The Difficulty of Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

There is something both comforting and stable about a routine. Yet, we often feel life going stale when we get too settled into our routines. Getting outside of your comfort zone, it isn’t about jumping from a plane (though, feel free to do so if you wish). It’s about recognizing the power in doing something new.

“Are you really happy or just comfortable?” ~ Anonymous

It’s about finding out what life is really about – because it isn’t what you’re doing now. Life is what happens outside of your comfort zone. It might be frightening, but it’s going to help you stay ahead of the game. Not only is it good for your brain, it can help you relieve stress and prevent a burnout. 

Still, it’s difficult to shake off routines. Yet, there is plenty of science out there guiding you to do just that.

Pushing yourself beyond the lines of your comfort zone is a major deal. What do we mean when we refer to the comfort zone? What is it really? Why are we so comfortable with the familiarity of routine? Why do we quickly lose interest in new and interesting ideas and things? Is there any reason to push beyond the comfort zone? How do we break out of it? 

The comfort zone is your behavioral space. It’s where your behaviors fall into a pattern. This is a routine where you minimize risk, and you stave off stress. Now, that sounds like a pretty sweet spot. 

The key to beating stress is learning how to minimize it, right? The thing is, with the mental security a routine offers you aren’t stressed out, you aren’t wrought with anxiety, and you feel happier. 

Where did we get our ideas about our comfort zone? That story stretches back to 1908. This is when two psychologists, John D. Dodson and Robert M. Yerkes, held the experiment. Essentially, a state of comfort provides a steady performance. Yet, to maximize performance, a little bit of anxiety is required. A space where your stress levels are just slightly elevated. This is often referred to as Optimal Anxiety (https://hbr.org/2016/04/are-you-too-stressed-to-be-productive-or-not-stressed-enough). If we experience too much anxiety, we become far too stressed to be a productive person.

You can see why stepping outside your comfort zone may be difficult. It does tend to create a level of stress that we are not comfortable with or don’t feel equipped to handle. 

The truth is, stress is a killer, but you can handle more of it than you realize. You know yourself just how much you can achieve under certain levels of stress and anxiety. It’s likely pushed you to succeed when it felt as though the odds were against you. 

Likewise, when you push too hard it can backfire, leaving you to feel as though the idea to challenge yourself is a bad one. It’s human nature to return to a state of comfortability, one which is anxiety neutral. That’s why it’s so difficult to put yourself out there. 

“All growth starts at the end of your comfort zone” ~ Tony Robbins

The comfort zone doesn’t have to be inherently good or inherently bad. It’s just our natural state, the one most of trend towards. When we walk outside of it, we run the risk of increased anxiety and risk. This can lead to either a negative or a positive result. 

What’s important is that you recognize there is no need to demonize the comfort zone. Don’t look at it as something that is holding you back. Rather, think of it as your safe headspace where you can process the benefits, reflect on life, and relax. You can recede to the comfort zone, while still pushing yourself outside of it.

The Importance of Mindset

What on earth does mindset have to do with your comfort zone? Everything. A growth mindset is necessary for breaking free from your comfort zone. People with fixed mindsets can’t recognize the prison they have made for themselves.

“When was the last time you did something for the first time” ~ Anonymous

They just go with the flow, completely unaware that it has been disrupted and isn’t serving them. This is just life; this is what it looks like. People who possess a growth mindset, however, understand that life isn’t fixed. We are constantly evolving, life is always changing, and it’s a case of hitching your tow to a high-speed opportunity. 

People with a fixed mindset are convinced that their skills are their skills. There is no growth possible. What they are is what they are and there are no steps possible to change that. 

Whereas, people with a growth mindset understand that their skills can be improved upon. Everything is up for evolution. With determination, with effort, persistence, and resilience, you can improve anything and everything.

A lot of us really struggle with telling others no. We want to be seen as helpful, and we don’t want to let anyone down. Rejection is uncomfortable, it doesn’t feel nice so, we try to prevent others from experiencing rejection. So, we say yes. Yes to this, yes to that, yes to absolutely everything. 

We say yes when we have the capability to help, we say yes when we have the time to help, we say yes when we probably shouldn’t. There are times when you muster a quick no, but those times are rare. You feel pressured to say yes for fear of disappointing someone else.

Now, apply that same idea… but this time, it’s someone asking you to do something that is outside of your comfort zone. 

How quick are you to turn them down flat? That no comes much easier, doesn’t it? You barely had to think about it. You come up with amazing excuses to explain why you can’t or won’t join in. You weren’t worried about disappointing someone. You weren’t concerned with how they felt in that moment. You were only interested in protecting yourself from what you viewed as a risk.

“Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and think of what could go right.” ~ Anonymous

Why does saying no become so much simpler when the question is an invitation outside of your comfort zone? 

Why can’t you do this? What’s the problem? It’s simple. You have adopted a fixed mindset and you’re too scared to push yourself beyond your comfort zone. You can sit on the sidelines and stay sweet in your comfort zone. 

