Are you living or existing?
There’s a difference. Just because you’ve got a pulse doesn’t mean you’re feeling inspired, self-actualized, pumped, and truly alive. Many of us go through our days on autopilot without awareness and mindfulness in each moment. Others are aware there’s more to life but may feel worried or hesitant about breaking their routines and venturing into new, uncomfortable territory.
Friends, there’s so much joy and growth that can happen when you’re stepping out of your comfort zone. Yes, it can bring up apprehension, fear, and general discomfort, but those feelings can be good in moderation. Just think about some common scenarios: You make a shot, and the basketball swishes through the hoop. You lean in to give your crush a good night kiss. Those are exhilarating moments — a little scary, but exciting.
We don’t need every moment of every day to be an adventure, but we can introduce small doses of it every day. It’s important that we do this regularly so we get in the habit of being uncomfortable. Otherwise, we’ll naturally become risk-averse, and the more comfortable we get, the harder it can be to break out of the norm.
In this article, you’ll learn how to show up in your life with courage, whether the “no risk, no reward” motto is true, why slow growth isn’t always ideal, and how to make getting out of your comfort zone a part of your stress management plan. Ready to learn more? Let’s look at seven science-based reasons you should get out of your comfort zone today!
#1: We Need a Challenge to Feel a Sense of Accomplishment
If everything came easily to us, how much would anything be worth? The fact is, we’re primed to feel a sense of accomplishment when we overcome challenges. That sense of confidence, pride, and exhilaration we get from successfully navigating a situation in a new way expands our sense of self. It helps us realize our potential, and that’s the basis of a meaningful life.
This sense of accomplishment stems from stepping out of our comfort zone and entering our growth zone. In doing so, we’re tapping into the potential for self-actualization. This term, which comes from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, describes the process of evolution. We come into life with a set of traits, and we have different experiences that shape us. By the end of our life, hopefully we’ve evolved into a more self-actualized person who made use of all their potential.
To go from the comfort zone to the growth zone, we have to push past fear, excuses, lack of self-confidence, and the tendency to be swayed by others’ opinions. Surpassing those, we acquire new skills, find new ways to handle challenges, and extend our comfort zone. If we keep moving forward, we tap into the potential to make our dreams come true and change our lives for the better.
This dynamic way of being is what keeps life moving and feeds your vitality.
#2: Procrastinating Actually Makes Fear Worse
As humans, we’re naturally a little risk-averse, in part because change is hard. It takes energy to have a growth mindset. Plus, we have to contend with fear, which is an evolutionary adaptation to help us stay alive. However, when we let that fear take control too much, we stay cornered in a safe but predictable way of being. The longer we procrastinate, the more fear we may have.
Maybe you have social anxiety, and the thought of attending a group event scares you. You know it would be good for you, you know that you’re tired of being alone. Still, it’s uncomfortable, so you put it off and stay with the familiar feeling of being isolated. Maybe you’re afraid of bringing up an important topic with your partner, so you wait for the “right” time when you have the perfect conditions and you’re feeling confident and communicative. The bad news is, that time may never come.
The thing is, anxiety and fear don’t go away by procrastinating. In fact, it makes it worse. The longer you put off something that makes you uncomfortable, the more risk-averse you become. Plus, if you’re prone to worry, putting things off will undoubtedly be accompanied by a layer of residual anxiety about what’s to come. It’s best to rip the bandaid off and dive into those uncomfortable situations.
Another reason procrastinating continues to feed fear is it’s only through trying out new, uncomfortable experiences that we can feel confident about them! Once you’ve handled a threatening situation one time, repetition makes it easier. Eventually, your comfort zone will expand, and suddenly, what once seemed threatening will seem harmless to you.
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#3: Some Stress Is Good for You (Yes, It Can Improve Your Performance!)
We’ve been hearing about the negative health effects of stress for many years now, but believe it or not stress can be good for you. Termed eustress, good stress occurs as a result of the excitement of doing something new. Walking to the podium to accept an award, catching the perfect wave while surfing, trekking through an amusement park haunted house — these are all examples of positive, though stressful, experiences.
When it doesn’t tip into acute or chronic stress, the elevated adrenaline and cortisol can make us feel alert and alive. This is stress physiologically, but it’s still pleasurable. The trick is you don’t want good stress to become chronic or devolve into the kind of stress that gives you a panic attack or insomnia. You need to balance it with rest.
