Comfort zones are like double-edged swords.
While they feel great when you are in them, partly because everything is a relative known and there is a sense of stability, if you don’t step out of them every once in a while, you’ll fail to grow. Consequently, you won’t reach your maximum potential or get the opportunity to experience the excitement that living outside “the zone” has to offer.
For some, the idea of stepping beyond an area of comfortability is anathema. However, if you talk to someone who just went skydiving for the first time or finally opened his or her dream business, the smile on their faces and the excitement in their eyes is enough to grasp what going beyond your comfort zone can do for you. It can literally take life from being “okay” or “good” and turn it into an all-out wow!
The question that many have is how to start to work your way out of a life that is merely comfortable and push the envelope just enough to feel alive but not so much so that you wind up feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Here are three options to consider.
No. 1: Ask yourself the right questions
Andy Molinsky, an organizational behavior professor at the Brandeis International Business School and a Harvard Business Review contributor, agrees that going outside your comfort zone is “critical for learning and growing.” But he also indicates that it’s important to know whether it’s the right time for you to take the leap. One way to figure that out is to ask yourself these questions:
- Have you adequately prepared to do what it is you’re considering doing?
- Is going outside your comfort zone in this way really important to you?
- Given all of your current obligations, is stepping into the unknown possible at the moment?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, then now is a good time to start taking steps toward the outer edges of where you feel comfortable. However, if one or more of your answers was a no, then maybe it should wait. And if you still want to proceed, then ask yourself what you need to do to turn your no into a yes. Work on that before pushing yourself to your limits so you’ll be fully ready to proceed.
No. 2: Take tiny steps
Just because you’re interested in going where you’ve never gone before, that doesn’t mean that you have to run in that direction as fast as you can. Instead, it often helps to slow down a bit and start with small steps.
For instance, if you have your heart set on becoming a public speaker, instead of signing up to stand in front of hundreds of people even though you’ve never done it before, a slower, less anxiety-provoking approach would be to join Toastmasters. Go to a local club and see if you even like speaking before groups. If you find that you do, the meetings are a great place to hone your skills, making the prospect of public speaking feel more exciting and less scary.
Or maybe your goal is something physical, like climbing the area’s highest mountain or competing in a running or obstacle-based competition. In that case, starting small may be hiring a trainer to create a program for you so you’re better prepared for that type of event. The more equipped you are to handle whatever it is you’re up against, the less uncomfortable it will feel.
No. 3: Develop an extremely strong why
Even if you’re completely ready and fully committed to stretching beyond your comfort zone, there are going to be times when you just want to revert back to life as you know it. A life that didn’t feel so hard, so scary, and so unsure of its outcome.
Though that would be the easy approach, remember that easy is not necessarily what makes you feel alive. So, if you want to keep progressing forward, regardless of the obstacles you’re bound to face, it helps to develop a super-strong why.
Why is it so important to you to step outside of your comfort zone in the way that you’re thinking? In what ways will taking that particular action or series of actions benefit you? Write your answers to these questions down and keep them handy, reviewing them on days that you just want to give up. Use them as continual reminders of why it’s so important to keep pushing into uncharted territory.
There’s no denying that going outside of your comfort zone can be scary. But it can also be extremely rewarding, making it a definite part of the kind of life you want to live.