mind loves comfort.

If our lifestyle has us going out to eat a couple times a week, then cooking at home more often to save some cash makes us uncomfortable. If driving an expensive BMW is what we’re used to, then bumming around in a fuel-efficient Honda Fit is probably a blow to our sense of security.

But, imagine for a moment how different our world might be if Microsoft founder Bill Gates remained firmly in his comfort zone rather than quitting college to build the Windows operating system. Think about names like George WashingtonNeil Armstrong, Beethoven, Shakespeare.

All of these men conquered their goals by escaping their comfort zones and challenging themselves to achieve bigger and better things. It wasn’t always a peaceful process or pleasant road.

They found immense success, but were also not afraid to fail.

Escape your comfort zone by letting reason control your mind

What happens when we begin to control our mind rather than our mind controlling us?  We soon begin to REASON, and reason is good.  It’s good people.

And our ability to REASON is what gets us out of our comfort zones and enables us to make better decisions in pursuit of our goals – by using opportunities that did not otherwise exist.

For example, trying a new restaurant every night might sound wonderful – after all, our mind wants that level of satisfaction.  But, our ability to REASON intervenes.  If we eat too much restaurant food, we grow fat and unhealthy. Our standard of living sinks. If our health gets bad enough, we may die. And yeah, it’s also super expensive.

And likewise, our mind tells us that spending money on useless crap will make us happy, and happiness brings us comfort.  Spending money may give us a feeling of temporary happiness. But soon, that happiness fades, and our mind begins to want more happiness, and we sink back into our comfort zone. The expensive and destructive cycle continues to press on.

Successful early retirees challenge themselves by controlling their mind and making decisions that support their goals. In many cases, these decisions may not feel comfortable.

After all, saying “no thanks” to a restaurant invitation is not comfortable for many of us. Buying the used Toyota Camry instead of the new Infinity can screw with our heads by giving us the impression that we aren’t successful enough to drive the nicer car. Canceling our HD television service or downgrading our cell phone definitely isn’t what makes the majority of us happy and comfortable.

But, making these uncomfortable decisions often do enable us to take more control of our financial situation, shed the wasteful obligations that society hoists upon us and achieve our goals – whatever those goals happen to be.

The 4-Hour Workweek” author Tim Ferriss sums it up like this: “Success can be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations you’re willing to have”.

I escaped my comfort zone

A couple of years ago, I had a routine in life that I very rarely wavered from. The routine involved spending money almost as quickly as I earned it. Expensive satellite television service. An iPhone. A brand new Cadillac CTS. Restaurants every week. A sport motorcycle and a supercharged Corvette.

2009 Yamaha R1

My [sold] 2009 Yamaha R1

I was living the life, wasn’t I?

Actually, I wasn’t. I was living within a comfortable earn-and-spend, but nothing about my routine bettered my life. I ended up with lots of expensive toys, but virtually nothing to show for my existence on this planet.

When I was bored, I usually bought something, or I’d pick up take out somewhere. Any time I accumulated a little extra money in my budget, I quickly earmarked it to be spent on some electronics. The shades that I was wearing at the time? Those were $225 Oakleys, bought when I was bored one day.

My comfort zone kept me in a perpetual shit-spiral of waste.

And I knew it, too. I bloody knew it but for years did nothing about it. It was too comfortable for me to remain in my slide towards working forever and possibly huge debt.

But one day, I stood in my garage and truly examined everything that I had. The cars and motorcycle. The house in the suburbs. All my “stuff”, and I asked myself what all this shit is doing for my life.

Finally, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and said no more.

I began making uncomfortable decisions, like:

  • I stopped buying crap and saved my earnings instead.
  • I sold my precious Corvette that I thought I loved so much.
  • I also sold my Yamaha R1 sport bike that drained me of hundreds a month in insurance.
  • I downsized my belongs to only those things I’ve used in the past year.
  • I began saying “no” to restaurant invitations and expensive travel.

