“Do one thing every day that scares you”.
We all have our comfort zones, for some they extend wider than others and for some they are smaller, but we all have that psychological state of familiarity, where we feel in control and even a small shift outside the familiarity may cause low levels of stress or anxiety. There is nothing wrong with familiarity, it is safe and we take comfort in knowing; knowing that we have security and stability in our lives. There are many people who seek more, who spend their lives excelling out of their comfort zone on a day-to-day basis. Most of us fear change, whether we like to admit it or not, change makes us feel uneasy; it’s a shake up in our routine. Attempting to step out of your comfort zone will involve changes in habits and routine, and getting used to it will not happen overnight. A lot of people believe that if they have been doing something for a long time, then it obviously is working, so why change it?
Stability and familiarity is fine in life, we all want a stable income so that we feel secure and live our lives without concern. However, sometimes, remaining in our comfort zones will prohibit us from getting to where we want to be. From a young age, I have suffered with anxiety and I have found the older I became, the worse the anxiety became. The pressure of society to be and look a certain way can have extreme impacts in terms of anxiety, but there are many factors that can contribute to this. I also found that the older I became, the more I wanted to experience things that would require me to step outside my comfort zone. At times, I found myself turning away from opportunities and meeting new people because I found it difficult to approach people and interact in a way that would allow me to further myself. I would always worry about what people would think, overthink what I was saying to people and sometimes, trying to script conversations in my head before they even began. But most of the time, I would shy away from it, because it wasn’t within my level of comfort, it projected stress and anxiety that I did not want. When I look back on that now, I do wonder “what if?” but it was too late.
Although I suffered with anxiety growing up, I found I would still step outside my comfort zone in some ways and do things I wouldn’t have done if I gave myself the chance to overthink it. A lot of that comes from the child fearlessness, the younger we are, the less we seem to fear, the less we embarrass and the less we worry. I knew when I started university, I wanted to become a part of something, I wanted to meet new people and gain new opportunities because I knew that if I truly wanted a career within creative industries, I needed to network, I will be required to introduce myself to people. Starting conversations is not always a walk in the park, if like me, you struggle with anxiety and speaking to new people, then you will understand just how difficult it can be to strike up a conversation. My go-to is always the weather, but what Brit doesn’t use the weather as a conversation starter?
Through personal experience, I have discovered that the only real way of stepping outside your comfort zone, is by forcing yourself into perceived uncomfortable situations. At first, it’s daunting, feels almost impossible if you are someone who struggles with anxiety too, but once you have done it once, you can do it again and it may even feel just as impossible but with time, it will get easier – like with anything in life. Taking that leap you thought you would may take you to places in your life and career that you never would have imagined. I remember when I first started university, there were societies I wanted to join and sports clubs I wanted to be a part of, however, the fear of joining prevented me from doing it and anxiety made it feel almost impossible. Sometimes, even now, I regret not joining some societies in first year but, nevertheless, I am content with where I am now.
Over the last 6 months, or so, I have taken part in Karate and participated in two Karate gradings so that I am moving up the belt ranks. As someone who despises being the centre of attention, I stood up in front of everyone there and performed my grading syllabus. I am now a red belt and come September will be grading for yellow. Public speaking and projecting my voice is another issue I have had, but I am now working voluntarily as an iNews operator for a local television broadcaster, where part of my role requires to count with a projected voice so that everyone can hear me. I remember the first time I was told I was going to do it, I felt petrified but I was already there, I had no where to run, I simply had to sit and do it. But once it was done, I felt relieved and energised, I had overcome yet another major fear that I never thought I would.
Facing perceived insurmountable challenges head on and overcoming them by stepping outside of your comfort zone can provide one of the greatest life enhancers one can experience. It facilitates in building your character to be able to tackle greater and more complex situations with ease, by instilling a greater degree of confidence within oneself and this exudes onto others around you.
Anxiety is usually the main cause for us to not step outside our comfort zone, we fear the unknown, so gaining an understanding of the situation we want to step into is important – knowledge is power after all. Having a plan can also decrease the amount of anxiety when eventually stepping outside your comfort zone, it can allow you to prepare for what you are about to experience. Also remember, baby steps are important to success, it will not happen overnight, whatever is worth doing is never easy and takes time to master. Another key element is remaining positive, even if things are not going your way to begin with, continuing with the pursuit will increase the likelihood of success.
Comfort zones are important, but understanding the discipline of your own is vastly important in order for you to step out of it when it is required. Stepping outside our comfort zone is necessary in order to progress and without it, we end up plateauing. We will find that the more we step outside our comfort zones, the further they extend until we do not fear the things we used to as they will become the familiarity and stability. To step out of your comfort zone will not only allow the flow of creativity but will also allow you to become more flexible when the unexpected happens in the future.
It is okay to be scared and nervous, it is okay to want to run away and hide, you are not alone in feeling that but I truly believe that the only way to make big changes in your life, is by stepping outside your comfort zone. Sometimes standing your ground and facing these so-called challenges that are out of the bounds of your comfort zone, even if it ends with failure, are some of the greatest learning tools we have as people.
“You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
Taking a step outside your comfort zone does not have to be extreme, it does not have to be something you are unprepared for, it’s “optimal anxiety” where you are able to develop your skills, creativity and productivity. If you step too far to a point where you start to shut down, then do not do it – one small step each day will make an enormous difference in the long run. Small steps do not make you a failure, my own steps are small and there are days I wish I could push myself further but I know that the pace I am going is right for me. There is no “right” or “wrong”, only you; only listen to yourself and your needs. However, if there is something you want in life, go and get it, never let your comfort zone prevent you from living the fulfilled life you seek. If you do not get it straight away, there is no harm in trying again until you succeed. This notion is further illustrated by the grandfather of modern day fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien:
It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.
– J.R.R. Tolkien
Here are some small steps you could take to stepping outside your comfort zone:
- Try a new food
- Make a small change to your normal routine, e.g. different route to work
- Start a conversation with a stranger
- Do something you wouldn’t normally consider
- Take nothing for granted
Thank you for reading, I hope this post has been helpful, it is one I have wanted to write for a while. There is never any rush to jump out of your comfort zone to a point where it is unbearable, making baby steps will guide you the right way.
All we have to do is decide what we do with the time that is given to us.
– J.R.R. Tolkien