Many of us will stick to behaviours and situations that feel familiar to us in an attempt to avoid feelings of fear and uncertainty. Often, it feels much easier and safer to navigate territory that we’ve come across before, than to venture out into the unknown. However, the funny thing about staying within our “comfort zone” is that although it might provide us with feelings of security, ease, and control, it’s often not the best thing for us.
Here, we’ll explore what a comfort zone is, and how stepping outside of it can lead to personal growth and adventure. Plus, we’ll offer some ideas as to how you can take steps outside of yours…
What is a comfort zone?
According to research, once we’ve learnt and adjusted to the best way of doing something, and can comfortably repeat it, our brain’s learning centres essentially shut down. This allows us to go into “autopilot mode”, so that we no longer have to put as much effort into the things we do.
For instance, you might stop noticing your surroundings on the way home from work because you’ve walked that route hundreds of times before, or you might start finding your workouts easy because your body has become so used to a particular routine. Or, perhaps, you might find your mind drifting elsewhere while you perform the same regular tasks at work.
When this happens, we can be described as living within a “comfort zone”; a space where we feel comfortable, and can usually predict what’s going to happen next. Because we know this space well, we often don’t need to be as engaged there, and can essentially relax.
The issue with this state of being is that it makes personal growth and development very difficult to achieve. Growth happens when we challenge ourselves to “step outside of our comfort zone”, by exposing ourselves to new settings, people and situations. Because in doing so, we open ourselves up to new knowledge, opportunities and experiences.
When we decide not to try something new because it feels safer and easier not to, we are usually trying to remove the element of risk from our lives. Predicting the outcome of a new scenario can be tricky; and naturally, our minds run wild, and tend to assume the worst will happen. But what if we decided to turn things around, and start imagining the best case scenario of every new thing we try? Even if this new thing initially makes us feel uncomfortable.
The reason that the phrase “Life begins when you step outside of your comfort zone”, has become so popular is because when we stick within the limits of what we know, we can become bored and disengaged from life. If the reason that we stop trying new things is down to fear, then we might also become frustrated that we are letting fear hold us back from the life that we want.
It’s also possible to get so used to being within our comfort zone, that we even stop considering that there could be more outside of it. One day, we might take a step outside of it by chance, without really meaning to; and realise what we could be missing if we venture beyond the limits of our normal everyday routines and behaviours.
What do I stand to gain by stepping outside of my comfort zone?
While there’s nothing wrong with being in your comfort zone if this is where you are happy – it’s important to be aware of how staying there could hold you back from achieving your goals.
For example, when we try new things (and therefore take steps outside of our comfort zone), we:
1. Discover more about who we truly are
Opening yourself up to challenges, and understanding how you react to and overcome these challenges, allows you to discover who you truly are. You become more aware of your strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and everything else in between.
Learning more about who you are can help to deepen the connection that you have with yourself; giving way to greater self-love and understanding – and to more ideas, possibilities, growth, and progress.
Being prepared to step outside your comfort zone can also be the difference between being a leader or a follower – and if you’re a leader, you will have the ability to set an example for others, and to stand out from the crowd.
2. Learn more about life in general, and gain the confidence to tackle things that we never thought possible
Everything that we know about life, we learn by having experiences. So, when we continue to repeat the same experiences, our knowledge levels remain constant, and our growth slows, or stops altogether.
Generally speaking, the more knowledge and experience we have, the more confident and able we feel, which gives us an increased ability to do things in life that we never thought possible. This can be incredibly liberating, and comes with a significant amount of reward and satisfaction.
3. Move closer to our goals, and create new ones
To reach a goal, we usually have to do something more than what we are doing currently, for example, working harder or longer, or developing new skills. This can take courage and determination – two things that we can rarely find inside our comfort zone.
If we want to continue taking steps towards our goals, then often, we have to be prepared to move beyond what feels familiar or comfortable. The path to reaching a goal might also be bumpy, and sometimes, when we encounter an obstacle, it can feel easier to retreat back to our comfort zone, rather than tackling the problem head-on. But doing this can mean putting a goal on hold, and might make returning to that goal later feel even more challenging.
Once we put off one goal, it can also be tricky to create any new ones, as succeeding at our goals is what gives us the confidence to strive for more. In many cases, the more we achieve, the more we want to achieve – and the more we believe we can achieve. Equally, the more we shy away from, the less capable we feel, and the smaller our world becomes.