I started to design a new routine that actually improved my life rather than one that kept me in what I believed to be a comfortable spot. This did not happen over night, but…

my ability to step outside of my comfort zone was the key to changing my life

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41 responses to “How to ER: Early retirees leave their comfort zone”

  1. I couldn’t agree more! Staying comfortable doesn’t lead to being, or loving, a remarkable life. I’ll be the first to admit that I routinely stay in my comfort zone but I have been trying to venture out more and more lately and have been seeing positive results, like paying off our student loans quickly. I can’t remember who said it but I love this quote “Outside your comfort zone is where the magic happens.” If you never make yourself uncomfortable, then you will never push yourself to do something truly great, there just isn’t the incentive. Great post Steve!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Thias – appreciate your comment. I like that quote. The magic does indeed happen outside of where we find the majority of our comfort, because magic isn’t doing the same things that we’ve always done. Magic is something very, very different. 🙂

  2. I have found my greatest successes have come when I force myself out of my comfort zone. Before fully commuting myself to saving most of what I earn, I, too was on the earn and spend program. It’s amazing how comfortable we are to slave away at jobs each day, only to have junk to show for it. Junk in the form of big houses, expensive cars, big cable pa makes, etc. And what do people look forward to most each year? Their vacations. All we want is our time. Earn and spend doesn’t get us there. Since feeling the FIRE, my comfort zone has changed to earn and save. I couldn’t imagine going back to my old way of living.

    What’s that saying…
    “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” -Neale Donald Walsch

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • Steve says:

      Spot on, Mrs. MMM. Junk in the form of homes in suburbs, cars and other expensive toys was the order of the day for me too. I had never heard of that particular quote, but I like it!

  3. “A couple of years ago, I had a routine in life that I very rarely wavered from.” I think that’s the key breaking the routine, those bad habits we fall into and just continue to repeat. We did them for years and racked up six figures in debt it wasn’t until we made a conscious decisions to change the routine and those habits did we begin to win with our money.

    • Steve says:

      What a change, Brian – from six figure debt numbers to the path towards financial independence. Definitely well done, and I bet your future self will thank you for the choices you’re making today. 🙂

  4. Jaime says:

    FYI 70% of sunglasses in the world are made by one company named Luxxotica and yes they manufacture Oakleys.

    And yes they’ll make anything from cheapie sunglasses, mid-range, to the expensive brand name ones. I used to shop out of habit like buying too much makeup (and I’m a minimalist with makeup!), eating out a lot, and once I scaled back I found a new comfort zone. I no longer shop out of habit.

    I do have an iPhone and an HDTV (no cable, I play video games and movies) but this was all saved up for before it was bought. Yes I do have a couple of toys. I’ll wait months before getting something just to see if I still want it. Sometimes I’m like a goldfish and I lose interest in something pretty fast, so I’ve learned to wait. I was the last of my friends to buy a smartphone.

    I also refocused focus my attention on hobbies like drawing, reading, hiking. I find them more fulfilling than going to a store. A typical night for me and my boyfriend is watching Netflix, playing a video game, drawing, reading, knitting (my thing, not his, ha ha), etc. =)

    My track coach in high school used to say that our ability to run is mind-based too. I’ve found pretty much 99% of things in this world are mind-based. =)

    • Steve says:

      Oh, I definitely agree 100% – life is all in the head. Our minds will tell us some pretty interesting things, and those things may or may not actually help us to better our lives. But once we take control of our minds, we control our very livelihoods! 🙂

      Thanks for the comment, Jaime!

  5. Ernie says:

    I’m curious – did stepping out of your comfort zone challenge your identity? So as you were making all of these changes in your life, was there a part of you that felt like you were losing yourself and not being true to who you are? I just read this fascinating article about identity and behavior/attitude change, and I’m curious what that looked like for you. Thanks Steve!

    • Steve says:

      Hey Ernie – for me, no, it wasn’t like that at all. But then again, I was changing my life ultimately because I found a problem with how I was living before. If anything, I realized that I wasn’t being true to myself by sticking to the same old routine, day after day. I needed to step outside of my comfort zone to regain my identity. I had lost it in my drive towards needless consumption. 🙂

      • Ernie says:

        That makes sense. Looking back I can see seasons in my own life where I knew I should be handling my finances differently but didn’t want to simply because I failed to find a problem with how I was currently living. I’m very thankful my eyes have been opened to a different way of handling money!

  6. I used to be scared to step out of my comfort zone and now I somewhat thrive on it. Conventional norms are boring. I want to chart my own path which doesn’t exactly come natural to me, it’s been an acquired taste along the way. I sold my Cadillac too, I stopped going out so much, I care less about my clothes, and say “no” more often.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Fervent – yeah, it has definitely been an acquired taste for me as well. I think just like anything, it takes practice, and the more that we do it, the better we get.

  7. Tawcan says:

    Living in your comfort zone all the time means there’s no growth. You’re just doing things you’re comfortable with and you won’t challenge yourself at all. Test our comfort zone is extremely important in changing your life. Great post.

