How to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Life is full of chances to step outside of one’s comfort zone, but seizing them can be difficult.
Sometimes the issue is a lack of awareness of the reasons to do so. After all, if the sensation of comfort indicates that our most basic needs are being met, why would we want to get rid of it?
Most of the time, people are held back by their mindset rather than a lack of knowledge.
What Is the Psychology of Comfort Zone?
The metaphor of “leaving one’s comfort zone” became popular in the 1990s and is now firmly embedded in cultural discourse. Judith Bardwick, a management thinker, coined the term “comfort zone” in her 1991 book Danger in the Comfort Zone:
“The comfort zone is a behavioral state in which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral state, employing a limited set of behaviors to deliver a consistent level of performance, typically without a sense of risk.”
There isn’t much incentive for people to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. People go about their routines without risk here, causing their progress to plateau.
However, the concept can be traced back to the field of behavioral psychology.
Robert Yerkes and John Dodson conducted one of the first experiments that revealed a connection between anxiety and performance in 1907.
They discovered that giving mice electric shocks of increasing intensity increased their motivation to complete mazes – but only to a point. They began to hide rather than perform after a certain point.
Humans have demonstrated corresponding behavior. This makes sense because the options in response to anxiety-inducing stimuli are fighting (meet the challenge), flight (run away/hide), or freeze (become paralyzed).
The Yerkes-Dodson Law (Yerkes & Dodson, 1907) is applicable not only to more tangible types of performance, such as being assigned a stressful new task at work, but also to many other aspects of life, such as understanding ourselves, relating to others, and so on.
Our nervous systems have a Goldilocks zone of arousal, according to the central idea. Too little, and you’ll be stuck in your comfort zone, where boredom will set in.
Transitioning from the Comfort Zone to the Growth Zone
When leaving one’s comfort zone, fear does not always equate to panic.
It takes bravery to step out of one’s comfort zone and into one’s fear zone. There is no way to build on previous experiences without a clear roadmap. This can be nerve-racking. However, if you persevere long enough, you will enter the learning zone, where you will gain new skills and deal with challenges creatively.
After a period of learning, a new comfort zone is formed, expanding one’s ability to achieve even greater heights. This is what being in the growth zone entails.
Moving into the growth zone, like most behavioral change attempts, becomes more difficult without some level of self-awareness. As a result, clients may find it useful to consider the following:
What size are their zones?
Everyone’s zones vary in size across all life domains. To leave your comfort zone, you must first recognize its boundaries. Similarly, you must learn to recognize your panic zone intuitively. Taking on challenges that fall somewhere in the middle will push you to grow and learn.
What are their advantages?
Understanding and capitalizing on personal strengths can be extremely beneficial. Most people have left their comfort zone in at least one area of their lives, and there are usually numerous insights to be gained from this experience.
In reality, the transition from the comfort zone to the growth zone may not be a straight line. The journey is frequently complicated by peaks, troughs, and plateaus. We may even need to return to our comfort zone from time to time before mustering the strength to leave again. Nonetheless, appreciating the steps can assist in dealing with uncertainty.
It’s easy to feel safe, in control, and that everything is fine when you’re in your comfort zone. It’s all going swimmingly.
The best sailors, on the other hand, are not born in calm waters.
In the following section, we’ll look at some of the many advantages of getting out of your comfort zone.
4 Examples of the Advantages of Leaving Your Comfort Zone
Aside from improving performance, leaving one’s comfort zone has numerous indirect benefits. A comprehensive list would necessitate a separate article, so here are four broad-brush examples.
Self-actualization is a powerful motivator for many people to leave their comfort zone. Abraham Maslow’s (1943) theory of human motivation popularized the concept, which he described as follows: “What a man can be, he must be.” This need is known as self-actualization.”
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs works like a ladder, with satisfying our ‘basic’ and ‘psychological’ needs analogous to being in our comfort zone. But, whether we realize it or not, the theory contends that our next requirement is for personal growth and fulfillment.
As long as the decision to leave one’s comfort zone is consistent with one’s values, this shift is a step toward self-actualization. What is the significance of this? For one thing, failing to strive for growth may lead to inertia later in life.
Formation of a growth mindset
Carol Dweck’s (2008) work on mindsets at Stanford marked a paradigm shift in the field of positive psychology. Her study distinguished two opposing belief systems: fixed versus growth mindsets.
People with a fixed mindset believe they have fixed amounts of each ability and a corresponding ceiling on how much they can achieve. Failure reveals inadequacy, and criticism is a death blow to one’s self-esteem.
Recognizing humans as malleable is what the growth mindset entails. Setbacks become opportunities for learning from this perspective (Dweck, 1999), and our potential becomes limitless.
