Getting out of my comfort zone has been a big theme for me. In 2013, I declared, “Adventure is out there!” and left my corporate marketing job for a sabbatical to South America (before packing up my apartment and leaving the job, and the country, for good). I spent those three months travelling alone through eight new countries, trekking up to Machu Picchu and writing a long bucket list of 100 things to do before I die. The coaching power tool that I developed during my training was about growth versus comfort. And my business name even comes from the quote, “Everything you’ve ever wanted is outside your comfort zone.” Today, I want to have another look at why you should go out of your comfort zone…
What is a comfort zone?
Your comfort zone isn’t a real place – it’s an idea, a theoretical construct. It defines the domains, habits and routines in your life that are comfortable (hence the name!). These things are familiar. You know what you’re doing, and you know what you can expect.
There are plenty of advantages to staying in your comfort zone: there’s a sense of safety and security, you’re in control of your routine, and you feel capable and competent to deal with day-to-day life. You can go about your day confidently and with ease, not having to try too hard or deal with any significant challenges.
Staying in that comfort zone, however, means missing out on so much learning and growth, so many opportunities, that lie outside of the boundaries of your comfort zone. By not getting *out there*, you’re effectively holding yourself back from trying new things that could be great for you.
Why you should go out of your comfort zone
So why should you leave your comfort zone? “I like it here,” you might say, “it’s nice and cosy, and everything is fine.”
Well, first, you should consider getting out of that comfort zone if it’s not so fine, not so comfortable anymore. If you’re feeling that boredom creeping in, getting itchy feet, knowing that it really is time to shake things up a bit. Maybe you’re wondering if there’s “something more” out there, something that would allow you to live up to your full potential, and you feel stuck where you are right now.
Even if you’re totally comfortable right now, if you don’t keep challenging yourself, the area of what’s comfortable will gradually shrink around you until you get more and more stuck in a limited routine and scope of what you feel is possible.
In reality, you may also be thrust out of your comfort zone – through a restructuring in your company, a redundancy, or some other big event outside of your control that shakes the foundations of your personal and/or professional life. Since this can happen at any point, it’s valuable to be practised in getting out of your comfort zone voluntarily, adapting to unexpected situations, and building your resilience so that you’re equipped to deal with challenges in the future.
Outside of your comfort zone lies the growth zone. You’re learning new skills and having new experiences, you’re full of anticipation and excitement for the future, and you’re facing challenges head on. You may feel a little nervous and uncomfortable but that’s what’s pushing you to achieve great things. (Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to be pushing yourself every day in every area of your life. It is absolutely fine to head back to the comfort zone now and then to give yourself a break and to enjoy what you’ve created!)
As hard as it is to hear it, the truth is that the things that you fear the most are often the very things that will make the biggest difference in your life.
Why is it so hard to break free?
As human beings (or any species, I imagine), we have a natural instinct to survive. Survival in the simplest terms comes from avoiding danger. Staying away from the unknown, the unfamiliar, and doing what we know to be safe. This all makes sense in a world where sabre-tooth tigers and whatever else lurking in the wilderness can kill you if you venture too far. It’s less helpful in the world we live in today.
Your brain is still trying to protect you now. To some extent, it’s thinking of your safety in the same basic way, for example, prioritising a steady salary that allows you to feed yourself and your family and keep a roof over your head. More so today, however, your brain is protecting your ego, and your identity.
Doing something new and unfamiliar risks failing (naturally, as we’ve never done it before), ridicule from other people, looking foolish… As human beings, we also place a lot of value on social status and belonging. Anything that has you sticking your head above the parapet risks people staring and pointing at this strange person who’s doing something different.
Real or not, if they feel real to you, these fears can be debilitating. I’m all for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and taking risks, but sometimes you can take it too far. If you’re feeling tense and anxious all the time, if the fear is taking over and you’re not able to deal with changes that are occurring, then you’re not going to get the benefits of growth. If that’s the case, stop pushing, get back to a place of safety – and then plan your next move from a more solid foundation.
How can you start stepping outside your comfort zone?
To motivate yourself to get out of your comfort zone, you need to understand both your reasons for wanting to do so and your reasons for *not* wanting to. Having that clarity on your bigger why and what you will gain from behaving differently will help to justify the accompanying risk. Recognising why it’s so hard will help you to show yourself some compassion and to address the things that are holding you back.
I always recommend that you start small. Take one step, however minor it seems. Then take another step, and another. Action begets action. It gives you confidence as you see, “Hey, I’m doing it! This isn’t so bad.” That will motivate you to take more action, creating momentum. As you take action consistently, you’ll start seeing results. Before you know it, you’ll be well into that growth zone and your fears and doubts will be a distant memory. Dream big – then start small.
What are you going to do today to start stepping outside your comfort zone?