Take That Giant Step

And Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

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By: Margaret MacMillan

We all have jobs we do, interests we enjoy, and family members we depend on. Our jobs, for the most part, follow a certain routine, whether we do them at home or in an office. The interests we indulge in are often those we have had for years. Seeking advice from a loved one may be our first and sometimes only recourse when trying to solve a problem. All these elements make up our comfort zone: doing and experiencing daily life in a set pattern with little change and little to test ourselves or expand our knowledge, skills, or experiences.


Stress and risk aren’t big factors here. True, we may have a challenge in our job from time to time, take up a new hobby, or seek advice from a different source. Some of these instances may constitute leaving our comfort zone.


Truly leaving our comfort zone by choice, in a conscious effort to create a meaningful change in our lives, however, probably doesn’t happen very often. There are many reasons for this. In regard to a job, we may elect not to attempt to do another, no matter how unhappy we are in our current situation, for financial reasons and because our families depend on us for food and shelter. We may be curious about a sport or art form we’ve never tried, yet we elect not to attempt it no matter how bored we are with our current activities out of fear that we don’t have the skills necessary to be successful at it. And even though we may feel we’re not getting the help we need from our families,we may make the decision not to seek help from somewhere else out of resignation.


When we step out of our comfort zone, we are walking into unknown territory that makes us uncomfortable, and, perhaps, even fearful. If this is the case, why then, should we even want to take this giant step?


Just outside our comfort zone is a space called optimal anxiety. In this space, our stress levels are higher than usual, but not too high. If we want to maximize our performance in anything, a state of relative anxiety is necessary. Too much anxiety makes us too stressed and we can’t perform well, but just the right amount can help us reach our new goal. There is a feeling of exhilaration when we challenge ourselves and succeed.


Not only have we met the challenge, we have grown in some way. Perhaps by taking that leap we have added to our general knowledge, gained an understanding of a concept, learned what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes, added a new language, or developed a fresh side of our creativity. When we step outside our comfort zone, therefore, we grow. When we don’t, we become stagnant, set in our ways, and, perhaps, unwilling to accept other ideologies or ways of doing things.


Because challenging ourselves helps us grow, it can be argued that we should make the effort to leave our comfort zone more often than most of us do. I would also argue that when we make adecision to help others, we are often leaving our comfort zone by taking on responsibilities we haven’t embraced before. So getting outside our comfort zone can also help others, not just ourselves. Here are five ways to take that giant step out of our comfort zone to allow ourselves to grow in a variety of ways, and, perhaps, to help others.


Develop a New Skill

Make the decision to learn something you are interested in that takes a certain skill. For instance, perhaps you have always wanted to write because you have a story inside you that you want to tell. However, you are uncertain of how to go about developing and telling that story in a way that will make others want to read it. You’ve been afraid to write in case you can’t do it well enough. To overcome this fear, learn the skills involved in story development and writing by taking writing and editing courses. They will give you the tools you need to step out of your comfort zone and put your thoughts on paper. The result will be that you have accomplished your goal and given enjoyment or imparted knowledge to others.


Put Yourself in a New Environment

Make the decision to share your abilities with others by taking those abilities to them. Volunteering

is one of the most fulfilling experiences we can have. It can also take us out of our comfort zone by putting us in an environment or situation that is foreign to us or that makes us face our fears. There are so many ways to do this. Providing comfort to patients in palliative care, reading to children in cancer wards, serving meals in shelters, or helping new citizens learn English are but a few of them. No matter which of these, or any others, we choose, we have allowed ourselves to grow in an immeasurable way and brought comfort to others.


Make a Choice that May not Be the Safe One

Sometimes in our work environment we are given the opportunity to make a change. Our first choice is to not make the change and stay where we are because we are comfortable. It is the safe one. The second choice is to make the change and face the challenges it brings. It is the one that isn’t safe. By making the first choice, we have chosen to remain in the same place. By making the second choice, we have elected to broaden our horizons, embrace new experiences, and be of greater service to our organization.


Accept Help from Other Sources

We all have problems we need to work out. Some of these are bigger than others and may require us to step out of our comfort zone and ask for help from a professional. For many, the idea of doing so creates fear, perhaps because we are ashamed of the problem or because facing the problem in this way makes it more real. In a case such as this, leaving a comfort zone may be crucial to one’s mental health. Gaining perspective from a different source not only helps us, it may also make it possible for us to help someone else.


Do What You Fear

We are all subject to fear. What scares one person isn’t necessarily what scares another. For instance, what scares you may be addressing an audience, no matter how small or large. What scares someone else may be the water, whether they are immersed in it or boating on it. Public speaking won’t saveour lives, but becoming a good public speaker gives us confidence, presents us with new ways to think things through and express ourselves, and can be of service to others. Learning to swim, on the other hand, can save our lives and the lives of others. It also gives us control over something in our environment.


Going beyond our comfort zone is a deliberate choice. Any time we make a change, face a fear, or try something new, that’s what we’re doing even though we’re not always aware of it. Sometimes we realize we’ve taken that giant step after the fact. Can you remember a time when you were talking to a friend about a new situation you were in and ended with, “Wow, I was really out of my comfort zone.” I can, and I didn’t even realize it until I made that statement. That doesn’t make the act any less deliberate, because a choice was made to jump in with both feet. Leaving our comfort zone tests us, teaches us, and expands our minds. It may even make us better people.