“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have changed.” – Nelson Mandela
I read this quote in seventh grade while reading The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (slightly embarrassing, I know). I hadn’t thought about it in years until I was back in my hometown for the first time since this cold Midwest winter finally subsided and gave way to spring. Sitting on my porch with the familiar smells of backyard barbeques and the sounds of neighbors’ laughter brought the saying to the front of my mind. I realized how much I changed in the past year. I thought back to my porch last summer—when I had just graduated college—and it felt like a lifetime ago. So much was different. I was different.
Some change is inevitable.
We all grow up, finish school, start jobs or have families. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like change: I thrive when I have a predictable, stable routine. I don’t like pushing myself. Starting a full-time job and figuring out how to “adult” were serious struggles for me. At the same time, though, I decided to start opening myself up to new experiences. New foods, new cities, new people. Although I haven’t done anything super radical this year—you won’t see me skydiving or changing careers anytime soon—I’ve discovered that (sometimes) I like pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
Don’t get me wrong. Your comfort zone exists for a reason: it’s where you feel safest and most secure. Why leave? Isn’t there enough stress in our everyday lives? Why make things even more difficult for ourselves? All of that is true, and I’m not saying that you should run out the door and conquer your biggest fears. However, challenging yourself to do something new, whether it’s learning a new skill or traveling solo, is vital for personal and professional growth. Here are my tips for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone—especially for those of you who hate it.
Push Yourself with Purpose
Some people love challenging themselves for the sake of it. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably not one of those people. The truth is, if you’re not naturally inclined to try new things, you’ll need to have a good reason for doing it. Take a step back and think about your goals and dreams—big or small. We all have them, but we sometimes we lose focus because we’re engulfed in daily life, or worse, we think our goals are unrealistic or unattainable.
While there may be some truth in that sentiment, I argue that sometimes we discount our dreams because we’re too afraid to try. This is where your comfort zone comes in—or, in this case, your discomfort zone. Consider trying something new that relates to one of your passions or goals. Personally, my childhood dream was to become a best-selling author. That will most likely not happen, but I’ve focused on stretching myself when it comes to writing: I’ve started writing blogs, journaling, and sharing my writing with friends. Viewing this discomfort as a tool for reaching your goals can help mitigate the stress when it comes to pushing yourself.
Small Steps Make Big Victories
Rome wasn’t built in a day. And neither will your ability to step out of your comfort zone without feeling intense anxiety. Rather than putting too much pressure on yourself, challenge yourself to incorporate little changes into your routine. Here are some specific examples of ways to take small steps out of your comfort zone:
- Try a new restaurant or bar
- Switch up your daily routine, like changing your breakfast or taking a new route to work
- Introduce yourself to someone new
- Attend an event on your own (a movie, networking event, anything!)
It’s taking small steps like this each day that will ultimately make a big difference. Before you know it, you’ll find that the boundaries of your comfort zone have expanded, and that will only broaden your horizons.
Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
For those of us who like staying in our comfort bubble, being uncomfortable might feel very foreign. This may cause problems for you when you’re faced with an uncomfortable or awkward situation. Think of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone like building up a muscle: once it’s time to do some heavy lifting (like when you’re dealing with a stressful situation out of your control) you’ll feel more prepared to handle it.
Whether it’s at work or in your personal life, knowing that you’re familiar with that heart-racing, uncertain feeling will help you conquer life’s challenges more smoothly. And let’s face it—no one goes through life escaping stressful situations.
If You Don’t, Who Will?
Most importantly, you need to remember that you’re in control when you decide to step out of your comfort zone. Even though you may feel that you’re giving up power when putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation, you’re the one making the decision to stretch yourself. The beauty of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is that you’re actively making a choice to challenge yourself and grow.
Bosses, coworkers, friends, or family will inevitably force you out of your comfort zone throughout your life (deliberately or not), and sometimes the things you’re forced to do won’t benefit you. When you make the conscious choice to push yourself, you know that you’ll grow in the ways that you want. And if you don’t do that for yourself, who will?