Get out of your comfort zone. You have so much incredible potential on the inside. God has put gifts and talents in you that you probably don’t know anything about. —Joel Osteen
When I worked in corporate American it was my job to know everything about my projects. Every detail was well orchestrated and the outcome was practically guaranteed. That way of thinking seeped into how I lived my everyday life too. If I wanted something I figured out a plan and then I proceeded. I did it so often that life was comfortable and predicable. I lived squarely in my comfort zone. Sometimes things took longer than planned, but eventually I could even anticipate what could go wrong. So I knew I’d eventually reach my goal. By all accounts I did very well living that way. The only problem was that it wasn’t satisfying. Over time, I even began to lack imagination because I simply relied on the tried and true. Living is my comfort zone is a viable path the get things, but it hasn’t proved to be a path to fulfillment.
Since then with all of the changes that have occurred in my life, I’ve gotten comfortable with being uncomfortable. While it may seem counterintuitive, as I look at how I’ve transformation my life from being depressed, unfulfilled and despondent to being joyful, excited and in constant anticipation, I realize that my comfort zone was the great enemy of my creativity. With a little bits of measured discomfort, I’ve done more to get toward living a life I love than I ever did in my comfort zone. And I’m not talking about suffering or unhappiness or pain. I’m talking about a little bit of discomfort, the kind we feel when we’re in unfamiliar territory; that little bit of uneasiness we feel when we are learning something new.
And since this is mild discomfort, as always, turning my life upside down is not required. I can introduce little things that will do just as much good, if not more, then explosive monumental changes because little changes will help me evolve and grow while dramatic change often destroys everything even the good I already have in place. There is a well-known Chinese proverb that says that the wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water molds itself to the pitcher. In adapting the saying, I’m taking swimming lessons! What does that have to do with being in my discomfort zone? Well swimming lessons a little change that’s challenging me for sure. But that new something can also very fun! And I get some bonus point:
- I’m become more adaptable. Adaptability is the ability to change (or be changed) to fit new circumstances. By taking risks in a controlled fashion and challenging yourself to things you normally wouldn’t do, you can experience some of that uncertainty in a controlled, manageable environment while learning to adapt to new situations, circumstances and ideas. As of today, I’ve taken three lessons. I can’t swim yet, but because I’m now comfortable in water, so we went to a water park this past weekend and I had a great time. Not yet being able to swim, the water part is definitely a ‘controlled environment.’ In learning to live outside your comfort zone in this way you prep yourself for life changes without all the risk!
- It’s gets easier to push outside my boundaries. A team of psychologists at Stanford University identified what they call ‘the optimal level of anxiety.’ The findings, which appear in the April 2008 issue of Psychological Science. In this state we basically, in challenging yourself and your comfort zone adjusts so what was difficult and anxiety-inducing becomes easier each time you repeat it. Learning to swim is not life altering. As it turns out, a friends of ours (not knowing that I couldn’t swim or that I am taking swimming lessons) is planning a kayaking trip for a group of us! Wearing my life jacket, I’ll be going where I would not have even considered going a month ago. Pushing your comfort zone moves the periphery that limits your life.
- I find it easier to reach for my dreams. Abigail Brenner, M.D., a psychiatrist in private practice writes, “Challenges and risk experiences are cumulative. Every time you try something new, allow yourself to be open to whatever experience arises, you are learning, and expanding your repertoire of life skills and self-knowledge. As you do this you are also expanding the size of your comfort zone” and by definition decreasing your stress threshold. I’m one step closer to my dream of going stand up paddle boarding, but I also wonder what else I can do. As you play with the boundaries of your comfort zone, you begin to see all sort of unrelated things as real possibilities.
Brian Tracy says, “Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” Trust me when I say stepping out of your comfort zone is most definitely uncomfortable. But as you can see there are several benefits of doing it anyway. There’s more good news.
- I find it easier to tap into my creativity. Tony Robbins says, “We all have stories—narratives we tell ourselves about why we can or cannot do or achieve something in our lives…—we’re usually right because our expectations control our focus, perceptions and the way we feel and act.” When we try new things we align ourselves with new ideas. It just how we are wired as human beings. Those new ideas, that new story, those new possibilities require creativity because we often find ourselves in unknown territory. But just as these new elements appear, new plans, new scenes and new solutions appear as well. I already wonder that if I can learn how to swim at my age, what else can I do? All that because I dared to want to standup paddle board and did something about it. And now I’ve added snorkeling to the list.
Sally Deneen provides an idea a week in her articles “52+ Ways to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone” Here are a couple more of my favorite that expand your comfort zone without going too to the extreme.
- Do some everyday thing differently. (Take a different route to work. Have dinner in a restaurant alone. Buy a stranger lunch. Use a new spice while cooking dinner. When ordering a drink at a restaurant, tell the waiter to surprise you.)
- Start small. (Dance in the rain. Go to YouTube and learn how to make origami. Sign up for a local workshop to learn something new. Attend a Meetup group. Dress up for no good reason, or wear something you normally wouldn’t.)
- Try something weird, wacky or not you. (Sleep outside. Brush your teeth while standing on one leg. Try hookah. Go to a thrift store and type on a typewriter. Say hi to a stranger.)
Les Brown says, “If you put yourself in a position where you have to stretch outside your comfort zone, then you are forced to expand your consciousness.” And what is being conscious if not being in a state of expanded awareness. That expansion opens all sorts of possibilities that we would not have otherwise realized.