‘Comfort zone’ (noun): a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress.
Wait, doesn’t that sound perfect? Safety and no stress – aren't those what most of us strive for?! Why then, does comfort zone have such a bad rep?
As already shared by The Busy Woman Project Expert Brett, when it comes to training, stepping out of your comfort zone is your highway route to peak performance (and hence, peak results). But, going beyond what you perceive to be your limits is good not only for muscle growth. Some of the lessons I am about to share are the same ones that I introduced when giving lectures to the students of an Entrepreneurship Master's Degree...
Stepping out of your comfort zone does wonders in increasing your creativity, confidence and success probability. In fact, according to research, one of the best ways to develop out-of-the-box thinking is to do one new thing every day. Turns out, your abs and your career have a lot in common! ;)
Beyond corporate & professional achievement, challenging yourself is guaranteed to bring you a full bright life. You have no idea who you really are if you always walk the same road. For most of us, our lives become determined at a pretty young age. The environment in which you are raised more or less dictates all your future values, beliefs; and your career is likely to have been chosen (by you or your parents) when you were 16.
We simply get too busy, too invested, too comfortable to make meaningful reviews. Most of our thoughts and actions are on autopilot - with habits, routines taking us through most of our day-to-day lives.
From experience, I see time and time again that the exercises that facilitate quuestioning yourself are ALWAYS immensely empowering. You would be surprised at how much you are hiding behind your routines and what you think your values are.
So what are some of the ways you can experiment with expanding your psychological comfort zone?
Connect with yourself.
You might have heard this already. You might have cringed at this already. What does it mean, after all, to listen to yourself? Isn’t that what we do daily anyway – having thoughts and responding to them? Not really. Thoughts are the routine; they are the well-established neural pathways that just repeat the same patterns in your mind. According to National Science Foundation, as much as 95% of your thoughts are exactly the same as the day before.
Listening to yourself means tuning in to what you FEEL. (And yes, this may sound intimidating to some people who may be escaping from having to come to terms with their emotions; perhaps fearful of becoming overwhelmed by all of the feelings they’ve been bottling up forever.)
For me, living from within meant abandoning a lucrative growing business in Hong Kong and deciding to spend most of my time in Bali, where I can connect to and develop the wild woman side of me. I chose to prioritize feelings over monetary concerns and moved to a place that made me feel alive, excited and free. Incidentally (but not coincidentally), what seemed to be a career suicide within months developed into more business opportunities than I could have ever dreamed of, and the most satisfying lifestyle I have ever had.
Moral of the story is: when your decisions are guided by what you are and what you want, taking bold steps will gift you a life beyond your wildest dreams.
Letting go of what’s not yours.
An equally important step, which goes hand in hand with the first one, is to realize what beliefs, expectations or plans you are carrying that actually don’t belong to you - at any point in time.
For example, many women have been raised & surrounded by ‘be a good little girl’ messages. We end up chasing after something because we have been taught that this is what happiness / achievement / perfect family / perfect woman looks like. It is startling how many of our choices have been chosen FOR us, not BY us. How we date, work, love, celebrate, express ourselves – all of these things are guided by social norms.
It is extremely liberating and satisfying to ask yourself if what you are doing in your life and with your life is merely going through the motions; or what you truly desire and matters to you.
How exactly can you tell? Listen to the discomfort. Discomfort is very telling indeed. You can learn more about someone not from what they say they like, but from what they avoid. We avoid pain through distraction; and all have strategies that help us make sure that we don’t end up in an uncomfortable situation.
For example, it might be an absolute NO for you to approach someone you find very attractive and strike a conversation. So you never do it. Dig deep – are you complying with some social norm? Why? Is there a fear of rejection behind this? What are you really dreading? Where is the fear coming from? What need is behind it? There is A LOT you can do with introspects like this, and actually this is exactly what a lot of modern therapies and life coaching are all about.
Work on bravery to jump and take that leap of faith.
Let’s debunk one persistent myth once and for all. Courage does NOT mean not feeling any fear! That’s numbness. Courageous individuals feel the discomfort, but choose to go beyond it.
Practically speaking, how does one develop bravery? (Conscious) practice, practice, practice! And I’m not talking about jumping off buildings, wrestling with crocodiles or signing up to speak at TEDx when you cannot (yet) speak up in front of more than 2 people. The actual feeling of discomfort is always the same no matter the magnitude of the situation. Hone this feeling, endure it and step past it with smaller, less significant scenarios first. Celebrate those little wins and build up that confidence!
Since childhood, a client of mine had a strong stutter rendering him practically incomprehensible. He started practicing steadier speaking rhythm with cashiers at supermarkets. Today, he gives talks to an audience of 200+ people. All thanks to practicing discomfort.
And, what’s the ‘conscious’ part of practice? Look for embodiment practices to teach you how to decode and slow down discomfort. Somatic bodywork (a field within bodywork and movement studies which emphasizes internal physical perception and experience i.e. "the body as perceived from within") will make it easier to bear uncomfortable feelings and provide you with tools for developing an alternative to your habitual responses.
Be prepared to piss off and disappoint some people.
It’s very likely that once you start discovering new layers of yourself, there will be people in your life who will not want you to change.
A wonderful friend of mine has recently shared her story of non-acceptance. Unbelievably creative, vibrant, business-minded, organized – just a dazzling fireball of a woman, she’s been exploring concepts and ideas that didn’t fit with her more traditional friends and colleagues (we are talking ‘outrageous’ things like things like yoga retreats). She had to go through a lot of ‘Why are you doing this? Are you in crisis? What’s wrong with you?’. Well, I would add one more question: What are you living for? To get a nod of approval from a handful of people and regret forever what could have been? Or to live a life so full that everybody who surrounds you on your deathbed will know from your toothless grin that this one lived? And after all, people who truly love you will stick by you even if you happen to start liking and transitioning to something they are not into. This is exactly what’s happening to my friend, by the way, who is also discovering new friends with more shared interests and with whom she does not need to hide her real emotions nor feel constrained.
Why yoga? One of the reasons for yoga’s popularity is that unlike most other activities, yoga explicitly gets you to practice your self-awareness. It teaches you kind, compassionate and realistic ways to go through discomfort. Yoga gets you to concentrate on not judging or hiding or comparing yourself to others. It makes you aware of your limitations and at the same time, expands what you think is possible, and shows you a way to bridge the two.
Breaking out of your comfort zones is a constant work-in-progress - connecting & listening to what you want, at that point in time; and if making that conscious decision to go for it really matters to you. More importantly, to find a tribe of individuals who understand your intentions and support you through your ongoing journey.
Article contributed The Busy Woman Project Expert Dr. Anastasia Belikova.