The thing is, when you are unable to do something, then you have to put effort in. Someone with a fixed mindset will fall into the false belief that if you have to expend effort, you’re just not good at it. 

If it’s meant for you, then it will come to you easily. People with fixed mindsets never need to expend energy because the things they’re not good at, the things that require effort… they’re for other people. If it was for me, I’d be good at it naturally. That’s it. 

When you’re comfortable with something, this is an indication that you’re naturally talented at it. That much is true. However, they also believe that discomfort means not only are you not good at it, but there is nothing you can do to change that. You can’t do it. You just can’t. 

Why are we so terrified of effort? Fixed mindsets believe that effort is not required if you are a genius and if you are a genius it’s easy. Needing to put effort in forces you to look at your abilities in a different light. 

“Great things never came from comfort zones.” ~ Anonymous

Additionally, effort strips us of excuses. You can’t say I could have been a lawyer, if you went to law school and failed. You can only say that if you chose another career path. For those with a fixed mindset, holding onto what could have been because you didn’t try is more important. It’s better than failing. Except, it isn’t! You’re missing out on life! While you try to protect yourself from the reality of life by hiding in your comfort zone, life is literally passing you by.

Now, compare that to people who possess the growth mindset. They believe that you can cultivate your abilities. You don’t know how much you’re capable of or how long it will take to make the necessary changes, you just believe it’s possible. That doesn’t mean if it can be changed it should be changed. Sometimes there is power in our imperfections. 

However, the point is that a growth mindset is open to change, open to opportunities, and ready to push you beyond yourself. With coaching, discipline, and effort, the growth mindset believes average abilities can be extraordinary.

When you are faced with a request in future, ask yourself this – are you saying no because you really can’t take part or join in? Or, are you saying no because it means stepping outside of your comfort zone? What mindset is leading you in this moment? 

Joining a kickball team sounds terrifying, you’re not particularly good at it, but your friends want you to join. Guess what? You can join in and get better; in the meantime you’ll have a blast hanging out with your friends for carefree fun.

If you aren’t good at something, but it’s something that you’d like to do… do you know to do? Go out and do it! Keep doing it! The more you do it the better you will be at it. It really is as easy as that. 

Okay, you might never make it to the MLB by joining a community baseball team, but you will improve your skills. You will also have an opportunity to meet new people, network, have fun, relax, and enjoy yourself. 

On the other side, you could not take part. You could instead choose to stay at home, bored with life, wondering why good things never happen to you.

In this case, which person do you think is happier? Who is having more fun with life? The person sitting at home nurturing their fixed mindset or the growth mindset person who is taking the bull by the horns and learning how to play baseball and hanging with friends?

Life isn’t all about work, it isn’t all about play. Life is all in the balances, and to achieve the right balance, you have to step outside of your comfort zone. What are you waiting for? Life is happening all around you and right now, you’re missing out. 

“Coming out of your comfort zone is tough in the beginning, chaotic in the middle, and awesome in the end…because in the end, it shows you a whole new world.” ~ Manoj Arora

The Gifts of Breaking Free From Your Comfort Zone

Optimal anxiety is the sweet spot that allows your performance and productivity to peak. It does sound as tough it’s code for doing more stuff.

“If you want something you’ve never had, then you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.” ~ Anonymous

What really comes with breaking free from your comfort zone?

Increased Productivity 

There’s a reason that comfort extinguishes productivity. Without the slight unease that accompanies deadlines we often do the bare minimum. We don’t have the ambition necessary to drive out behaviors forward. 

You slip into the busy work stage everywhere you go, basically pretending you’re snowed under because you can’t cope with the idea of stepping outside of your comfort zone. Pushing your boundaries means you can hit your stride. 

Increased Adaptability 

The worst thing you can do is act as though uncertainty doesn’t exist. You can’t pretend there is no such thing as fear. Taking calculated risks is an important part of challenging yourself to act outside your typical behaviors. 

Calculated risks allow you to experience uncertainty in an environment that you can manage and control, even if only a little. The more you do this, the more accustomed you will be to dealing with the changes that life throws you. You’re building a more adaptable self. 

Boundary Pushing 

The more you do it, the more at ease you become. According to a New York Times article (https://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/12/your-money/12shortcuts.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0), you acclimatize to optimal anxiety and productive discomfort becomes your norm. You become more willing to push your boundaries constantly in order to push your performance further. 

The Power of Brainstorming

This might be considered a soft benefit, however, it’s still important. When you learn new skills, seek out new opportunities and experiences, you are going to be a more creative person. This push to try new things often forces us to reflect on old beliefs and ideas. 

There are always going to be clashes, but those clashes will help you learn more, do better, and act to challenge cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias. 

We are often guilty of seeking information that will shore up our current system of belief. Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is going to challenge you deeply. 