    • Steve says:

      Couldn’t agree more, Tawcan – never getting out of your comfort zone ultimately means no growth…or at least, very little. And what fun is life anyway if you’re always just going through the motions of your routine?

  8. Great article Steve!

    Fear is such a powerful emotion that people avoid. And yet, if we all examine our lives, we’d find that the moments we walked beyond fear, is where our life’s greatest treasures were found.

    I just got back from a 6 day Tony Robbin’s seminar, and he kept saying, “What if Life doesn’t happen TO you, but rather FOR you?” Such a powerful and simple question that can literally change the quality of our lives.

    Thanks for being an example of someone willing to walk outside your comfort zone, so that you can inspire others to do the same.

    Life is too short to live comfortably. 🙂

    • Steve says:

      “Life is too short to live comfortably” – Ha, perfect! While there’s nothing wrong with comforts here and there, if we always remain in what we feel is comfortable, then we’re missing out on everything that life can offer. And I think you’re right, it’s very, very much a fear-based decision.

  9. Jack says:

    Definitely agree that stepping out of your comfort zone is critical for growth, and growth is critical for success.

    But sometimes you need to stay in your comfort zone. Case in point, raising a baby, I’m so far out of my comfort zone so far, that I’m growing even faster than he is. At the same time, the rest of my life is entirely routine, or at least as routine as I can make it. My slim grasp on sanity depends on maintaining that routine in every other aspect of my life, in order to have the mental capacity to grow so rapidly elsewhere.

    Change is good. Growth is good. Just keep it below the redline so you don’t blow your engine…

    • Steve says:

      Point well taken, Jack – if your entire life is lived outside of what you consider comfortable, that definitely can be a source of stress and frustration. You’re being forced outside of that zone with raising a baby, for sure! 🙂

  10. I often wonder about my comfort zone in terms of my career. I’ve changed districts, grade levels, and content areas – but I often come to the conclusion that I’d be a lot farther along in goals like finance if I switched careers entirely. There IS money in teaching, contrary to what some might say. The problem is it takes a few decades to get there. But I figure if I’m already doing what I love, why leave my comfort zone in terms of my career? I don’t want to chase dollars. I guess I’m happy to push outside it in some areas of my life, but I also don’t want to leave my comfort zone only for the sake of leaving it if that makes sense 🙂

    • Steve says:

      Hey Penny – I completely understand what you’re saying, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with staying where you are if you truly do enjoy your job. Changing careers just for the sake of money I think you’d probably regret in the long run anyway.

      Thanks for your comment!

  11. Stockbeard says:

    Powerful article!
    I couldn’t agree more, it’s all in the mind. But I’d say it’s possible to gradually change things without getting out of your comfort zone. Arguably, I stepped of my comfort zone by changing job positions (with no salary increase) in my company. And that backfired: I hate the job, and it put me on the sidelines for a promotion (while I was on track to get a promotion in the former position)

    Sometimes, doing *more* of the stuff from your comfort zone is exactly what you need to become successful. My own hobby is now a side income, and it’s right there in the middle of my comfort zone.

    • Steve says:

      Hey Stockbeard – I would argue that the fact you’re even engaging yourself in a side hustle means you stepped outside of your comfort zone to make that happen. You may be very comfortable with what you’re doing in that hustle, but there are a LOT of people who just can’t make that leap into moving their passion into a money-making endeavor. You’re probably outside of your comfort zone more than you think! 🙂

  12. Hey Steve, I’m on board with leaving the comfort zone! I think some other great areas it applies to are choosing a college (getting away from home), career (don’t be afraid to take a promotion elsewhere), and a lot of other areas. Top performers are usually comfortable doing something new and different.

    • Steve says:

      Good call, Adam – agreed, there are so many areas of our lives where getting out of our comfort zones can have a truly amazing impact. You hit on several. I chose a college a thousand or so miles away from home! 🙂

  13. It’s easy to live life without making progress on long-term goals. Small sacrifices along the way have snowballed into huge savings and financial independence for us. Early retirement is now just 3+ months away. We’re so far ahead, we’ve committed all of our earnings in this final year of work to future philanthropy.

    • Steve says:

      3+ months away is awesome! I’m looking forward to following your progress, and especially how early retirement treats you come March or so. Well done!

  14. Mr. SSC says:

    Breaking habits is what started it for us. We realized our monthly credit card bill was always ridiculously high, so we did a 2 month challenge to see if we could cut it by 20%. We ended up cutting it by almost 50% just by not going shopping when we’re bored, and mindless spending like you mentioned. It was a few years after that before we got onto the FI train, and for me, even longer, but mainly because it was outside of my comfort zone and accepted school of thought on how you function in society. You don’t just quit a high paying job you love just to have time to do stuff you WANT to do, lol.

