Stepping out of the ‘comfort zone’ is not something we do voluntarily. Those who do are often the hyper-ambitious types in business, politics or professional sport, who are willing to do ‘whatever it takes’. They throw themselves in the deep end, take risks that would make others prematurely grey, and seem to have unshakeable confidence no matter how little moral support they have around them.
It’s only after the mid 20th century, with the rapid pace of social and technological changes in society, that the frequency of finding yourself out of your comfort zone happens far more often to ordinary people.
The fear of being out of your comfort zone is really a fear of how will you cope, how will you respond, rather than the situation itself. This is an important distinction. If you didn’t have the bad-ass ‘inner critic’ ego inside you, you would be fearless and face any new challenge in life with complete clarity – what a thought.
Choose Courage or Submit to Dread
What makes fear so difficult to face is its physical manifestation known as Dread. This is the sinking heaviness, shaky hands, dry mouth, and awful gut ache. Dread is like the henchman of Fear. It’s when the body goes out of its way to exaggerate a threat and, if the person has low self awareness, quickly spills into the mind where all kinds of unlucky scenarios play out with nauseating repetition bordering on insanity.
This is why anxiety is peaking (along with depression) as one of the serious mental maladies of our 21st century living. And it all comes down to fear. It is a fear based on lack of trust in oneself and no faith in the flow of life. It’s also a fear of making mistakes and being wrong which, when you think about it, would not be so scary if it weren’t for the judgmental behaviour of other people – those around us.
A well-known saying is “You can’t change others, but you can change yourself”. On the surface this sounds as unappetising as ‘turning the other cheek’, but in reality it means becoming the thing you want rather than expecting it of others. This works because it’s not possible to stop people from judging you. When others see you being like this, they unconsciously get affected and do become more like what you would like them to be, but only because they did it of their own volition.
When they realise you do not expect (nor do you ask) them not to judge you, they will judge you anyway. The difference is that on the surface they hold to that judgement, but underneath the feeling will be quite different – more like envy or admiration. They will go out of their way to mask that envy or admiration but you will sense it anyway.
They will marvel how you can press on and not be affected by what others think. They will secretly wish they were like you in this respect. If only they had your guts.
Prepare to Step Outside the Comfort Zone
If the prospect of being outside your comfort zone is looming ahead of you, then prepare yourself:
1. Firstly attend to the mental side as this feeds the emotions and is easier to address than the physical feeling of dread which is already manifest.
2. Do not set expectations but keep an open mind. Be like a child with an attitude of wonder and curiosity.
3. Don’t let doubtful thoughts chip away at your confidence. Observe them, thank and release them. (thanking the thoughts reduces their tendency to repeat)
4. Use the Buddhist wisdom of having ‘preferences’ rather than ‘attachments’. This means you prefer the situation goes well but do not pin all your happiness on the proviso that it turns out the way you want – which is a lot like a gamble.
5. Put aside past experiences that you think are an indicator that you may fail, or not rise up to the occasion.
No matter how logically you approach this, all roads lead to the spiritual outlook which says all challenges, difficulties and situations that take you out of your comfort zone are really an opportunity in disguise. If it doesn’t turn out as you had hoped the experience is still of value because you learned something and gained a new experience.
Advantages of being Outside the Comfort Zone
It is a valuable life skill if you can adapt yourself to not feel threatened by situations out of your comfort zone. But remember any change in your life will bring on unsettled feelings. These should not be discouraged as they are part of the growing into the new circumstance. The only way out is through.
The advantages of being out of your comfort zone are:
1. Time slows down because you are absorbing new information and experience.
2. You compensate for your inexperience by being more attentive and self aware.
3. Your novelty (newbie) focus gets you into full immersion in the experience, (like the saying goes ‘There’s nothing like the ‘first time’’).
4. You come out of it better in all ways: more resilient, more adaptable, and braver.
5. It gets less difficult to step out of your comfort zone each time you do it.
6. You can be proud of yourself because to survive and succeed outside your comfort zone is a victory.
How to Deal with Feelings of Dread
Before you are about to face that situation out of your comfort zone, and you are waiting in the wings for your time on the stage of life, take these steps:
1. Drop every negative thought as it comes, like hot potatoes, one after the other.
2. If you start to feel worried, force your mouth into a smile. This stops the feeling getting worse.
3. Think about how brave you are to face your fear (this spurs you on).
4. Every so often, stop and take a deep breath through the nose and out through the mouth. Imagine that your exhale through the mouth is expelling all the negativity and fear.
5. You won’t be able to stop the dread feeling completely, all you can do is give it as little attention as possible.
Some people get a kick out of being out of their comfort zone. They like to challenge and test themselves. But this is not the same as a challenge you would not choose but is one that life has thrown at you through circumstance. This is a very different challenge and so the fear, rather than a nervous stage-fright, is an unsettling uncertainty and tougher to deal with.
Either way, even if your nerves do get in the way of your performance, it was a great learning experience. You are set to do better next time. Just knowing you faced the challenge is enough to spur you on or have much less fear the next time you are out of your comfort zone.