Many of us stick to familiar behaviours and situations, in an attempt to avoid feelings of fear and uncertainty. Often, it feels easier and safer to navigate territory we’ve come across before than to venture into the unknown.
However, the funny thing about comfort zones is that while they might make us feel more secure, at ease, and in control, they’re 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 on how you can take steps outside of yours…
What is a comfort zone?
According to research, once we’ve learnt 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 example, you might stop noticing your surroundings on the way home from work because you’ve walked that route hundreds of times before, or find that your workouts become easy because your body is used to a particular routine. Or perhaps you’ve been finding your mind drifting elsewhere while you perform the same regular tasks at work.
When this happens, we begin 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 is that it makes personal growth and development 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. 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’re usually trying to remove the element of risk from our lives. Predicting the outcome of a new scenario can be tricky; our minds will naturally 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 for 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 wide-spread is that when we stick within the limits of what we know, we also can become bored and disengaged from life. If the reason we stop trying new things is down to fear, we might also become frustrated that we’re 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 stop considering there could be more outside of it altogether. One day, we might take a step outside by chance and realise what we’d be missing if we never ventured beyond the limits of our normal, everyday routines and behaviours.
What do I stand to gain from stepping outside of my comfort zone?
While there’s nothing wrong with being in your comfort zone if this is where you’re 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 we…
Discover more about who we truly are
Opening yourself up to challenges and understanding how you react to and overcome them, 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 deepen the connection you have with yourself. This enables greater self-love and understanding, as well as possibility, growth, and progress.
Being prepared to step outside your comfort zone can also be the difference between being a leader or a follower.
To learn more about self-discovery and why it’s important, you might like to have a read of our article 10 practices for self-exploration.
Learn more about life in general, and gain the confidence to tackle new things
Everything that we know about life, we learn through experiences. So, when we continue to repeat the same experiences, our knowledge levels remain constant and our growth slows or stops.
Generally speaking, the more knowledge and experience we have, the more confident and able we feel. This can give us an increased ability to do things in life we would have never thought possible. This can be incredibly liberating and often comes with significant reward and satisfaction.
Move closer to our goals and create new ones
To reach a goal, we usually have to adapt what we’re currently doing – for example, working harder, or developing new skills. This can take courage and determination – two things we rarely find inside our comfort zone.
Sometimes, when we encounter an obstacle on the path to achieving a goal, it can feel easier to retreat back to our comfort zone, rather than tackle 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 new ones, because succeeding at our goals is what provides the confidence to strive for more. In many cases, the more we achieve, the more we hope to achieve, and the more we believe we can achieve. Equally, the more we shy away from our goals, 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, 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 believe that happiness lies within knowing that sustained happiness isn’t 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’ll hopefully act as a helpful 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 or in the same place, have the same evening routine, or always walk the same route to work, why not switch things up?
Changing small things about your routine can help you to engage with your surroundings and provide the confidence to challenge yourself in other areas of your life too.
2. Introduce yourself to someone new
Meeting new people can open your eyes to new perspectives and help you gain knowledge and ideas.
Often, what holds us back from getting to know new people is fear of judgement. But it’s important to remember we’re usually our own worst critics and judge ourselves far more than anyone else will.
3. Move towards your fears, rather than away from them
Naturally, we tend to retreat away from the things that scare us and move towards what we perceive as safer. But one of the best ways to deal with fear is to tackle what you’re afraid of head-on.
When we overcome 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 about tackling future challenges.
It’s worth reading the book, Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers, for tips on how to turn fear and indecision into confidence.
4. Try some new recipes
If you usually stick to the same shopping list, why not spice things up by getting a few things that you’ve never tried before?
Meals and snacks can instantly become more exciting when you start exploring different tastes.
If you’d like some inspiration, head over to the food and drink section of our website. Here, you’ll find everything from baking ideas and worldwide cuisines to fun seasonal recipes to try.
5. Have open and honest conversations with those around you
Sometimes the conversations that feel the most awkward or difficult are the most important. For example, asking your employer for a pay rise or speaking to your partner about relationship issues.
Often, we avoid these conversations because we’re worried about what the other person might say. But ultimately, it’s better to speak up, learn where you stand, and work out where to go from there.
Remaining silent can leave you wishing you’d had the courage to ask for what you want or to say how you feel.
6. Be more spontaneous
The more time we spend thinking about stepping outside of our comfort zone, the less likely we are to do it.