18 ways to get outside of your comfort zone
Now that we’ve explored the concept of comfort zones a bit further, you might be considering how you can start to take steps outside of yours. Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “Do at least one thing every day that scares you”, and her words have since inspired people across the globe to find comfort in being uncomfortable. Psychologists also believe that happiness lies within knowing that sustained happiness is not just about doing things you like – it’s also about growth, and venturing beyond the boundaries of what feels comfortable and familiar to you.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of 18 ideas that will hopefully act as a helping starting point when you’re looking to explore life outside of your comfort zone…
1. Change up your routine. If you always eat lunch at the same time everyday or in the same place, have the same evening routine, or always walk the same route to work, then why not switch things up a bit? Changing small things about your routine can help you to engage more with your surroundings, and can give you the confidence to challenge yourself in larger ways, in other areas of your life.
2. Introduce yourself to someone new. Meeting new people can open your eyes to new perspectives, and help you to gain new knowledge and ideas. Often what holds us back from getting to know new people is fear of judgement; but it’s important to recognise that this is your inner critic talking, and that usually we are judging ourselves far more than anyone else will be judging us. Our article, 7 ways to meet people in the current climate has plenty of ideas about how to connect with new people during this strange time.
3. Move towards your fears, rather than away from them. Naturally, we tend to retreat away from the things that scare us, and towards what we perceive to be a safer space. However, one of the best ways to deal with fear is to move towards it, and tackle what you’re afraid of head-on. When we overcome or defeat the thing that scares us, not only do we feel a great sense of reward, but we also increase our resilience, and feel more confident in our ability to tackle whatever challenge comes our way next.
It’s worth having a read of the book Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers, for tips on how to turn fear and indecision into confidence.
4. Buy some different food at the supermarket or try some new recipes. If you usually stick to the same shopping list every week, then why not spice things up by adding a least two or three things to your shopping basket that you’d never usually think to try? Your meals and snacks can instantly become much more exciting when you start exploring different tastes.
If you want to explore some new recipe ideas, then you might also want to take a look at our articles; 8 recipe ideas from around the world, 14 quick and healthy snack ideas, and 7 sunshine-inspired recipe ideas.
5. Have some open and honest conversations with the people around you. Sometimes it’s those conversations that are the most awkward or difficult to have, that are the most important. For instance, asking your employer for a pay rise, or speaking to your partner about issues in the relationship. Often, we avoid conversations like these because we are worried about what the other person might say. But ultimately, it’s better to speak up, find out where you stand, and work out where to go from there, than to remain silent; wishing that you had the courage to ask for what you really want, or to say how you really feel.
6. Be more spontaneous. The more time that we spend thinking about stepping outside of our comfort zone, the less likely we are to do it. Overthinking often leads to catastrophising, and if we spend enough time considering what might go wrong, then it can be harder to take action. Sometimes, it’s better to go with your gut instinct and to make decisions quickly, before you have time to talk yourself out of them – whether it’s deciding if you should book a weekend away with a friend, making that speech at a work event, or trying that new recipe for dinner tonight.
7. Try a new outfit or hairstyle. Many of us shy away from styles of clothing or hair that we’d love to wear, but simply don’t feel confident enough to follow through with. It can sometimes be uncomfortable to make bolder fashion choices, knowing that it could draw more attention to you, or fearing that you’ll be judged. If this sounds familiar, then try to start making some style choices based on what makes you feel good, rather than what helps you to feel accepted by others. The more you do this, the more connected you will feel to who you truly are; and the less you will care what others think – which can be incredibly liberating.
8. Go to dinner or to the cinema by yourself. This is something that everyone should do at least once! Society teaches us that going to these places is something that we should do with friends or family – but there’s something very empowering about breaking that mould and going it alone. This is also a great way to work on embracing your own company, and being happy in your own skin.
9. Learn some new skills. Life is all about learning, and if we want to make the most of it, it can help to actively seek out new skills we want to develop, or knowledge that we want to acquire. Whether you want to learn a new language, experience a new culture, take up a new craft, or explore new areas at work – it’s never too late to learn something new. The learning section of our website will hopefully offer you a few new ideas.
10. Read something different. If you usually stick to a single book genre, then you could challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone by reading something completely different. Perhaps if you usually read romance novels, you could try crime and mystery instead, or maybe if you usually read a hard copy book, you could give an audiobook a try. Reading something totally different (or exploring different ways of reading) can offer you new perspectives on the world.
