How and Why to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
By now, the Why Wait to Be Great? series has undoubtedly challenged you in some way to step outside your comfort zone. After all, we’ve covered sensitive topics like mending trust, being more assertive, conducting difficult conversations, challenging self-doubt, and doing reputational repair work.
If you’ve been following along and trying some of the techniques offered throughout this series, you’re already stretching outside your comfort zone. Kudos to you for the effort! It does get easier when you do this more often. It feels less onerous when you do this more often.
Why It’s So Difficult to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
We’re all bound by a natural tendency toward homeostasis. That’s a strong, instinctual, self-preserving desire to maintain stability and avoid any inputs that threaten to disrupt what we’ve accepted as normal.
Homeostasis is the root cause of accepting anything less than our full potential. We don’t strive for more, better, different because we are comfortable with our current state. There’s a fear of instability and uncertainty involved in disrupting our routines and status quo conditions.
When you see someone acknowledging the deficiencies in their current condition but refusing to make change, that’s homeostasis in play. Instead of recognizing it, though, we label and judge it in various other ways like risk aversion, laziness, resistance to change, stubbornness, narrow-mindedness, or lacking ambition.
In addition to this instinct for self-preservation, we’ve all had negative experiences when stepping out of our comfort zones. For example:
- Socially, you encountered a negative response when trying to interact with others in a particular group or clique.
- Professionally, you received a message (perhaps implicitly) that you should stay in your lane.
- Relationally, someone close to you had a negative reaction when it seemed you were moving away from them by trying something new.
- Personally, you failed when trying something new. You gave up quickly (due to the discomfort) and decided that that new pursuit simply wasn’t suitable for you.
- Emotionally, a failure to succeed in a new pursuit left you feeling vulnerable, anxious, or inadequate.
Our desire to avoid those types of experiences greatly magnifies our homeostasis. Together, these powerful forces can keep us tightly constrained within our comfort zones.
What’s Waiting for You Outside Your Comfort Zone
Yes, you’re right. There’s a lot of uncertainty and risk outside your comfort zone.
There’s also a lot of discovery, learning, growth, and opportunity waiting out there for you. The possibilities are infinite. Inside your comfort zone, there are limitations. Outside your comfort zone, there are none.
One of the best benefits you’ll find outside your comfort zone is the leveling up of your confidence meter. By taking those first, scary steps into the unknown (and surviving them!), your confidence will increase. You’ll be reminded that:
- you can do more than you think you can,
- you’re capable of finding workarounds when things don’t go exactly as planned,
- you can bounce back from disappointments, and
- that you’ll be stronger as a result of trying even when you fail.
Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” The reason is that “old dogs” are conditioned by previous experiences. People are, too.
For children, before they craft and retreat into their own comfort zones, exploration and learning is the primary motivation. They believe they can, so they do. All the developmental milestones – rolling over, crawling, walking, forming words and sentences, reading, writing, etc. – involve effort and failure and trying again.
Children gain confidence and courage from the payoff of their efforts. When the first step is successful (after many failed attempts and falls!), they take their second step. Soon, they’re running and never go back to crawling again.
The process is the same for anyone who wants to stretch themselves. All it takes is the willingness to endure the embarrassment and falls when your legs are still shaky. Instead of giving up after the first step and fall, remember that it was also one step closer to success.
What’s waiting for you outside your comfort zone is directly proportionate to the effort you’re willing to make and the initial discomfort you’re willing to accept.
Think of this as an investment. When you first put money into any investment, it’s money you could’ve used for more immediate comforts. Instead, you opted for longer-term benefits. You made a trade-off to build for the future, despite the short-term sacrifice.
Cultivating the Courage to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
It’s easy to say “just do it!”
It’s not so easy to actually do it. Stepping outside your comfort zone requires courage.
Courage is the willingness to face adversity and uncertainty. Courage is fueled by a desire for something more or different. When you want something badly enough, mustering the courage to pursue it becomes easier.
If you want to build personal effectiveness and move beyond your comfort zone, start by accessing your intrinsic motivation and allowing it to fuel your courage.
If you’re motivated by opportunities to learn and grow, take this proven pathway. Step-by-step, you’ll move through these phases as you step outside your comfort zone.
- The Fear Zone
At first, it will be downright scary out there! You may feel panicky. The temptation to retreat will be real and compelling. Here’s where you need that courage and motivation to persevere.
Confront the excuses you’re formulating. Instead of responding to real or imagined opinions of others, look to the longer term benefits you’re pursuing.
Instead of responding to your lack of confidence (because you’re in unfamiliar territory), remind yourself that you’ve been in unfamiliar territory before and you’ve navigated it safely. Draw confidence from your ability to figure things out and create contingency plans.
- The Learning Zone
Soon, in the midst of discomfort and even as you’re still experiencing challenges and doubts, you’ll notice that you’ve already learned a few things that you didn’t know before.
Give yourself credit for the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired. Maybe you’re only 5% better at the task than you were before. Don’t dismiss the importance of that improvement! Every big gain comes incrementally! Your expectation of immediate transformation may be unrealistic and cause you to miss the milestones that represent real learning and achievement.
Notice, too, at this stage that your comfort zone is already expanding. What felt like a monumental first step may now seem like no big deal. Keep going to continue this enlargement of your comfort zone.
- The Growth Zone
In time, you’ll grow from those learning experiences and challenges that you surmount. Even your failures contribute to your learning and growth.
Each time your comfort zone grows, you do, too. Your confidence, capabilities, capacity, and competence all grow along with your comfort zone. That’s why you’ll feel emboldened to set new goals. It’s why it will be easier to think about doing things that you never imagined were possible for you.
Being in the growth zone doesn’t mean you’ll never experience self-doubt, trepidation, or a desire to retreat to homeostasis again. It does mean, however, that you’ll have more tools for dealing with those feelings and more positive experiences to bolster your courage.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.”
The same can be said about your comfort zone. Stretch it, and you’ll also have a bigger zone to play in!
You can do this! Take it one step at a time. Just don’t walk it back. Take that initial step. No matter what happens, take another step forward. Then another. As you do, your comfort zone will continually expand with you. Your confidence will grow. As you discover new possibilities, your motivation and interest will also increase. Ever step gets easier to take.
It’s up to you to take the first step. That’s all you have to do to move beyond the self-imposed limitations of your current comfort zone.