We’ve all heard the cliche quotes about stepping out into the great unknown in order to crush your comfort zone and achieve your dreams and goals. But what’s the big deal about being in your comfort zone?
Honestly, it can be a good thing: it’s where you feel safe, comfortable, and unstressed. Operating in your comfort zone probably means you’re doing what you’re naturally good at, and there are times when your comfort zone can function as a safety blanket during difficult external situations. The problem with comfort zones is that they have an ugly side. That feeling of comfort? It can turn to apathy if it’s never challenged. Never being stressed? That can turn you into someone who has anxiety about ever doing something different or outside the norm. When you start to notice a comfort zone that has a barrier of fear or apathy instead of comfort, it’s time to step out of it.
We’ve come up with our top 5 ways to get out of your comfort zone, and none of them are, “Just go out and do the thing!” Because if it were that easy, you’d have already done it. If you’d like to stretch that zone without bursting through it like a mad man at full speed, these tips are for you.
1. Identify your real desire
Stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t going to happen if you don’t know what new direction to actually step in. If getting in better shape is something you want, but your comfort zone is keeping you from doing it, ask some deeper questions.
Is it really the exercise that’s holding you back, or just the thought of exercising at the gym? Kick boxing may be a great way to get out of your comfort zone without setting yourself up for failure by signing up for your local fitness center. Identifying the real desire (getting in shape) instead of your expectation of what that desire has to manifest as (going to the gym) can help give you a burst of motivation and excitement that will make trying something new a little more fun, and a lot less daunting.
2. Ask the experts
Sometimes the fear of pushing through your comfort zone is really just a fear of the unknown. What is it actually like to start a business? How does traveling alone really feel?
Remove some of the unknown by asking others who have done it before. Does your neighbor have a successful business? Ask if she’d be interested in mentoring you. Did the woman in HR just get back from a solo backpacking trip in Europe? Ask her what she wished she’d done differently. Not only will asking others about their experiences give you the information you need to make the best choice, but it will also encourage you to try new things knowing they can actually be done.
3. The 5-minute rule
You’re scared of seeing a movie alone. You feel silly trying karaoke. You’re really nervous about initiating that conversation. Give yourself just five minutes. If after that, you can’t bear the awkwardness of being in a theater alone? Get up and leave. That karaoke song was a real bust? Stop singing and just enjoy the drinks and food instead. Conversation isn’t going well? Excuse yourself.
A 5-minute rule means you’re giving yourself permission to try, and move on (guilt-free) if it doesn’t work. Expanding your comfort zone doesn’t have to be a permanent, lifelong change. Trying to expand it in short, 5-minute sprints will still get you out trying new things – and you’ll probably be willing to try more new things if you know you only have to put up with it for a few minutes.
4. Start small
If you feel crippling social anxiety creep up at just the thought of pushing out of your comfort zone, start small. Do just one small thing every day to change up your normal, hum-drum routine. Try a new coffee shop; wear the shirt that’s been hiding in the back of your closet; take the stairs instead of the elevator. Come up with a list of 30 small steps you can take, and do one each day for a month. Next month, come up with 30 more steps that are slightly larger.
Pushing your comfort zone is kind of like getting into a too-hot Jacuzzi – you have to get in just a little bit at a time and get comfortable with having your feet in the water before you feel ready to move up to your knees. There’s no shame in pushing your comfort zone slowly, and it’s actually a really healthy approach to expanding it. All-or-nothing is rarely a good way to do anything in life; comfort zones are the same.
5. What’s the worst that could happen?
We’re not promoting dwelling on the negative, but sometimes it can be really freeing to ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”, and follow up with, “And then what?” For example: If you’ve really wanted to start freelancing, ask yourself: “What’s the worst that could happen?” You could send 50 cold emails, and no one responds. And then what? You send 50 more with a different approach. You ask a different freelancer what they’re doing. You try LinkedIn messaging instead of emails. Once you’ve done this enough, you’ll realize that the worst that could happen isn’t as bad as your anxiety would tell you.
It also means you’re probably going to make wiser, more careful decisions. Instead of quitting your job with no backup plan to start your freelance business, maybe you do it on the side until you’ve got 5 regular clients and have some money saved up to take the leap. Pushing your comfort zone doesn’t mean pushing away good decision-making, it means being brave while using wisdom.
When was the last time you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone? What was the result? We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments, and let us know if you’ve ever tried these tips!