Leaving the comfort zone is not that easy. Routines and habits can be very comforting as they give us a pleasant sense of stability and security, but they can also become obsolete and limited over time. The walls that we build around us to protect ourselves and give a certain order and structure to our lives end up suffocating us and cutting off our potential, preventing us from growing and living new experiences.
The benefits of getting out of your comfort zone are enormous. New experiences not only revitalize us, but help us to develop a greater open-mindedness and allow us to better face times of change and uncertainty. They also help us open ourselves to new possibilities and even allow us to discover things about ourselves that we might not have discovered otherwise. Despite this, escaping from the routine is complicated, especially when it has been weaving its web around us for years. In fact, we will not be able to do it if we do not implement a radical change in our way of understanding life.
Five tips to get out of the comfort zone and grow
1. Facing fears so they don’t end up cornering us
The fear of get out of your comfort zone is the main barrier that we must overcome. That fear is usually the expression of much deeper and paralyzing fears, such as the fear of failure, of losing control over events, the fear of being vulnerable and exposed, or even the fear of rejection by the others.
Every time we imagine something new that excites us, fear rears its head and generates resistance to change. That resistance will be greater the more intense our fears are. The good news is that when most people take the leap, they find that the anticipatory fear was much greater than the actual one. We must not forget that our brain loves patterns and habits because that way it saves energy, so it will not skimp on tricks to keep us in our comfort zone.
Still, it’s not a good idea to pretend that fear and uncertainty don’t exist. By leaving the comfort zone we are facing certain risks in a controlled way and we challenge ourselves, so experiencing some anxiety and fear is something perfectly understandable. The key, therefore, lies in recognizing those fears and feeling comfortable with them. It is not about ignoring them but about overcoming them.
2. Choosing things that really excite us and are worthwhile
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”, said Nietzsche. Perhaps the most important question is not “how to get out of the comfort zone” but “why get out of the comfort zone”. Having a good reason is a powerful incentive to face our fears and dare to do what we have never done.
Living new experiences is amazing, but if skydiving is not our thing, it does not make much sense to overwhelm ourselves to the point of heart attack to jump out of a plane in a parachute just to get out of our comfort zone. It makes much more sense to find tasks that challenge, but also excite us to the point of giving us the push we need to overcome doubts and fears.
Perhaps for you, living new experiences means spending a sabbatical year in an exotic country or simply making a change of life in your own environment. Leaving the comfort zone is not an excuse to do crazy things, it is to commit something crazy to fulfill a dream.
However, we must also stay alert because the unconscious often plays tricks by helping us to structure our lives in such a way that we can avoid the things that scare us. Therefore, we must separate the wheat from the chaff until we find what scares and excites us in equal parts. That is likely to be an excellent reason and incentive to get out of your comfort zone.
3. Seeing ourselves in permanent change, construction and evolution
The comfort zone is anchored in all our certainties and securities. It is not only made up of our habits and routines but also our narrative of the world and ourselves. All the labels that we put on condition and limit us within the comfort zone.
If we believe that we are shy, we will structure our life around that label, avoiding those situations that force us to leave the comfort zone. Instead, beginning to perceive ourselves as people in permanent change, full of potentialities to explore, will make a substantial difference that will help us develop a growth mindset.
The secret is to be able to separate the “past self” from the “present self.” The past may have marked us, but it doesn’t have to become a tombstone for our future. In fact, a study conducted at the University of Edinburgh showed that we are not the same person at 14 as at 77 years.
The changes that our personality experiences over time are so great that we are continually becoming different people. Therefore, it makes no sense to cling to things that have defined us.
4. Going step by step, at our own pace respecting our tempo
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step”, said Lao-tzu. It’s okay to take big, bold steps. But it’s also okay to take small, methodical steps. Getting out of your comfort zone does not mean setting aside any form of caution and acting recklessly. Each step forward is a progress, no matter how small it may seem.
Rushing into some decisions, especially important ones, tends to lead us to regret. Fostering self-awareness as we assess our limits and think about the next step is the safest way to get out of the comfort zone and reduce the anxiety that this generates.
Many times, without a clear roadmap, we have no way of drawing on past experiences and the wisdom we have accumulated. That can generate great anxiety because we feel that we are walking blind. Therefore, when we decide to leave our comfort zone, it will be better to respect our rhythm.
5. We don’t have to live indefinitely outside our comfort zone
The comfort zone is a state of behavior within which we operate with a neutral level of anxiety, using a limited set of behaviors to achieve a constant level of performance, generally without a sense of imminent risk.
Asking ourselves to live forever outside of that comfort zone can generate so much fear and anxiety that we won’t even try. In fact, it is not healthy either since we would constantly expose ourselves to relatively high levels of anxiety, we would be more exposed to imbalances and dissonances, as revealed by a study from the University of Waikato and our performance would plummet.
Staying in the comfort zone from time to time is not so bad. It helps us replenish energy, allows us to pause to assess how far we have come, and gives us the equanimity and peace necessary to plan our future.
Like everything in life, we need to find a balance that allows us to grow and continue exploring while feeling relatively comfortable and developing certain skills. In fact, after a period of learning, a new comfort zone is created, wider than the previous one, in which we feel comfortable again.
Of course, there are different exercises to get out of the comfort zone, but undertaking them without supporting them with a profound change of mind leads only to anxiety. The secret is not to change one comfort zone for another, but to expand our comfort zone so much that it makes room for the new, the uncertain and the challenging.
Harris, M. A. et. Al. (2016) Personality Stability From Age 14 to Age 77 Years. Psychol Aging; 31(8): 862–874.
Brown, M. (2008) Comfort Zone: Model or metaphor? Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education; 12: 3–12.
Yerkes, R & Dodson, J. (1907) The Dancing Mouse, A Study in Animal Behavior. Journal of Comparative Neurology & Psychology; 18: 459–482.