When was the last time you did something for the first time? Trying something new or doing an old thing in a new way are the only ways that growth can happen. Yet most of us stick to the same old habits and behaviours, even when what we’re doing isn’t getting us where we need to go. If you’re not where you want to be right now, then something needs to change. And likely, what needs to happen is outside your comfort zone – that’s why you haven’t done it already!
Trying something outside our comfort zone feels, well, uncomfortable. That’s how we know it’s out of the zone! But in order to improve, we have to keep growing. That means being uncomfortable some of the time as we learn in order to grow. If we stick with our new way of being or doing, eventually it becomes comfortable, and our comfort zone will be bigger. The skill set we’ll have available to tackle our challenges will be bigger too. It’s another example of ‘short term pain (uncomfortableness) for long term gain (more skills to use to solve problems and achieve). (For more information about that phenomenon, check out ‘ How to stop putting off what’s good for you‘)
The truth is we tend to wait a long time in order to make a change, even when we know that change would be good for us. Some psychologists have even suggested that the only way people change is when the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of changing. For example, a person with a drinking problem won’t stop drinking until the consequences of drinking (e.g. liver failure, partner divorces them) outweigh the consequences of not drinking (e.g. having to face the uncomfortable feelings that led to problem drinking in the first place).
If you don’t want that to be you, then you need to apply the number one rule for growth: Get out of your comfort zone regularly!
Using this rule
How can you push yourself out of your comfort zone? The first step is to work out where your comfort zone’s edges are. Next time you’re asked to do something that you feel like saying ‘no’ to, check in with yourself and see if that ‘no’ is because you really have no interest in the activity, or is the ‘no’ because you’d like to do that activity, if only… (insert reason that you’re feeling uncomfortable ). That reason is the edge of your comfort zone. The activity could be a different way of doing things, or something new for you. For example, maybe your friend invited you to go to a cooking class with her and you turn her down. Do you have no interest in cooking? Or is it the fact that a) it’d be a long drive and you don’t like driving, b) you’re embarrassed by your poor cooking skills, c) you hate talking to new people and you know your friend loves it and you’ll be expected to join in, or d) something else that scares you, even though you like the idea of a cooking class?
Find the Edges
When you repeat this idea every time you refuse an offer, you’ll learn the edges of your comfort zone. Then it’s up to you to decide which of the offers you’re refusing would actually make your life a lot better, if only you could expand your comfort zone. So in the above example, someone who harbours secret dreams of publishing a cookbook or a burning desire to be making all their children’s food from scratch has a lot more to gain from expanding their comfort zone by going to the cooking class than someone who would like to be a good cook just because their partner would enjoy dinnertimes more.
If the activity matters to you, start to expand your comfort zone by saying ‘yes!’ and agreeing to do it. It’s a good first step because you don’t do anything yet. The hard part is then not making an excuse when it’s time to show up. To avoid this, it becomes really important to have several reminders around you of why you agreed to the activity in the first place – what you’re getting out of it. Talk to others about why you’re doing the activity, rather than just saying you are, and write down in obvious places the reasons you’re doing the activity. So for the cooking class example, ‘baking a cake others request the recipe for’ might be the reason why it’s worth getting out of your comfort zone and doing the class. Focussing on why makes it much harder to make an excuse and it provides motivation and something positive to focus on when you’re feeling uncomfortable.
Then, the only thing left to do is turn up! To combat those uncomfortable feelings, keep your mind focussed on what you’re gaining while you’re there, and remind yourself that it will get easier with time. It’s like the first time exercising after a break. That first session will be painful, but it’s the only way to actually get started. And if you can survive that, you can definitely survive the next time too. Just keep saying yes, and turning up. Before long, you’ll hardly be feeling uncomfortable at all, and you can reap the rewards of an expanded comfort zone, as well as the skills you’ll gain and enjoyment you’ll have from doing something that it important to you. For further information about how to manage uncomfortable feelings, check out ‘Expansion: aka giving your feelings a hug’.
Remember, hardly anyone has the time or energy to continually expand their comfort zone across many areas. For maximum success and maximum benefit to you, expand your comfort zone by engaging in activities that would help you reach your goals or live your values, but which you don’t do because you are scared of feeling uncomfortable in some way. They’re the ones to target. If you’d like personalised support and more techniques to help you expand your comfort zone, then book a session with me. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get started today.
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.