11. Plan an adventure. While there’s nothing wrong with going to your favourite holiday destination to relax, you could change things up by planning a more adventurous trip, for when lockdown restrictions ease. It might be enough to simply go somewhere you’ve never been before – or you might want to really spice things up by incorporating an activity like wild camping, mountain climbing, or scuba diving. Check out our article 11 really adventurous things to try to get inspired. Or, to find out what adventures you can have in the meantime, you might want to read: 15 adventures you can enjoy without leaving your home.
12. Try to remain positive. Stepping outside of your comfort zone can be less daunting, and more exciting, if you try to adopt a positive mindset. Optimism is a skill that can be learnt and it helps to keep us to learn from situations, find small positives and see new opportunities – even when things get tough. To find out more about how to learn the skill of optimism, have a read of our article here.
13. Practice public speaking. Public speaking is something that many of us fear, which makes it a great activity for helping us to get outside of our comfort zone. We might worry about how we come across, and whether what we’re saying will be received well – which can lead to feelings of anxiety. However, many will agree that the sense of accomplishment you feel after you’ve put yourself out there is immense.
Public speaking is also an important skill to have, as we might need to call upon it many times throughout life; for example, at work, at a wedding, or even when spending the evening with a large group of friends at a social gathering. If you want to practice your public speaking skills, then you might find it helpful to read our article; How to become a more confident speaker. Alternatively, check out the Toastmasters website, where you can join public speaking groups near you.
14. Remember that everyone has to start somewhere. It’s easy to put off trying something new because you’re worried that you won’t be good at it, or that you’ll fail. But try to keep in mind that everyone starts as a beginner, and that it can be normal to struggle at first. It’s important to trust the process, take your time, and believe that you’ll get there in the end.
15. Try a different new form of exercise. Exercise is another area of life where we can become quite comfortable with what we know, and eventually stop making progress. For instance, perhaps you used to struggle to run 5K, but now you run the same route several times a week with ease. Or maybe you take part in the same dance class every week, and although you like it, you no longer see it as a challenge. Opting to try a new form of exercise can create a new mental and physical challenge; which can boost your fitness, and increase your confidence. The healthy body section of our site has lots of ideas about different types of exercise you can try.
It’s also worth considering how you can challenge yourself within the forms of exercise you already do; for example, increasing the size of your weights, or attempting to run or cycle further or faster.
16. Remain open-minded. If you’re unsure how you feel about a situation, or you’re worried about what the outcome might be, then the most helpful thing you can do is to approach it with an open mind. Accepting that you don’t know what will happen, and choosing to see every experience in life as an opportunity to learn, can help to prevent a fear of failure becoming the reason that you don’t pursue a particular option.
17. Let go of control. Sometimes, we can want to keep such a tight grip on everything around us that we don’t have any space or time to explore new avenues. If we want to let go of some of this control, it can sometimes be necessary to put more trust in the people in our lives. For example, at work, maybe you could delegate more responsibility to your employee, rather than trying to keep a handle on everything by yourself. Or maybe you could ask your partner or other members of your family, to help you share more of the responsibilities at home.
18. Ask for feedback. Unless feedback is automatically given to us, we might be afraid to ask for it, because we can’t predict what we might hear. However, taking on board feedback either at work or at home – or in any aspect of life – can help us identify the things about ourselves, or about our performance, that we want to work on. It can also help us to see our strengths more clearly, and to utilise them wherever helpful.
Comfort zones are so-called for a reason: they’re comfortable places to be, because they involve less risk, and provide feelings of greater security and control. On the surface, this might sound ideal, but if you’re looking to move towards particular goals and achievements, then your comfort zone can often be one of the most unhelpful places to be.
When you take steps outside of your comfort zone (even small and cautious ones), you are pushing beyond the limits of what you know and feel comfortable with, which leads way to growth and development.
If you’re ever in doubt about stepping outside of your comfort zone, then start by reflecting on some of your biggest achievements to date. Chances are, the path to get there wasn’t necessarily smooth, and required some element of challenge. Then consider how you felt in the moments shortly after these achievements happened. It’s those feelings of joy, pride and fulfillment that it’s always worth chasing if you want to get the most from life. It’s also those feelings that will remind us why fear, uncomfortability – and even failure – are all part of the journey…
Do you struggle to step outside of your comfort zone? Do you have any additional tips that you’d like to share? Or perhaps you did something that scared you recently, but that had a substantial end reward? We’d love to hear your experiences. Join the conversation on the community forum, or leave a comment below.