New experiences are scary. Life is filled with little fears, like presenting at work, making small talk with strangers, speaking up when you might say the wrong thing and anything that is uncomfortable at best and terrifying at worst.
“Life always begins with one step outside of your comfort zone.”
― Shannon L. Alder
The problem is that these things help us advance, in our careers, in our relationships, and our general quality of life. It’s easy to avoid difficult situations and just coast through our routines. After all, why should anyone subject themselves to anxiety?
However, these anxiety-inducing tasks aren’t always optional; sometimes they’re necessary. They are usually what’s preventing us from changing and advancing. They are good for us. The comfort zone is just that — comfortable — but it provides us with no other benefits. It’s time to step outside of ourselves to better ourselves. If you’re not stepping out of the zone, you aren’t leaning.
How to Step Out of the Comfort Zones
“We are so accustomed to the comforts of ‘I cannot’, ‘I do not want to’, and ‘it is too difficult’ that we forget to realize when we stop doing things for ourselves and expect others to dance around us, we are not achieving greatness. We have made ourselves weak.”
― Pandora Poikilos, Excuse Me, My Brains Have Stepped Out
First, it’s important, to be honest.
Often, we avoid a situation out of fear and chalk it up to some other excuse. Did you avoid a confrontation with a coworker because you genuinely believe it will resolve itself or because you’re petrified of conflict? Were you really tired that night and skipped a networking event, or were you too afraid to put yourself out there? If a friend gave you these excuses, would you believe them? If not, you may have to reconsider your motivations to stop them from holding you back.
Find ease in the discomfort. If you hate small talk, find an appropriate topic you enjoy talking about and make that your small talk. If you’re uncomfortable at an event, find a place where you feel comfortable meeting others, like a quiet corner, or choose to approach only small groups. Figure out a loophole in your fears and make it your own.
Then you’ve got to take the plunge. Sometimes there is no way around the fear besides diving right into it, like jumping into a cold lake. You’ll feel better soon after the plunge, once you’re already there. Often the situation isn’t as bad as your fears make it out to be. But you have to just do it to know for sure.
You can take small steps, like signing up at a public speaking class before electing to speak at an industry event. Begin speaking up in smaller meetings before you talk by larger ones. Have friends and associates give you advice and encouragement in advance.
You may struggle during these first attempts, and that’s okay. Allow yourself to mess up, to fail, and know it’s okay if you feel embarrassed for a bit. It’s all part of the learning journey. If you keep a positive attitude and pick yourself up after every stumble, you will succeed in overcoming your fears.
Stepping out of your comfort zone is scary, but it’s always worth it.
“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
Stability stunts growth and learning, which in turn stunts advancement in personal goals. You can sprinkle strategic instability into regular life without any large or exaggerated changes. Get your brain out of the rut of same-old and try new things, such as:
- Travel. You can go abroad to a new or exotic place or explore places you’ve never been to in your hometown. Notice the things you haven’t seen before because you’ve gotten used to them, whether it’s a park, monument, or interesting shop.
- Change your routine. We tend to fall back on the same familiar pattern, but shake things up a bit. Try a new place for lunch or swap a usual activity for something different.
- Begin a new project. This could be starting the novel you’ve been thinking about or taking spontaneous dance classes. Try a new skill and enjoy the learning process — even if you’re terrible at it. Remember what it’s like to be a novice.
- Seek out new and strange ideas by getting involved in subcultures, taking tours of other industries, checking out outlandish-sounding films and books, and meeting different kinds of people with unusual ideas. 
- Talk to people you disagree with to learn new things, even if all you learn is empathy. 
Open yourself to new, unpredictable ideas and experiences that will keep you constantly learning. Make your comfort zone bigger.
- Andy Molinsky. If You’re Not Outside Your Comfort Zone, You Won’t Learn Anything Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/07/if-youre-not-outside-your-comfort-zone-you-wont-learn-anything July 29, 2016
- Jessica Stillman. 10 Unexpected Places to Find Interesting Ideas. INC. https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/10-unexpected-places-to-find-interesting-ideas.html March 1, 2018
- Jessica Stillman. Science Has Just Confirmed That If You’re Not Outside Your Comfort Zone, You’re Not Learning. INC. https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/want-to-learn-faster-make-your-life-more-unpredictable.html August 14, 2018
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