Human nature drives us to avoid situations that feel scary; fear and anxiety overwhelm and we hunker down, looking for relief from uncomfortable feelings. Yet, to reach our full potential, we must overcome the instinctual urge to fight or flight and challenge ourselves to do new and bigger things. We must get outside our comfort zones.
What does getting outside your comfort zone mean?
Your comfort zone is defined as a place or situation where you feel safe or at ease and without stress. It’s a cozy place, but if you stay too long, you’ll miss out on valuable opportunities to grow. You have to take some risks, try new things, and push your boundaries. You must embrace discomfort and shove fear aside.
Why is getting outside of your comfort zone good?
Let’s say you want a promotion but you are worried about failing. You have two choices: 1) take on a high profile project that, if successful, could catapult your career but is risky because it’s outside your area of expertise and failure is a possibility; or 2) play it safe, put your head down, and do your daily tasks in hopes that someone will see your potential and give you a shot. The first option creates an opportunity; the second option leaves that opportunity in another’s hand. Being willing to get outside your comfort zone allows you to create a better life. You won’t get a promotion, leave a bad job, gain a new skill, develop a meaningful relationship, or build your confidence if you always avoid discomfort.
What holds people back from doing it more often?
Fear of failure causes us to doubt our ability to take on a challenge and succeed. We create stories of doom and gloom that make us want to retreat to the warm cocoon of predictability and ignorant bliss. It’s scary being out on a limb. But if you are honest with yourself, how many times did the doom and gloom turn out to be as horrible as you anticipated? How often did you rise to the challenge when you pushed yourself to do something new? When you failed, was it really that bad? Didn’t you learn something incredibly valuable? Don’t let a false narrative hold you back.
How do you get outside your comfort zone?
The only way to get out of your comfort zone is to, well, get out of your comfort zone. Yes, it’s obvious and yes, it’s the only way. Stop listening to the voice telling you dreadful stories of failure and humiliation. Ask yourself these questions: if I take this risk, what’s the worst that can happen? What’s the best that can happen? What’s most likely to happen? This process helps you see a ‘middle of the road’ outcome that is not total failure but also doesn’t leave you disappointed if you don’t achieve your highest expectations. Another way is to be vulnerable and share your fears with someone else. You’ll find courage by connecting with others and hearing how they overcame self-doubt. Other ideas? Change your morning routine, sign up for a class to learn a new skill, read inspiring books, hang out with people more successful than you, take on a new project at work, or give someone candid feedback. There are a million ways to push yourself; you just have to do it.
What happens if you are always outside of your comfort zone?
Many of us have been living perpetually outside of our comfort zones for some time now; I know I’ve been. The chaos of fast moving change, increased demands on time, and the pressure to deliver results and perform can be overwhelming. While it’s good to push yourself, doing so for too long can lead to burn out. “When demands become too great for us to handle, when the pressure overwhelms us, too much to do with too little time or support, we enter the zone of bad stress,” author Daniel Goleman writes in Psychology Today. “Just beyond the optimal zone at the top or the performance arc, there is a tipping point where the brain secretes too many stress hormones, and they start to interfere with our ability to work well, to learn, to innovate, to listen, and to plan effectively.” If you find yourself in this state, step back, ask for help, and take a few days off. It may seem impossible, but you’ll find that you will feel refreshed and able to take on more after some down time.
While staying in your comfort zone may feel predictable and consistent, in the long run you’ll lose out. Taking on challenges and being open to new experiences create opportunities that can take your success to the next level. Think about the last time you did something you were proud of? Were you pushing yourself or on autopilot? Don’t be afraid of getting to close to the edge of your perceived limitations. If you walk right up and look over, you’ll see all kinds of paths that lead you to a more enriched and engaged life.
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