    Recently with this oil industry volatility, it has made us question and play out multiple what if scenarios and the biggest thing that came from it? We realized we’re totally comfortable with our spending and lifestyle now, which is sustainable with less paying jobs and our savings where it is currently. More importantly, we both would be ok finding more rewarding, time freeing jobs if it meant we were able to up our quality of life, even though we may not be 100% to our FI number. It will be quite the decision making time if we both get let go.

    Our comfort zone has definitely shifted quite a bit from a few years ago, and it will probably keep shifting as our situations change. Like you said, it didn’t happen overnight, but it has happened and it’s been awesome for peace of mind that comes along with it.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for the comment, Mr. SSC – I see a lot of my past in what you described. And, the ability to honestly say that you’re comfortable with your level of spending relative to your net worth I think is the most important element of retiring early. If you can look yourself in the mirror and state unequivocally that you’re comfortable with everything, then hey, I tend to believe that’s all we really need.

  15. The most uncomfortable I’ve felt while saving for FIRE was the fear of offending others with my frugality. You don’t want to be known as cheap!

    Fortunately I got past those feelings and followed my own path. Maybe I dropped some friends along the way but it’s hard to tell since I’m rich enough with friendships these days. And they are probably more authentic friendships too!

    • Steve says:

      True that regarding authentic friends. If friendship means spending money, then I’d question how well-rooted that relationship is in the first place. 🙂

  16. AJ says:

    I am glad I just stumbled onto your site and your journey to FI. I used to follow the DividentMantra site but it is now ruined. I miss following Jason’s journey and posts.

    I enjoy reading how other people reach FI.

    I am not sure if I would call it stepping out of our comfort zone. We just realized what is important and made changes. In 2009, my wife and I went to Hawaii and we realized that we were SO happy with just our backpacks. When we returned home, we stopped buying dust collectors for the house and stuff for us. We stopped consumering and just buy essentials. We cut 15K from our expenses and we currently save 86% of our income in hopes to retire in Hawaii one day. It is our pipe dream. We realized that buying excessive stuff does not make us more happy.

    We are over 50 and reached FI two years ago by investing only in muni bonds for tax free passive income. Since we worry too much, we try to have passive income triple our expenses in case one income stream is gone. We have munis, 401K and pensions. Our current plan is to work till 55 to double our pensions and to get medical coverage when we retire. Our company is outsourcing so it would be nice to get a package instead of working till 55.

    You are making great progress toward your goal at such a young age! I wish we realized what is really important in life 20+ years ago instead of wasting so much money for so many years.

    • Steve says:

      Hi AJ – that sounds like a wonderful plan – I know someone who’s dream is to retire in Hawaii as well, but his involves the typical lifestyle of spending money, which’ll keep him at the office long after you’re retired. Good for you for prioritizing your future. Retirement won’t be long now! 🙂

      And I agree regarding Dividend Mantra’s site. I too enjoyed reading his journey.

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  19. High five for changing so many of your ways — I know your story, but I still think it’s super impressive that you were willing to sell so many of your old “toys” and change your habits so dramatically. While we can’t say for sure since we’re not early retired yet, we sure feel like we’re asking some tough questions and getting outside of our comfort zone on the way to early retirement. But then this funny thing happens when you get outside your comfort zone: suddenly that comfort zone gets bigger, and you’re back in it. So you have to work to get back outside it again and again, because it keeps expanding. 🙂 Nice problem to have, wouldn’t you say?

    • Steve says:

      Ha! True that, ONL – our comfort zones not only change, but they expand as well, and a continuous drive to keep ourselves improving through goal-oriented endeavors is the only thing standing between us achieving our own definitions of success and, well, living a life of mediocrity! 🙂

  20. […] love stories about people who successfully escaped their comfort zones by making powerful decisions to improve their lives – even if those decisions may not […]

  21. […] brand new Mercedes, or bad enough to say no to expensive dinner or vacation invitations. These are uncomfortable decisions that need to be made to help accomplish financial […]

  22. […] This simply cannot mesh well with a desire to quit the rat race and enjoy the rest of our lives in jobless bliss. Too many of us live paycheck to paycheck because we keep doing what we’ve always done, and as a result, we keep getting what we’ve always gotten. We ignore the mistakes of our past and keep chugging along in life headstrong into a stiff head wind, seemingly unwilling to step outside of our comfort zones. […]

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