Leaving your comfort zone on purpose goes hand in hand with developing a growth mindset. The growth mindset expands the possibility, whereas the fixed mindset keeps us trapped by fear of failure. It motivates us to learn and take healthy risks, which leads to positive outcomes in a variety of areas of our lives.
Antifragility and resilience
Life isn’t always predictable; perhaps people shouldn’t be either. Everyone will face adversity at some point in their lives. People who make it a habit to step outside their comfort zone are better equipped to deal with change and ambiguity, which leads to resilience.
Taking this a step further, statistician Nassim Taleb (2012) defined ‘antifragile’ systems as those that “thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors.” Evolution and immune systems are two examples, as is the human psyche.
While resilient systems recover to their previous level following a shock, antifragile systems learn to grow from them, reaching new heights. Stepping outside our comfort zone, then, is intentionally cultivating antifragility – as long as we don’t enter the panic zone!
According to Albert Bandura (1997), self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to carry out necessary actions in the pursuit of a goal. Specific, not-too-difficult, and short-term goals lead to increased self-efficacy (Yailagh, Lloyd, & Walsh, 2009).
Leaving one’s comfort zone entails a period of trial and error, during which some level of success is unavoidable. This success increases our self-efficacy, and our confidence in our abilities grows.
This, like other advantages of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone, is unlikely to occur overnight. However, the cumulative upward spiral of achievement and confidence can be a valuable asset to anyone.
4 Ways to Help You Leave Your Comfort Zone
Here are four helpful hints to help clients get out of their comfort zones. These are a mix of mindset tips and practical goal-setting advice.
Reframe your stress
There is no physiological difference between anxiety and excitement (Smith, Bradley, & Lang, 2005). Both involve a stress response,’ but whether they are perceived as positive or negative is determined by labeling.
Society views all stress as ‘bad,’ but the concept of ‘eustress,’ or ‘positive stress,’ challenges this. Eustress gives you the energy you need to finish a public speech, go on a romantic date, and so on. These stimuli can be reframed as exciting, causing us to leave our comfort zone.
Accepting neuroplasticity research is a critical step toward internalizing the growth mindset. Once understood, it takes less courage to make the first step away from the comfort because failure itself becomes a part of the journey.
Being in one’s comfort zone isn’t always a bad thing. For example, it may be reasonable to stay in your ukulele-playing comfort zone but not in your personal-finance-management comfort zone.
The goal is to identify bottlenecks: situations in which being too comfortable causes more harm than good. Encourage clients to choose their goals so that they can focus effectively.
It is acceptable to take both small, methodical steps and larger, more daring ones. Leaving one’s comfort zone does not imply throwing caution to the wind. Every step forward represents progress.
Patiently cultivating self-awareness while intelligently assessing the boundaries of each zone is a sure way to make the process go as smoothly as possible.
7 Ways to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
After discussing the what, why, and how of leaving your comfort zone, let’s look at seven ways someone might attempt to do so.
Change the way you do everyday things.
There are numerous opportunities to challenge yourself in everyday life. Turn off your smartphone and television while eating, decide what to wear more quickly, or simply slow down to enjoy the scenery on a walk. These changes force you to break free from old, comfortable routines.
Broaden your professional horizons.
Growing your skill set can boost your creativity, boost your self-confidence, and increase your employability. Many people find it difficult to learn new skills such as public speaking, negotiation, and leadership. Investing in them can increase resilience, and personal fulfillment, and open up more opportunities than ever before.
Experiment with a new diet.
Many people want to improve their diets and eliminate their reliance on ‘comfort foods.’ Doing so frequently entails trying something new.
Maintaining a healthy diet can be as difficult as it is rewarding, with self-efficacy increasing as you reach milestone goals along the way.
Push your workouts to the next level.
Many people aspire to the same thing. For some, it may be their first 5K, while for others, it may be completing a triathlon.
Aiming high with exercise is symbolic of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and a great way to get started.
Creativity, whether it’s writing a poem or starting a business, usually entails some risk. Stepping into the unknown is what creative endeavors are all about, with failure and subsequent learning as expected outcomes.
Exercising your creativity is a great way to start cultivating a growth mindset and letting go of the need for perfection.
Question your beliefs.
While considering alternative points of view can be uncomfortable, it allows for growth and insight by challenging entrenched beliefs.
This can take many forms, such as reading a variety of book genres, changing who you talk to, and visiting new places. It’s easy to become set in our ways, but this can lead to complacency, which is a sign of being in our comfort zone.
Practice being truthful.
When used correctly, honesty can be a powerful motivator for personal development. Honesty pushes people out of their comfort zone, whether it’s being honest with yourself in a private journal or telling someone close how you feel. We can gain a better understanding of ourselves and others through open communication.