Speaking in public, travelling a foreign country alone, approaching a stranger to ask for a date or running around in a mankini in a busy shopping street. All actions that are typically outside of peoples comfort zone.
In case you are not familiar with the term, the (psychological) comfort zone describes the restricted set of situations and activities that a person feels comfortable doing and usually does on a regular basis. “Where our uncertainty, scarcity and vulnerability are minimized. […] Where we feel we are in control” (Brene Brown). A comfort zone differs among people and is dynamic and changeable over time. You might feel embarassed to sing karaoke while your sister is crazy about it and what might have been a major challenge in your teens can seem normal today, like driving a car. The comfort zone is not to be confused with the set of things you enjoy doing though. These sets can and often do overlap, but you can for instance be comfortable about dancing in a club without enjoying it or also enjoy it even though you feel sleightly weird.
There are obvious advantages in staying in ones comfort zone. It feels good, familiar, anxiety-free, here you can recharge and feel relaxed.
However, always staying in ones comfort zone and rarely taking a step out stands in the way of greatness and personal growth. You can’t live life to the fullest while staying inside.
So here are a few reasons to step out:
Freedom: The restrictions of your comfort zone are a limitation on your freedom as a person. There are many people that stay in a job they hate just because of their fear of change. But do you really want to base your decisions on your fears or rather on your ideals and dreams? Increasing your comfort zone means increasing your freedom. There are possibilities in life, you might not even see. The further you dare to step out, the further you can see.
Personal growth: Pretty much every aspect of personal growth starts with a step out of the comfort zone. If you want to publish a book, start your own business or blog (hey there!), travel a foreign country or take a new challenge - you will have to overcome the limitations in your mind and push forward. This might include failing and painful defeats - but isn't that what often constitutes most of the growth?
Effectiveness: There is research showing that productivity is at its peak when we are slightly out of our comfort zones. Further, there are many situations where the best and fastest way to do something is not the most comfortable way. Imagine you are single and want to meet people of the opposite sex (or whatever suits you), the obviously easiest way would be to just approach strangers in public to ask for a date. However, only very few people are comfortable doing that while those guys who can typically have dates all the time.
An other example is learning a foreign language what works best when your fear of making yourself a fool doesn’t stop you from practicing your speaking. Here, the more you allow yourself to make mistakes, the faster your progress.
Fun: Risking to tell a joke, doing something weird, generally trying new things or going for a first kiss. These examples usually take up some mental effort to overcome your first inhibitions but if you manage to do it, it will often be worth it. Whats more, there is an exhilarating feeling that comes after proving ones courage to take the step out, no matter about the outcome itself.
Adaptation: Occasionally you will have to do uncomfortable stuff, no matter if you like it or not. The bigger your comfort zone is and the more you are already used to exploring its outskirts, the easier those tasks. And once again it is your mindset that makes all of the difference between an anxiety-inducing threat or a constructive challenge.
So there seem to be good reasons to expand your comfort zone and step into new territory. Unfortunately though, there are strong psychological forces that will try to hold you back.
Foremost the anxiety to loose control, to make yourself a fool and loose social approval, generally to fail. While historically it made lots of sense that prehistoric men were afraid of stepping out of their familiar cave, nowadays these anxieties seem often more limiting than useful.
Further, there is a strong social pressure to act according to cultural norms. While small children seem to be free these inhibitions and can dance nakedly around the garden full of joy, teenagers learn to be very sensitive to social norms. If you want to be part of the in-group, you have to follow the social rules.
Personally I still sometimes get to think of specific persons and how they would think about me doing this and that. While some social norms are without question necessary for the smooth working of society, I find many rules arbitrarily and beyond usefulness. If you enjoy wearing sandals and socks, you should fucking do it! Haters gonna hate.
To be successfull in expanding your comfort zone despite these natural inhibitions, mind the following tips:
1) Change your attitude. If there is something you want to do but also feel strong discomfort about doing it, then take the mere existence of discomfort, as a reason to do it! Prove yourself that its not your inhibitions that are in charge but your will. Also, embrace your courage and vulnerability. Take the process of doing it as a success, no matter the outcome. Failure is but the first step to success.
2) Think gradually, one step at a time. Most great speakers started small and only gradually after hundreds and hundreds of speeches did they manage to move the act of speaking in front of a huge audience into their comfort zone. So be okay with many small steps.
Further, know that willpower can be trained like a muscle and will get trained through constant practice. However, also have in mind that fighting multiple fronts will be less successfull than focusing on one thing at a time. After an exchausting day of work chances are low that you will be in a state to push your boundaries.
3) Have in mind that most people think rather self-centered and worry about other peoples opinions all the time (not just you). That means, most people might not even notice how you stumbled while heading on stage because they were to busy wondering about peoples opinion on their new haircut.
4) Act quickly. The longer you think about your action, the more time is left for your mind to rationalize non-action and to come up with excuses.
5) Watch your body and feelings instead of making circles in your mind. Stay in the moment, watch the surroundings and focus on your breathing while trying to disassociate from your thoughts. This will help to keep your mind from building up drama. Meditation helps to generally practice this.
6) Do challenges together with friends or in a group to motivate each other. There do actually exist comfort zone crushing workshops if you are really serious about it. There is also a pretty fun game that is called "if I were you" where together with some friends you take turns to make challenges for each other like "if I were you I would make loud chicken sounds (in a public place)".
After I first got introduced to the comfort zone concept I started to get a new perspective on many situations and got more aware of some of my inhibitions and the value of pushing my boundaries. But fear should not limit ones ambitions.
Get to know your comfort zone and dare to take a step out, because
- Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead - inspiring book by Brene Brown on vulnerability and courage
- Push, push, push. Expanding your comfort zone - blogpost by Derek Sivers on pushing his comfort zone