“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.”
Last year, before I launched my coaching practice, I gave out a survey asking a few questions about what people were looking for. It was an utter failure because at the time I didn’t actually know the questions I needed to be asking.
I still got a decent response. Some of the answers to my anonymous survey were interesting, and this one stands out to me:
“I want to become more confident in my own abilities while still keeping within my own comfort zone.”
Wanting to become more confident? Great!
But one part sticks out to me: “…while still keeping within my own comfort zone.”
If there’s one way to shortchange yourself, it’s this right here. There’s nothing wrong with your comfort zone. The problem comes up if we refuse to leave it.
When we’re in our comfort zone, we feel safe. Norman Doidge writes about in his book, “The Brain that Changes Itself,” our comfort zone is just the neural pathways our brain has developed around a particular situation.
If we stay on those paths, we’ll feel safe, sure, but we can’t grow!
We have to leave our comfort zone to grow as people, learn new skills, and meet others. Here are unbeatable tips to help you bust through it!
1. Your Brain’s Alarm System
You might consciously know where your comfort zone is, or you might not.
What you will know is how it feels when you start to leave it. It’ll come in the form of stress, anxiety, maybe even outright fear.
Maybe the anxiety hits in social situations like going to a big party where you don’t know anyone, speaking or performing in front of others, or something that might seem really simple on the surface like sitting down to write a blog post.
One place it always hit for me was sitting around the dinner table with people older than I was. I could blame it on being an introvert. But as a little kid having dinner with adults many of the things I said were ignored, and when I was heard I was misunderstood… and then ignored.
I quickly learned to not speak at the dinner table, and on the occasion someone asked me a question I would give a short answer and shut up. If you can imagine, this resulted in a lot of awkward dinners for me with the family.
And until I realized it (thanks to my girlfriend pointing it out), it was a behavior I carried with me as an adult.
Was it comfortable? Not exactly. But it did keep me safe (sort of).
The better question is, “Is it beneficial?”
As a kid, it got me through those family dinners in the only way my kid-brain could think of. But as an adult? That behavior became extremely unhelpful.
Think of your comfort zone’s edges as your brain’s alarm system. When you start crossing the border, the alarm bells start going off.
Your brain is just trying to keep you alive! Unfortunately, its over-sensitive and is like the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” only you might believe it each and every time.
There might not be any real danger in stepping out of your comfort zone at all, but your brain doesn’t know that. It just knows you’re leaving the boundaries of its neural pathways and it starts freaking out.
2. What if They’re Not Alarm Bells?
It all depends on how you look at it.
If you look at those alarms your brain is throwing up as signals to back off, you’re probably going to obey them; it’s going to be hard to go against them.
Instead, what if you look at those bells as signals that you’re moving into an area of growth?
I learned to do this from personal development work. Sometimes when doing an exercise the self-reflection could go into uncomfortable areas, sometimes even scary areas.
I knew there was no real danger (it’s hard to be in real danger when you’re sitting at a desk with paper and a pen), so I changed how I looked at it – I knew whenever I came against that feeling, it was a compass pointing me in the right direction.
You can do the same.
3. Your Brain is a Liar
Whenever you start coming up against your comfort zone, your brain’s alarms go off. It not only feels uncomfortable, but you might have thoughts like:
“On second thought, I don’t actually want to do this.”
“I can do it next time.”
“I’m not good enough.”
“It’s not going to work out, so why bother trying?”
These are your thoughts, but you don’t have to believe them.
In “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman writes about how the more we think a particular thought, the more we are certain it’s true… even if it’s completely false.
You might have one of these thoughts that are keeping you safe, and you might have it over and over. It doesn’t mean it’s true, and it’s your choice whether you want to listen to it.
4. Make a New Comfort Zone
When it comes down to it, there’s only one real way to break out of your comfort zone: take the uncomfortable action. Because when you do, what happens is you start to build a new comfort zone.
It’s a cycle like this:
Enjoy being in your comfort zone.
Step outside your comfort zone and feel uncomfortable.
The uncomfortable becomes your new comfort zone.
It’s just how our brain works. Almost everything we try that’s new will be uncomfortable. But we keep doing it, and our brain develops new pathways, and without even realizing it we’ve assembled a brand new comfort zone. In turn, this leads you to a place where you become more confident in different situations.
Find out where you’re uncomfortable, and take small actions to start expanding your comfort zone.
An easy one that a lot of people are uncomfortable with is talking to strangers. Give random people compliments. It sounds easy, but when it comes down to it, it can be hard.
Whatever action you take, notice how it feels when you’re going up against your boundaries, and later make sure to take note how it feels in comparison when you’ve busted through.
Of course, you can stay in a comfort zone. Though, what are you missing out on by staying there?