To add good stress to your day in a healthy way, focus on small wins. You might finally ask the barista you’ve seen every day for months for his number or go on a hike even though you’ve sworn yourself to be a city girl. By introducing small forays out of your comfort zone daily, you may find you feel more alive, passionate, energetic, even unstoppable! You’re not existing, you’re living.
#4: Doing Something New Can Boost Creativity
Another important reason to expand your comfort zone has to do with creativity. When you’re on autopilot, you’re relying on habits you’ve already acquired. When you’re out of your comfort zone, you need to problem-solve and create new habits, skills, and ways of doing things. That alone is a creativity boost.
When you’re doing something unfamiliar, you can experiment with different ways of acting and behaving. For example, you might attend a business function that makes you nervous and experiment with ways of networking, presenting yourself, speaking, and acting. In doing so, you’re creating and cultivating new parts of your personality.
Then there’s creative work like painting, writing, or making music. No great works of art were created through comfort. They were likely born in discomfort. A great novel that isn’t formulaic required the author to feel lost, anxious, and unsure of what was coming next. A breathtaking painting expressing an artist’s feelings likely came through in a way that was surprising even to the painter herself. A musician who remains compelling through the years likely pushed themself to evolve, not just recreate a successful album’s past.
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#5: New Experiences Fuel New Neurons
The neural pathways in our brains are like well-worn freeway paths with the same thoughts speeding down them continuously. Our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors follow the path of least resistance down those same old neuropathways, even if they keep us stuck and rob us of joy. Through the rush of daily life, we don’t always have time to monitor and change our self-limiting beliefs and thoughts.
It’s also just natural to want to stay with the familiar — to our brains, what’s new is work. Imagine trying to weed whack your way through an overgrown jungle path versus walking down a paved concrete road. One way is energy-intensive, another isn’t, so it’s likely we’ll prefer the well-worn path.
It’s the same with our thoughts. Whacking our way through the jungle feels exhausting and scary at first, but with enough repetition, it gets easier. Maybe that path also leads to a better outcome more aligned with our vision, hopes, and dreams.
The trick is to traipse those pathways mindfully and in small doses. The more we do it, the easier it gets, and soon, we’re much more comfortable doing things completely out of our comfort zone.
#6: It Boosts Confidence
If you’ve looked into confidence building, you may have heard about affirmations, visualization, getting therapy, doing shadow work, and other techniques to boost self-esteem.
But here’s a secret — part of building confidence is simply about the experience. The more wins and successes you have with something, the easier it is to be confident about them. This can work against you if you’re so afraid of failure that you avoid trying something, and it ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Let’s say you think you’re no good at sports. Imagine that one time, in grade school, you were picked to be on a baseball team, and your poor pitch lost your team the game, resulting in a painful memory of irritated or mean-spirited classmates. You then avoid sports situations all throughout high school, college, and beyond. If you’re in your late 20s and you’re now trying to build confidence in your athletic abilities, it’s going to take more time. You just don’t have that many successes to recall.
But if you’d tried out another sport to find one you resonated with, maybe you would have found one you were good at. You would have those successes to build on. The same goes for anything else. The more chances you give yourself to win, the more wins you’ll have. The more wins you have, the more confident you’ll be, which makes stepping out of your comfort zone even easier!
That’s why it’s important to steadily build skills and try new, uncomfortable things in different areas of your life. You might not do things perfectly the first time around, but you’ll learn something that will make it easier the next time. With consistent effort, you’ll have wins to look back on, and that simple fact can make you more confident.
#7: It Builds Strength
Whether we like it or not, life is filled with uncomfortable and unpredictable experiences. If you’re looking for certainty about anything, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. There will always be ups, downs, and unexpected curveballs to contend with. Instead of running from those facts, embrace them.
The concept of anti-fragility speaks to how important it is to be strong in a chaotic and unpredictable world. Being anti-fragile means being okay with adversity, change, chaos, and the unexpected. As long as we’re on this planet, there will be situations that make us feel uncomfortable. By dipping your toes in on a daily basis, you’re building resilience and strength so you can remain poised even in difficult circumstances.
You Can Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Comfort zones may feel nice and cozy, but they don’t expand your world and help you realize your potential. We all have things we want but are hesitant to seek out because of discomfort. It could be speaking publicly about your research, finding the courage to date after heartbreak, or traveling the world solo. When we procrastinate about things that are important to us because it feels too scary or like it’s too much work, we miss the chance to evolve.
Science shows us that we can create new neural pathways, boost our creativity, become resilient, and achieve higher states of self-actualization by getting out of our comfort zone. Remember, you’re only here for this brief moment on earth. Start getting out of your comfort zone today!