A comfort zone, according to Wikepedia is “a situation where one feels safe or at ease”. Sounds great doesn’t it? A comfort zone has a lovely cosy feel, like being snuggled up in front of the fire in a pair of warm slippers. The trouble with the comfort zone, is that while it might feel very nice to be there, it can actually be quite limiting. You see, if you never go outside of it, you will never grow, you’ll never achieve what you want, in fact, you’ll never really live.
Breaking out of the comfort zone is something people are often reluctant to try. After all, you might feel you’re in a good place in your comfort zone. Years later though you may look back on your life and wonder how things may have been different if you had tried to push yourself beyond it. You may feel that you have wasted opportunities that you could have taken if you’d just had the courage to step outside of the comfort zone.
I don’t want to cast the comfort zone as a bad thing. In fact we all need it. We all need that space from time to time to relax and have down time, in order to find the strength to move forwards. But whilst the comfort zone serves a purpose, we need to be careful not to get too cosy in there.
There are huge advantages to breaking out of your comfort zone, not just at work, but for your overall personal development and enjoyment and fulfilment in life.
Firstly, you’ll be more productive. You should know me well enough by now to know that productivity is always top of my list so it should come as no surprise that while I’m writing about comfort zones the first question I ask is how comfort zones affect productivity.
I am certainly not the first person to ask this question. In 1908 an experiment was conducted by two psychologists, Robert M Yerkes and John D Dodson.
They found that stimulation or stress, up to a certain point improved performance and productivity. This state of increased performance and productivity is known as ‘optimal anxiety.’ It’s a fine line though. Go beyond the level of optimal anxiety and performance and productivity begins to deteriorate.
So some levels of stress are actually a good thing. For example, if you have a deadline that you have to meet, that extra bit of stress can spur you on and make you work faster to get there.
Daniel Pink, author of Drive, writes about how we need to find a state of ‘productive discomfort’ where we know we’re slightly uncomfortable, but not too uncomfortable to be at our most productive.
You Can Expand Your Comfort Zone
The thing is with comfort zones, everyone’s is different. Yours will be different to mine. And our own comfort zones change.
So another huge benefit of stepping outside of your comfort zone is that you can increase it if you work at it. Let’s say for example that you have a fear of public speaking but you know that communicating your business message is crucial to your success and that public speaking would help no end with this.
You would start by gauging your current comfort zone and then go slightly outside of that. Let’s say for example, that you could speak on a subject that you are comfortable with to a group of say 6 people.
If you find opportunities to then speak in front of a slightly larger group, for example of 10 people again on a subject that you feel confident with and do this until you feel comfortable speaking to a group this size. Again, once you feel comfortable, expand the group again, up to say 20 people. You can keep on building that experience and expanding your comfort zone, your only limit becomes the number of people you can get in one place to hear you speak!
The key to expanding that comfort zone though is to keep it up.
It Makes You Happier
Think back to the last time you did something that got you shouting from the rooftops happy, something that got the adrenaline pumping and made you feel truly on top of the world.
I’m guessing the last time you felt this way you weren’t doing something inside of your comfort zone.
Stepping out of our comfort zones makes us feel happier and more fulfilled quite simply because we’re more likely to have the kind of experiences that enrich our lives and make us feel like we’ve achieved something.
It’s hard to look back with joy at years spent sat watching the television, but looking back on a life of experiences and feeling satisfied from what you’ve achieved is much more likely to be from experiences gained outside of your comfort zone whatever they may be.
It Makes You Stronger
At the same time as making us feel happier, breaking our comfort zone also enables us to be tough and resourceful.
By consistently pushing our boundaries we become stronger. We become used to doing things we’re not comfortable with. In doing this we become used to a feeling of discomfort.
The more we become used to this feeling of discomfort, the less concerned we are with it. It therefore becomes easier for ourselves to push ourselves in situations. This is a sign that we’re growing in strength.