More Benefits

These are some of the greatest benefits of expanding your comfort zone…

  • Personal Growth
  • Self-discovery
  • Inner Strength
  • Your personal power
  • Better perseverance skills
  • Resilience
  • Overcoming fear
  • Change
  • Success
  • All the places you want to go
  • Achievement
  • Endless possibilities
  • The greatest rewards
  • Progress
  • Adventure
  • All you’re capable of becoming
  • Your dreams
  • Your goals
  • The life you are meant to live

“The comfort zone is a psychological state in which one feels familiar, safe, at ease, and secure. You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.” ~ Roy T. Bennett

Steps To Get Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Breaking free from your comfort zone might just be a great place to be. That is, provided you don’t tip too far in the other direction. It truly is about balance because if you skip the scales too far, then you may end up plunged into a world of acute anxiety. 

“Dare to learn, to be different, to set your goals, to move out of your comfort zone, to be persistent.” ~ Unknown

Your attempt to create a space of controlled anxiety may backfire and leave you struggling every day. That’s why we pointed out the benefit of receding to your comfort zone when you need to. Optimal anxiety can tease the best out of you, but too much anxiety will send you the other way. 

Try the following ideas to break free from your comfort zone without pushing yourself too far. 

Daily Differences

Check out a new spot for lunch, drive to work a different way, drop meat for a week. These are all small ways you can change your comfort zone on a daily basis. It can be big, it can be small, what’s important is making changes that directly influence how you act on a daily basis. It may go well, it might not, but don’t let that put you off. It’s all about stepping outside of your comfort zone. 

Timely Decisions

Does taking things slowly make you feel uncomfortable? Do you pride yourself on making snap decisions and moving forward at speed? Then, it’s time to slow down. Look around, think about what you see and what’s going on. Make an educated decision. Don’t just react – think! 

Trust Yourself

This is going to contradict the last point, but don’t worry, there’s a reason. You might be the opposite of the previous point. Perhaps you do slow down and analyze information before you make a decision. 

That can be just as bad as the person who skips it. Trust yourself to make snap decisions when it’s necessary to do so. You don’t need to agonize for days over every single decision you have to make. Even if it feels more comfortable to do so. 

“The biggest rewards in life are found outside your comfort zone. Live with it. Fear and risk are prerequisites if you want to enjoy a life of success and adventure.” ~ Jack Canfield

Baby Steps

Breaking free from your comfort zone is a courageous thing to do. You will experience the same benefits, whether you choose to jump in head first or dip a toe to ease yourself in.

Choosing to take baby steps is still a beginning and getting started is the most important part. If you are anxious socially, then your first challenge shouldn’t be to approach someone in public and ask them out. Find your fears and get ready to face them. 

Take the process slowly, you can make stretching yourself a new habit in and of its own. The whole idea behind pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone is embracing new experiences and learning how to manage change and progress in a controlled way.

Just as you don’t have to limit yourself to huge experiences, you don’t have to limit yourself to small steps either. It’s all about doing things at the right speed for you personally but doing so consistently. 

Consistently stretch yourself.

“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” ~ Brian Tracy

Final Thoughts

There is a wide range of ways that you can stretch yourself and edge outside of your comfort zone. It could be learning a new skill or even a new language. This helps you connect with others, learn about what inspires you, and even travel.

Think of your comfort zone as your home. What kind of life do you think you’d be leading if you never stepped beyond the threshold of your front door? 

The entirety of your life can only be carried out from the same four walls. You do the same things every day. You eat the same foods every day. 

It sounds awful, doesn’t it?

“The hardest thing to do is leaving your comfort zone. But you have to let go of the life you’re familiar with and take the risk to live the life you dream about.” ~ T. Arigo

If you don’t leave the house, you won’t experience life. You won’t experience what the world has to offer you. How can you spark your creativity when you don’t interact with anyone or anything in this world? We need that. 

That same idea can be applied in a greater sense. 

You love your home. It’s your safe place. You return to it for peace. That’s all it should be, though. Like your comfort zone, it’s a place you recede to. You have to push yourself out of it as often as possible, though. 

Your comfort zone can be your safe place, but the world isn’t the scary place we imagine. Life is happening everywhere around you, and it’s all going down outside of your comfort zone! 

It’s impossible to embrace the discomfort zone 24/7. It’s important that you return to the safe place of your comfort zone to reflect and process the experiences you’ve had. This prevents all of those new and interesting ideas and activities from becoming boring and commonplace. 

We all have this tendency to lose interest in new and impressive things quickly. Once we’re used to them, they’re just ordinary. Why do you think you get bored when surfing the internet, despite the fact that literally, everything is at your fingertips. 

You can let an all new comfort zone drive you forward, or you can let your safe old one hold you back. The choice is yours.

“By leaving your comfort zone behind and taking a leap of faith into something new, you find out who you are truly capable of becoming” ~ Anonymous