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Learning How to Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone

I’m sure many of us are familiar with the concept of the comfort zone. The term is used to describe a number of behaviors, activities, and situations which enable us to feel safe and at ease with minimal to no experience of stress. Initially, this arrangement may seem ideal: after all, the promise of the absence of stress does seem like a win-win. But unfortunately, the comfort zone can actually be fairly restrictive.

Dr. Abigail Brenner, attending physician at the NYU-Bellevue Adult Mental Hygiene Clinic and Assistant Clinical Professor at New York University Medical School, describes the comfort zone thusly: “a psychological/emotional/ behavioral construct that defines the routine of our daily life. Being in one’s comfort zone implies familiarity, safety, and security. It describes the patterned world of our existence, keeps us relatively comfortable and calm, and helps us stay emotionally even, free from anxiety and worry to a great degree.” That being said, while creating a comfort zone is arguably a healthy adaptation for our day-to-day lives, so is stepping out of it.

If we don’t step out of our comfort zone, we may end up limiting ourselves and our experiences, which can ultimately hinder our quality of life. Think of it this way: if we spent all our lives inside of a box, we would miss out on the whole world outside our walls. When our comfort zone becomes our box that we refuse to leave, it becomes problematic rather than beneficial in any way. In many cases, our limitations are actually self-imposed and our fears irrational. For example, we might eat the same food everyday because it is familiar and therefore we assume it to be “safe”, but it’s irrational to believe that all other foods outside of our narrow selection are consequently “unsafe”. New experiences, both large and small, can be essential to living fulfilling lives. After all, it’s human nature to constantly grow and evolve.

Here are 3 reasons a therapist might give you for breaking out of the comfort zone and open up to new things, one step at a time.

1. Life is Waiting

Dr. Brenner states that “experiencing a little stress and anxiety now and then is a good thing… If all you ever do is strive to stay wrapped up in your little cocoon, keeping warm and cozy, you may be missing out on quite a lot—maybe no new experiences, no challenges, and no risks.” While perhaps scary at first, taking risks can be an important part of the transformative human experience, so long as we do so responsibly and use our common sense. Likewise, new experiences enable us to grow and transition in our lives, thereby helping us define who we are and bestowing meaning upon our existence. Our true lives exist beyond the bubble of our own personal thoughts and beliefs. In other words, true life includes the total summation of all of our experiences, not just the ones we are immediately comfortable with. Thus, we shouldn’t limit ourselves and look at the world from a narrow perspective. Broader horizons can give us a better idea of the scope of our potential.

2. Taking Risks Can Be Rewarding

Building on the previous point, it is not only healthy but essential to take risks from time to time. Taking risks is the only way we can allow ourselves to grow and progress personally, socially, and professionally. As Dr. Brenner explains: “Challenging yourself pushes you to dip into and utilize your personal store of untapped knowledge and resources. You have no idea what you’re made of unless and until you venture outside of your own familiar world.” In this way, all risks taken, regardless of outcome, lead to personal growth. Even when we make mistakes, we can take that newly acquired experience and knowledge and apply it to our future decision making. There is no such thing as failure if something can be gained from an experience, even if it’s not the first desired outcome.

3. Settling Keeps Us From Experiencing

By never allowing ourselves to experience new things, we might just end up settling for mediocrity. While it may sound harsh, the reality is that our comfort zones are pretty narrow and, as such, only account for a small selection of situations and experiences. But as it turns out the risks we take are cumulative. What this means is that each time we try something new, we are slowly opening ourselves to more and more new experiences as they arise, and, as a result, we are learning, expanding our skills and knowledge, and even expanding the size of our comfort zone by adding to what we know we can enjoy.

Stepping out of our comfort zones can seem daunting at first, but doing so can be important to our growth as individuals. To make things a little easier, we can start by making small changes. Dr. Brenner advises us to “Try to make small changes that take you out of the every day and familiar, yet are not too emotionally challenging.” This can be as simple as going to a new place or trying a new food. Regardless of what we do, the most important thing is to be open to new experiences.

If you would like to schedule a time to speak with one of our therapists about learning to step outside of your comfort zone, please call 800-378-9354.

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