We hear a lot about the need to step outside our comfort zones in order to grow, but what does that mean and why does it matter? Most of us lean towards getting stuck in comfortable, fur lined ruts; we settle into something that’s good enough to meet our needs and makes us feel safe. But there’s that gnawing feeling inside that we could do something so much more fulfilling and that we’re avoiding things that scare us. Many people do stay settled in that rut, but if you’re anything like me you’ve decided at some point that you want more than that – you dread living a boring, beige life.
Yet something stops you from doing what you want to do, and that something is fear. When you’re in your comfort zone rut you’re frustrated but you fear what will happen if you really face the challenges that could be your route out of it. Challenges are uncomfortable and it’s hard to be sit with that in order to gain something long-term.
I can’t count the times I’ve stopped perusing something that mattered to me because I thought I couldn’t bear the discomfort of the difficult bits. I wasn’t lazy or weak, I just hadn’t learned the resilience I needed to deal with the discomfort. For a long time I stayed hidden and annoyed in my comfortable rut. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone increases your resilience and your faith in yourself. It also helps you to overcome procrastination by learning to put aside short term discomfort for the sake of bigger long term goals.
Stepping out of your comfort zone teaches you to live with some discomfort, and learning that you can feel uncomfortable and still thrive gives you the resilience to go after what you want despite the difficult parts of the process.
The big question is: How do you step outside your comfort zone in a way that helps you grow?
The first thing to do is to identify what exactly it is about what you want to do that scares you. Here’s an example of a time I did this so you can see how it works:
I want to start running coaching groups next year. There’s lots I need to do before I can make that happen, some of it is in my comfort zone, some of it isn’t. I see the parts inside my comfort zone as actions to take (after breaking them down into smaller parts) but I see the parts outside my comfort zone as fears I need to overcome. Here are the chunks I need to work on:
- Come up with ideas for group coaching topics and design a programme = In my comfort zone
- Learn how to run group coaching effectively = In my comfort zone
- Advertise the group = In my comfort zone
- Run a group Zoom meeting = Outside my comfort zone
- Meet a group of new people = Outside my comfort zone
After identifying these I asked myself exactly what it is that scares me about these things:
- Run a group Zoom meeting = Afraid I won’t be able to use the technology smoothly
- Meet a group of new people = Afraid I’ve forgotten how to talk in groups of people since working mostly alone during Covid
I then asked myself how I can do a little bit of these things that scare me. Enough to be uncomfortable but not so much I put off doing it:
- Run a group Zoom meeting = Run a small monthly online Reiki group so I can learn how to use Zoom for a group call and get used to how it works
- Meet a group of new people = Join a walking group so I can meet new people in a setting that makes it easier
This was the easy part. It got considerably harder when it came to doing the things that scarred me, but these things actions me:
- I imagined how good it would feel to be confident doing those things and to reach my goal of running group coaching sessions
- I told people what I was going to do and they kept me accountable
- I got advice from people who’d already done something similar
- I controlled what I could about each situation, which made it easier to live with the scary bits outside my control
Do you want to try working through this process yourself? Here’s a free printable worksheet I’m made to guide you through it:
You need to go and actually do the thing that scares you! If you try but can’t that’s not failure, it’s an attempt that didn’t work out this time. Learn from it and try again; how might you make the situation more approachable next time you try it?
By pushing yourself out of your familiar, comfort zone rut you’ll build faith in yourself and your ability to live with discomfort in the name of getting what you want. Being capable of delaying short term gratification is an important life skill that makes you less likely to procrastinate, because you’ll learn that usually the discomfort of the thing you’re avoiding isn’t as bad as the pain of avoiding it.