How to get out of your comfort zone (and why its good for you)
You’ve seen the cheesy comfort zone quotes encouraging you to get out and do something strange or scary and what lies beyond when you do – but getting out of your comfort zone can be scary and hard.
But there’s actually a lot of science that explains why it’s so hard to break out of, why it’s so good for you to do it, and what can make it all a lot easier. I’ll be listing those here, but the first question to answer is…
What exactly is a ‘comfort zone’?
The comfort zone is a ‘’behavioural space where your activities and behaviours fit a routine and pattern that minimises stress and risk. It provides a state of mental security and you benefit in obvious ways: regular happiness, low anxiety, and reduced stress” (Lifehacker)
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
So why would you leave your comfort zone?
When we step outside of our comfort zone we’re taking a risk and opening ourselves up to the unknown and all of the stress and anxiety that entails. But although stress and anxiety have become dirty words, psychologists view a little stress and anxiety as a good thing and it’s even known as ‘optimal anxiety’.
Stepping out of your comfort zone into a new and challenging task helps create the conditions for increased productivity and performance.
Did you ever do something you were proud of when you were on autopilot?
Why is it so hard to step out of?
We are creatures of comfort. Our comfort zone is our natural state, a place with minimal stress and anxiety, where we know what’s happening next. You can see why it’s so hard to trick your brain to get out of there.
But it’s neither good or bad and is a good place to return to, to give yourself the headspace to recover and process the benefits when we do leave it. So there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with being there, unless you get more and more comfortable, and start holding yourself back from learning, developing, growing, and trying new things.
The benefits of stepping out
1) You will grow and your life will expand
As children, we’re natural risk-takers. But as we get older we learn to fear failure and start holding ourselves back from attempting new things. So unless you get out of your comfort zone, as you get older your personality will narrow and you won’t explore or experiment. There is no learning without discomfort, difficulty and stumbling. If you want to keep on learning and expanding your horizons you need to keep on risking failure.
2) You’ll be more productive and perform at your peak
Without the sense of unease and discomfort of stepping out of our comfort zones, we tend to do the minimum to get by and lose the drive to go the extra mile and learn new things. How can we expect to evolve in our careers and lives if we stick to the same old habits and routines? Stepping out can help you get there faster, achieve more, learn new ways of doing things, and increase and expand what is actually possible for you to achieve.
3) You’ll become more resilient and creative
By taking risks in a controlled manageable way you learn to respond to other life changes and circumstances that can force you out of it – you become more resilient to the ups and downs of life.
You’ll develop “openness to experience” – one of what’s known in psychology as the “big five” personality traits. It means you’ll increase your intellectual curiosity, imagination, emotional and fantasy interests and a drive to explore your inner and outer lives. “openness to experience” has been shown to be the best predictor of creative achievement in life.
How to step out of your comfort zone
It’s great stepping out, but don’t go too far and overstretch yourself. Everyone’s comfort zone is different – “optimal anxiety” is great, but be careful not to put too much stress on yourself
- Focus on the benefits of what you’re about to do – for me in my video “How to step out of your comfort zone” conquering my fear of going into the sea off the coast of England, meant I could start going cold-water swimming with my partner (and I know the payoff of just conquering a fear – joy, self-achievement, experiencing something new)
- Take it one step at a time you get the same benefits whether you take a big leap or a series of smaller steps. Some people get a thrill out of the big leap, but for most of us the thought of that can be paralyzing, and smaller steps mean it will actually happen.
- Make the decision and commit. There comes a time where you just have to do this and stick by it. Set the goal – the time/date, and write it down. Share it with friends or someone close if that helps or for some people posting it on social media means there really is no turning back.
- Ask for help 'none of us is an island'. We don’t have to do this all on our own – whatever we have been brought up to believe – asking for help is not weak – it is a sign of courage (it’s actually an essential skill I was taught on a leadership course). So, seek advice from someone who has been there and done it, lean into someone who regularly steps out of theirs.
- Acknowledge and celebrate when you step out of your comfort zone you are literally going against your brain and body (that both want to stay comfortable) so this is no mean feat. How will you celebrate? What is one thing you can say to yourself – are you brave, tenacious, strong?
And remember to reflect & recover - you don’t have to be constantly stepping out. It’s just as important to reflect on what you have learnt from the experience, and get used to your ‘new normal’. It’s important to return to a comfortable state sometimes to just rest.
We all need that head-space to recover and process those inspired, scary, productive and expanding moments when we do.
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About Sue Belton
Sue Belton works with people who feel unsatisfied with their lives and careers. She helps them get clarity about what will make them truly happy and fulfilled, and then helps them create more meaningful lives. Sue has been working as a life coach for ten years.