Everyone hears the phrase “You need to get out of your comfort zone!” I wanted to share with you why it matters to get out of your comfort zone, but also why it matters to stay in at times.  Your comfort zone is what is familiar to you – your routines and habits. Your comfort zone serves an important function: to minimize stress. However, if you always stay in this zone of comfort, you will not grow. So, how do you balance these competing needs for comfort and challenge? Here are some things to consider:

  • Optimal stress.  This refers to the zone where you have enough anxiety to push yourself to do something difficult or mildly scary, but not so much stress that you feel overwhelmed.  This is the zone of peak performance.  Think back to a time when you were a little anxious and it motivated you to work really hard. That effort paid off in the end – maybe it was an athletic competition, a work project or maybe it was putting yourself out there to date after a break up. When we push ourselves, we reach new goals and have new experiences.  Why this matters:
  • Increased creativity and flexibility. Having new experiences and learning new skills allows us to see the world from a different perspective.  Being open to new perspectives can allow us to solve a problem we’ve been struggling with, or grow within a relationship. 
  • Change happens. We all have to face challenges and change – personal illness, loss of a loved one, losing a job. We don’t have control over some of the changes that happen to us, but if we have developed flexibility and have coped with being outside of our comfort zone, this is practice for these things that are outside our control.
  • Start slowly. If you are trying to get out of your comfort zone, you don’t need to do the scariest thing you can imagine. If you are scared of heights, don’t start with bungee jumping and if you are scared of public speaking, don’t volunteer to address an audience of 1000. Think of small steps to get you out of your comfort zone and build on each success or learn from each difficulty. 
  • Learn something new. Learning new things is a great way to grow outside of your comfort zone. Learn a second language, take a cooking class, and try a new sport. These things all challenge us and provide opportunities for growth.
  • Set a goal. We all have things we’ve been putting off – getting healthy, finding a new job, mending a relationship. Spend some time thinking about why you haven’t been able to do this despite your desire to do so. What are your fears? What are the practical obstacles? Set a realistic timetable and break the goal into small pieces. Share your goal with a friend to keep yourself accountable.

Getting out of your comfort zone will allow you to push your limits and learn about strengths you didn’t know existed. However, remember that it is a balance. No one could handle the stress of a constant challenge, so returning to your comfort zone to recharge your battery is also important.  Who knows, your comfort zone may also have just expanded!