We recognise that there are risks in a situation but if those risks are worth taking we won’t be held back by them because we feel stronger and more confident.
It Increases Resourcefulness
Also, through pushing through the comfort zone, we look for ways to help ourselves break through. We get used to thinking in this way, seeking new ways to grow and this not only helps us build our strength but also our resourcefulness as we will constantly be learning, expanding our skills and knowledge base, which will benefit us in other ways going forward.
You’ll Find It Easier To Deal With Whatever Life Throws At You
When you push yourself to develop skills such as strength and resourcefulness and have greater confidence in yourself and your ability outside of your comfort zone it becomes so much easier to deal with unexpected changes or with things not going to plan.
Taking risks in a controlled situation and challenging yourself to do things outside of the norm prepares you for dealing with the unexpected in life.
You know that you have the skills to cope in different situations as you have become used to being outside of the comfort zone. If something doesn’t go to plan, you’re less likely to panic, more likely to look objectively at the situation and come up with a plan to get through it.
You’re In Control
The best thing, in my opinion, about breaking out of your comfort zone is it puts you in control of your life.
You get used to dealing with uncomfortable, sometimes scary situations in the pursuit of the things you really want. You learn to weigh up the temporary discomfort against the benefits and decide to go for it.
You don’t get held back by fear and limiting beliefs. You acknowledge those feelings, but put them in perspective and move forward anyway. You go for what you want in life and live it the way you want.
How To Break Out Of Your Comfort Zone
So, hopefully by now you are convinced of the benefits of breaking out of your comfort zone, so how do you actually do it? The principles are the same whether you want to develop a new business strategy, write a book, take a bungee jump, become more confident talking to new people, whatever you want to do, the approach is the same.
First of all, decide on the thing you actually want to do to step outside of your comfort zone. Come up with a list of things you would like to do but haven’t done yet as the idea makes you nervous. Pick one thing to start with. Choose something that you really want to do, something that makes you feel excited to think you could accomplish.
When you have selected your first challenge it’s a good idea to then think of all the benefits you can of completing it. Write these benefits down to remind yourself, you can use them to help motivate yourself if you find yourself tempted to back out.
At the same time write down the things that worry you about your challenge. Brainstorm what the things are that are worrying you and why they are worrying you. Ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen?
Compare the list of the benefits with all the fears associated with the challenge. Typically when you look at the benefits compared to the fears you’ll find that the benefits are considerably bigger than the things you’re worried about. Usually the benefits also last a lot longer than the thing you are worried about. Remember, if things go wrong, failure is only temporary.
Now research your challenge properly. Often researching what you are about to do and knowing exactly what’s involved can in itself make it seem like a much smaller mountain to climb.
Start small. If you never venture outside of your comfort zone it can seem like a monumental step at first, so don’t try and attempt anything too huge to start with. Break your challenge down in to small steps.
You don’t need to go the whole way to start with, just take the first step. Doing things one step at a time allows you to gradually expand your comfort zone. You become confident with the smaller aspects of your challenge and this helps to put in perspective the bits the can do and the bits that are outside of your comfort zone, and you realise that it’s just certain aspects of the challenge that are outside of your comfort zone.
Gradually take steps to increase what you can do, pushing just outside of your comfort zone. Confidence builds momentum so once you get started it’s much easier to push on.
View each step outside the comfort zone as a learning experience.
Do not expect everything to go perfectly, it won’t every time, but if you learn something from the experience it’s perhaps been even more valuable than if things go great first time.
When things do go well, enjoy it, savour the experience, rejoice in your achievements, acknowledge that you are here now because you chose to break out of your comfort zone and look for other ways to continue breaking out of your comfort zone.
Continually taking these actions to move outside of your comfort zone will help you to grow in all aspects of your life.
Enjoy the comfort of your comfort zone when the time is right, but recognise it for what it is and don’t be constrained by it. Enjoy breaking out of it, enjoy the new experiences you find, the skills you develop, the confidence you grow and take your life forwards courageously.