How to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Is it a bad thing to have a comfort zone? When is it time to get out of your comfort zone?

What is a comfort zone, really?

You’ll hear a lot of talk in coaching and counselling about challenging your 'comfort zone’. But what does it mean, really?

Here’s the surprise - it’s not always to do with actually being comfortable. In fact some people’s comfort zone is decidedly uncomfortable!

Our comfort zone is the way of being that we are accustomed to, for better of worse. Unless we learn to challenge and change it, it’s generally created from the experiences we had as a child.

In this way a comfort zone is a psychological state where we feel at ease, not necessarily as things are good. But because it is what we are used to and feel we can control.

What’s wrong with being in your comfort zone?

If you have a healthy comfort zone, full of good relationships and activities that are good for your self-esteem, then it’s fine to spend a lot of time in your comfort zone. We all need to recuperate and enjoy life sometimes.

Of course it isn’t helpful to always be in our comfort zone. A comfort zone means we are not trying new things, not pushing ourselves, and also not learning or growing as a person.

When our comfort zone is a negative

And for many of us, we actually, even if we don’t realise it, have a negative comfort zone.

An example is if we grew up with parents who were always fighting and didn’t show us real affection. Without realising it we will gravitate towards partners who leave us feeling unloved, telling ourselves, ‘but they feel like home!’ We need to ask ourselves if this is a comfort zone we should be perpetuating, or need to question.

How to recognise your comfort zone

Recognising what your comfort zone is can require brutal honesty and some careful self monitoring.

It can be helpful to spend a week writing down what you do with the hours of each day, including the choices you make and what each choice/activity makes you feel.

Then sit down and journal about things like:

  • What makes me feel calm?
  • And what makes me feel anxious?
  • What activities do I tend to repetitively do?
  • And what activities/type of people do I tend to immediately say no to?
  • When it comes to dating, who do I veer towards if I am honest? And what sorts do I avoid?
  • What types of job situations do I feel most comfortable in? What situations make me nervous?

And once you have those answers, try to make some good conclusions:

  • Looking at what I’ve written, what conclusions can I draw about what I feel comfortable with in life? And what makes me distinctly uncomfortable?
  • Are the things that make me feel uncomfortable necessarily bad things? Or is it more just saying something about me?
  • What might that be saying about me? What can I learn about myself here?
  • What childhood situations might my discomfort zones arise from?
  • How might my life improve if I started doing any of the things I currently feel uncomfortable with?

How to safely get out of your comfort zone

There is no need to leave yourself so anxious in your attempts to get out of your comfort zone that you are a mess. Take things step-by-step.

1. Start to notice the difference between fear and excitement.

Sometimes we say no to things as we think we are afraid, because we feel a bit buzzy. But next time that happens, ask yourself, "Is this really fear? Or is it a little bit of excitement? What if I let myself feel excited and kept going forward a little?"

2. Shake up your routine.

Train your brain to start accepting differences by introducing small changes to your routine. Aim for one small change a day.

  • walk a different way to work
  • order something different for lunch
  • sit outside in a park instead of at your desk
  • talk to a colleague you haven’t interacted much with
  • go to a new class at the gym instead of the regular.

3. Try a new skill you know you’ll be bad at.

Often we don't leave our comfort zone as we are worried we’ll fail. So the idea here is to train your brain to not be scared of failure.

Pick something you’ve never done that you don’t think you’ll be good at. This could look like baking a cake, doing a painting, or writing a poem.

And then allow yourself to do a terrible job, enjoying the mess you make. Notice how you feel after. Did the world fall apart just because you are not perfect at something? Or did you maybe learn something or have fun?

Making mistakes improves our ability to leave our comfort zone. A study on resilience found that learning from our mistakes increases our coping and confidence.

4. Pick one thing you are afraid of and work on it.

Facing all your fears at once is going to end up backfiring and seeing you retreat.

So pick one thing you fear and start slowly. Let’s say you are afraid of talking to new people. First of all, question how true the fear is:

  • Is it all people I am afraid of? Or a certain type of person If I am honest? (Am I afraid of the opposite sex? Children? Older people?)
  • What about people I already know who share many things in common with me?
  • Am I afraid of talking to new people in all situations or just some? For example, is it easier to talk to people if it’s at work, and harder at a party?

Once you have a better idea of what your fear is really about (let’s say you realise you are actually afraid of the opposite sex at parties, despite actually doing okay with colleagues and people who are older and younger than you), question the fear itself.

  • What does this fear cost me? (Feeling loved and appreciated)
  • And what could I gain by overcoming it? (Feel less lonely, have someone to do things with)
  • If I faced this fear, what is the absolutely worst thing that could happen? (I get rejected by a woman I ask out)
  • Knowing that worst case scenario, could I actually live through it? (Actually, I could).

Make a list of all the things that could help you face the fear and pick the easiest one. (Join dating site, talk to strangers at a party, throw a small dinner party where friends all bring one new person, join an interest group where everyone already shares things in common with me). Then actually do the one that feels the easiest.

5. Get support.

It can be helpful to have others encouraging us when we are trying to move out of our comfort zone and grow as a person.

Therapy can be this support. A good choice here would be cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It helps you learn to change the very thinking that holds you back in life. And then uses your present day challenges to help you take new, more positive actions that can move your forward.

Ready to stop being stagnant in life and to step out of your comfort zone and into your better self? Book a therapist now and find your way forward.

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