I try not to lead a comfortable life. Hiding inside your comfort zone is a good way to prevent yourself from ever experiencing anything unique, fun or challenging. Pushing past your fears can be tricky, but ultimately, I think it’s what life is about.
Instead of just cheery, self-help advice I’d like to briefly explain what I mean by stepping outside your comfort zone. To me, becoming uncomfortable means:
- Challenges outside your skills.
- Activities outside your personality.
- Experiments that question your beliefs.
Although becoming uncomfortable can be used for personal challenges as equally as it applies to public ones, most people think of social ventures when they view their comfort zones. Public speaking, talking to strangers or taking up bizarre new hobbies are just a few different examples. Getting uncomfortable happens when the benefits can be high, failure is limited but fears hold you back.
Don’t Worry About Extroversion, Confidence or Having an Intense Drive
Before I start spewing advice, I’d like to point out some thing I don’t believe are the most important factors in breaking through your comfort zone:
- Extroversion - I’ve already mentioned how I don’t like labels of extrovert and introvert. In my life I’ve been labeled as bordering on the extreme of both. Even tests like Myers-Briggs can only give you a representation of where you currently are, not your immutable personality. Before I started public speaking, people told me I was heavily introverted. Now people from Toastmasters say I’m extremely extroverted.
- Confidence – Breaking outside your comfort zone requires venturing into the unknown. You can’t possibly have a reasonable basis for confidence when you have no idea what will happen. General confidence in your ability to handle new situations is useful, but this can also be trained.
- Intense Motivation – I end up venturing out of my comfort zone mostly on a whim. I like to stress curiosity over motivation. Intense motivation is good for big goals. But for stepping into the unknown, being guided by your curiosity seems to work better.
Benefits of Stepping Out of Your Domain
What are the benefits of putting yourself through what can be a stressful situation?
- Growth - Above all, you’ll improve as a person. Stepping into the unknown teaches you, gives you new life experiences and tests you.
- Pride - Even if your experience is a complete failure, it feels good to overcome your fears.
- Adventure - I’ve found that my success rate with new ideas is unusually high. Sure, I occasionally get a new activity or adventure that turns out to be a dud, but once you push through the initial fears you might find something you love. I went to Toastmasters on a whim, now it is one of my favorite parts of my week.
- Escape Boredom – At least it can never be boring. If you use boredom as your mark of failure rather than embarrassment or results, you can inject a lot more enthusiasm into your life.
Tips for Getting Started
- Discipline – It can take practice to force yourself to do things that your emotions and body want to avoid. Discipline yourself by slowly taking on more daring challenges. This also means you shouldn’t expect to have perfect mastery over fear. I certainly don’t.
- Curiosity - The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. At this rate I expect to be ignorant of almost everything in a few years. Throw away your assumptions about what will happen and get curious instead.
- Find a Safety Net – Kids sometimes carry around blankets or stuffed toys to comfort them in unfamiliar environments. Use the same principle with your friends. Bring along a person who will be supportive of you to help reduce the stress. Don’t be afraid to fly solo, but make it easier on yourself if you can.
- Open Your Mind – Don’t label certain activities as adventures and others as work. What you are doing right now is an adventure. You will find a lot more opportunities for exploration if you get rid of expectations about the types of adventures you’ll find.
- Find Your Strengths, Now Do the Opposite – I’ve never been a fan of so-called “strength-based” approaches to personal-development. Sure people have different talents and attributes, but don’t let that limit you in the types of experiences you can have. Computer geek? Try martial arts. New Age? Try a course in computers.
- Take Classes – Courses and organizations are the fastest way to find new experiences. For a low price you can usually learn something completely different. All while meeting new people in an environment that respects change.
- Use Your Social Network – People are gateways to new adventures, expand your social network and you can get unusual opportunities you probably wouldn’t have considered before. Becoming friends with a music buff exposed me to new artists and even a concert I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
- Break it Down – Don’t try to tackle your biggest fears all at once. My approach is to pick a decision and try it out. If it was too difficult, break it into something more manageable and try again. If it was too easy, ramp up the difficulty and go at it. If you can’t get up to speak at a conference, try Toastmasters. If speaking at meetings isn’t stimulating enough, try to get engagements at larger events.
- Accept the Nervousness – Don’t try to control how you feel. You can feel nervous or uncertain and still move forward. Just repeat to yourself that no matter what happens, you can deal with it.
- Make Time – Carve out a section of your day for exploring new ideas and adventures. This website is all about how to become more productive. Use the energy and time you can save and invest it.
Image courtesy of flickr.