Most of us, at some point or another in our lives, have found ourselves faced with a new and unexpected situation.
When this happens, our natural reactions can range from mild surprise to a full-blown panic attack.
In some cases, both reactions might be justified, but often we react badly to new situations because we haven’t properly prepared our minds and bodies for what it is like when we step outside our comfort zone.
Stepping outside our comfort zone in controlled conditions leaves us much better prepared for when we are thrust into situations unexpectedly.
If you are someone who has traditionally struggled to step out of your comfort zone and embrace new challenges, this guide is for you.
Why Should You Step Out Your Comfort Zone?
There is a reason that we refer to our comfort zone as a comfort zone - it is here that we feel safe from the world.
When something wrenches us from our comfort zone, whether it’s having to give a presentation at work, having to take an exam or test, or going bungee jumping on holiday, we feel a tremendous, sometimes overwhelming, sense of anxiety.
Because of this, lots of people make a point of never stepping out of their comfort zone - why would you want to when it makes you feel so unpleasant? There are actually a number of benefits there for the taking if you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone when you can.
Always Challenge Yourself
First and foremost, pushing yourself to go beyond your usual comfort zone will mean that you are presenting yourself with new challenges and working on improving yourself and growing as a person.
Staying steadfast within your comfort zone will mean you inevitably stagnate and stall in your personal growth. We should all be aiming to grow and evolve - if you look back on yourself 10 years ago and don’t see any improvement then you probably need to take action.
When we are in our comfort zone, we don’t feel any sense of risk or danger. Sounds good, right? But we have a sense of both risk and danger for a reason, our bodies need anxiety and fear, they just need to be tuned the right way. General anxiety is not healthy, but it isn’t necessarily unhealthy to feel anxiety.
Do Things You Otherwise Wouldn’t
By stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing the anxiety, you will come to realize that taking risks and doing things that you are initially afraid of can ultimately leave you feeling better about yourself. If you manage to do something that you weren’t sure you had the capacity for, it gives you a reason to feel better about yourself. Even if you don’t succeed, at least you have tried. You can feel good about yourself for having tried to overcome your fears and having taken it as far as you can.
There is already research out there that shows that exposing our brains to mild anxiety can ultimately be healthy. Researchers refer to this as “optimal anxiety” - the point at which anxiety causes you to take positive action.
The Deadline Effect
A good example of this that might be familiar to you is that of deadlines. Many of us are world-class procrastinators who can put anything off until the last minute. In fact, without a deadline in place, some of us wouldn’t ever get anything done. When we are near to the deadline, we hit optimal anxiety and are compelled to take action.
If you step out of your comfort zone in the right way and at the right times, it should ultimately leave you better able to handle anxiety in general.
It will no doubt be hard at first, but the more you are able to step out of your usual comfort zone, the more you will be able to reap the benefits.
Of course, taking new risks and stepping out of your comfort zone is easier said than done. With the right advice, any of us can take on new challenges and risks with relative ease. If you are serious about making a significant change in your life, learning to step out of your comfort zone will be essential.
Remember, the ultimate goal of stepping outside of your comfort zone is to reduce the amount of anxiety that you feel when you take on a new challenge.
You should always have this goal in mind when you are deciding what challenges to take on.
If you think that taking on a new challenge or experience outside of your comfort zone is going to ultimately be too counter-productive, you should avoid it and instead set your sights on something that you feel will move you towards your goals.
Don’t Take Anything for Granted
Opportunities to really change don’t come along very often; you never know if circumstances will repeat themselves. Don’t ever take the opportunities that come your way for granted.
When you are trying to decide if taking the leap is worth it, ask yourself whether you would take the leap if this was the last chance you had.
We don’t want to get too morbid, but according to one palliative nurse, the most common regret among dying patients was “I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Are you afraid of stepping out of your comfort zone because of what other people might think? If so, you need to put that aside! You might never have this chance again.
Once You Start, it Gets Easier
The first few times that you try to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you will probably find it difficult to do. If this is the case, don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal.
However, one thing that you should keep in mind is that once you have done something once, it is then much easier to do it again or to keep doing it.
You can prove that this is true for yourself without having to leave your comfort zone. All you have to do is introduce something perfectly mundane and simple into your daily routine.
It doesn’t matter what it is - make yourself have a particular breakfast, make yourself get out of bed five minutes earlier.
You will find that once you have started to do something, once you make it a part of your routine, you will soon find it second nature and won’t even think about it.
Not Everything is in Your Control
Not everything in life is in your control - every so often, you will find yourself thrown into new and unexpected situations.
This can happen in your personal or professional life and might seem like something you can’t possibly prepare for.
On the contrary, if you have already trained your mind and body to respond positively to new challenges and situations that you once found scary, you will find it much easier to handle events that are beyond your control.
This is a general life skill that you will find helpful regardless of what your day job is.
A Change in Routine Can be Healthy
Most of us have something about our daily routine that we would like to do better. For some of us, that means resisting the food that we keep telling ourselves that we shouldn’t eat, for others, it means getting out of bed earlier or going to bed at the right time.
Whatever the change you have in mind, making a change in your daily routine can have a number of positive effects.
If you want to make a change in your routine that also involves stepping out of your comfort zone, you might find it easier to begin by making a change in your routine that doesn’t require any perceived risk and leaves you feeling safe and secure.
You Will Get Comfortable
The first couple of times you do something new, it will inevitably be scary and difficult.
However, once you have done something a few times, it then becomes easier and easier.
No matter how bad the anxiety or fear might feel initially, you should stay focused on how good you will feel if you manage to overcome your fear and achieve a significant change in your life and daily routine.
You Can Find Out What You Don’t Know
It’s easy to look at someone who has perfected a particular art form or creative pursuit and think, ‘I could never do that.’ But what is easy to forget is that behind every master of their craft is many hours of training.
Everyone has to start somewhere and there will always be people available to help you learn the ropes.
Some people are afraid of the unknown and become paralyzed by that fear.
The best way of conquering this fear is to push yourself to step outside your comfort zone again and again - in particular, try and find new experiences.
Once you realize how easy it is to find out what you don’t know, you will have eliminated a big source of anxiety.
Stepping outside of your comfort zone in controlled ways enables you to prepare yourself so that you are able to better handle the unexpected. Over time, you will find that your general attitude to anxiety improves significantly.
Have you overcome a fear or made a significant change in your life that you once thought unthinkable?
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