Many of us are reluctant to move out of our comfort zones. After all, it’s comfortable in there. Our comfort zone is familiar. We know the thoughts and feelings that reside in that zone. We know the kind of life that exists there.
Sometimes, we’re not even that comfortable in our comfort zone. But we still stay there. We worry that things outside our comfort zone will be worse. We worry about the unknown, said Nicole Liloia, LCSW, a therapist, coach and writer who supports women in centering themselves, slowing down and transforming their relationship to stress.
We also stay in our comfort zones because it provides safety from being too vulnerable or afraid, said Elizabeth Sullivan, a licensed marriage and family therapist in San Francisco. “It is scary and shaky to be vulnerable.”
Liloia thinks of a comfort zone as a bubble: It feels protective but it also might be claustrophobic, because it prevents change and growth. Leaving our comfort zone gives us a “better understanding of who we are and what we like when we expose ourselves to new experiences.” When we stay in our zones for too long, we can become depressed and discouraged, she said.
Plus, it’s through trying new things and taking risks that we develop resilience, said Sullivan. “We mainly grow through our mistakes, as much as they sting.”
So what does leaving your comfort zone look like?
Of course, it’s different for different people, because each of us defines our comfort bubbles in different ways.
Liloia shared these examples: having a conversation you’d rather avoid; doing things alone, such as eating dinner at a restaurant; putting yourself in a new situation by signing up for a new class or going somewhere you’ve never been; letting go of harmful relationships; and communicating with people you don’t know very well to develop new friendships.
Sullivan shared these examples: picking a college far away from home; apologizing and taking full responsibility; saying no when you tend to be a martyr; and “getting still enough to listen to that quiet inner voice that is going to tell you what your heart really wants.”
Signs You’re in a Comfort Zone
According to Liloia, these are some telltale signs: You feel bored, restless, tired, dissatisfied and unhappy. You have a lack of enthusiasm for your life. You find yourself daydreaming about a different life or imagining different adventures. But you don’t know the steps to take.
You also might become defensive, Sullivan said. She likened it to “a kid building a fort with pillows — ‘I won’t come out!'”
Tips for Leaving Your Comfort Zone
Rethink the part that feels scary.
“Identify what feels scary to you and decide to view it in a way that feels exciting or adventurous,” Liloia said. That is, try not to get stuck on how scary something is, she said. Instead, focus on how excited and proud you’ll feel after you do it. “[U]se that to motivate you.”
Give it a try.
Remind yourself that you’re simply giving this new situation a try. “[I]f you don’t like it, you can always stop doing it,” Liloia said.
Devise a plan.
Having a plan helps you leave your comfort zone slowly, and it still feels like it’s within your control, Liloia said. She shared this example: You want to take a solo trip to South America. But you’re worried about spending that much time by yourself. Your plan includes going to dinner alone, followed by a solo weekend getaway. You also research solo travel, and try to prepare yourself for the types of situations that might come up. And you talk to other people who’ve traveled alone.
Liloia suggested brainstorming ways you’ll celebrate leaving your comfort zone. This is another way to motivate yourself.
Talk about what you’d like to do with your friends, Sullivan said. Ask them to join you, Liloia said. “For example, if you’ve been feeling bored and want to change up your fitness routine, ask a friend to try out a new fitness class with you. [This way] you don’t have to do it on your own.”
You also can seek support from books. Sullivan suggested reading Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. It “says that being ourselves, risking judgment, risking being seen, actually leads to happiness. This book is inspiring, fun and profound.” She cited this quote from Brown: “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experiences.”
(Learn more about vulnerability in this piece.)
Remind yourself you’ve done this before.
“Make a list of things that you’ve done in the past that have you scared but that you’ve still completed successfully,” Liloia said. This can boost your confidence in leaving your comfort zone.
When to Stay in Your Comfort Zone
Of course, sometimes it’s best to stay inside our comfort zone. One instance is “when someone is encouraging us to do something scary or uncomfortable and it doesn’t feel exciting at all,” Liloia said.
She shared this example: A colleague is encouraging you to apply for a different position. However, even though a promotion would be nice, you don’t feel excited about it. In fact, you feel overwhelmed just thinking about the amount of work you’d have to do. You know “you can’t take that on right now.” So you decide to listen to your intuition and stay in your current position.
Getting out of our comfort zones can be really hard. But remember that you can turn to supportive strategies (like the ones above) any time to help you move beyond your bubble.
Bubble about to burst photo available from Shutterstock