Overthinking often leads to catastrophising, so sometimes it’s better to go with your gut instinct and make quick decisions before you talk yourself out of them. Whether it’s deciding if you should book a weekend away, make a speech at a work event, or try a new recipe for dinner.
7. Try a new outfit or hairstyle
Many of us shy away from styles we love but don’t feel confident enough to pull off. It can sometimes be uncomfortable to make bolder fashion choices due to fear that it might draw more attention, or that people will judge you.
If this sounds familiar, it can be helpful to start by 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’ll feel to who you truly are, and the less you’ll care what others think. This can be incredibly liberating.
For more tips and inspiration, have a read of our article; 10 tips for dressing with colour and confidence.
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 restaurants or the cinema is something social that we should do with friends or family – but it can be empowering to break the mould and go alone.
This is also a great way to work on embracing your own company and feeling happy in your skin.
9. Learn some new skills
Life is all about learning, and to make the most of it, it can help to actively seek out new skills and knowledge.
Whether you’d like to learn a language, experience a new culture, take up a new craft, or explore different areas at work, it’s never too late to learn something new.
The learning section of our website has plenty of ideas.
10. Read something different
If you tend to stick to a single genre, you could challenge yourself to read something outside of your comfort zone.
Perhaps if you usually read romance novels, you could try crime and mystery instead. Or, if you usually read a physical book, you could give an audiobook a try. Reading something different (or exploring alternative ways of reading) can offer you new perspectives on the world – and you might find you really enjoy it.
For inspiration on what to read next, head over to the books, literature, and writing section of our website. Here, you’ll find everything from self-development and adventure books to history books and must-read novels.
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.
So why not head over to the travel section of our website and get inspired? Or, you might find some ideas you like in our articles; 11 really adventurous things to try and 15 adventures you can enjoy without leaving your home.
12. Try to remain positive
Stepping outside of your comfort zone can be exciting if you adopt a positive mindset.
Optimism is a skill that can be learnt and it helps us to find small positives and embrace new opportunities – even when things get tough.
Check out our article, How to learn the skill of optimism, to find out more.
13. Practise public speaking
Public speaking is also an important skill to have throughout life, whether at work, at a wedding, or even when with a group of friends at a social gathering. And, many will agree that the sense of accomplishment you feel after you’ve put yourself out there is immense.
If you’d like to practise your public speaking skills, you might find it helpful to read our article; How to become a more confident speaker.
14. Remember that everyone has to start somewhere
It’s easy to put off trying something new because you’re worried that you’ll fail.
But try to keep in mind that everyone starts as a beginner, and it’s 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 new form of exercise
Exercise is another area of life where we can become 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 with ease. Or maybe you participate in the same dance class each 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 levels and confidence. In the fitness and exercise section of our website, you’ll find lots of ideas about different types of exercise you might like to 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 can be a satisfying way to step outside your comfort zone and keep fit.
16. Remain open-minded
If you’re unsure how you feel about a situation, or you’re worried about what the outcome might be, 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 life experience as a learning opportunity can help avoid the fear of failure becoming the reason that you don’t pursue something.
17. Let go of control
Sometimes, we want to keep such a tight grip on everything around us that we don’t have any time to explore new avenues. It can be important to put more trust in the people in our lives so that we have the space to relax and try new things.
For example, at work, maybe you could delegate more responsibility to your employees, rather than trying to keep a handle on everything by yourself. Or maybe you could ask your partner or other family members to share more of the responsibilities at home.
18. Ask for feedback
Unless feedback is automatically given to us, we might not think to ask for it.
However, receiving feedback at work or at home (or in any aspect of life), can help us identify 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 learn to utilise them.
Comfort zones are so-called for a reason – they’re comfortable places to be because they involve less risk and provide greater feelings of security and control. On the surface, this might sound ideal, but if you’re looking to grow and reach particular goals, your comfort zone can be an unhelpful place to be.
When you take steps outside of your comfort zone (even small and cautious ones), you’re pushing beyond the limits of what you know, which leads to development.
If you’re ever in doubt about stepping outside of your comfort zone, it can be helpful to 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.
Consider how you felt in the moments shortly after these achievements happened. It’s those feelings of joy, pride, and fulfilment that are worth chasing if you want to get the most from life. It’s also those feelings that remind us why fear, and even failure, are all part of the journey…
For more inspiration on stepping outside your comfort zone, have a read of our article about author Kevin Chesters whose book, The Creative Nudge, teaches us how to overcome fears and free our creative side.
Do you struggle to step outside of your comfort zone? Or perhaps you did something that scared you recently, but that had a substantial end reward? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.