Stepping out of your comfort zone is uncomfortable (obviously), but the result is usually worth it. That discomfort is a sign of growth, change, and adapting to a new normal. This doesn’t mean, however, that all discomfort is a sign of growth.
So when is discomfort a sign of growth and change, and when is it a signal to move on from a situation?
Visualize your comfort zone
We tend to see visual examples of comfort zones as a box or a circle that we tiptoe outside of. The box or circle or container gets a little bit bigger as we get comfortable with that new part of our life.
But I think our comfort zone is more complex and organic than a circle or a box.
Maybe it’s a house, with different rooms for different parts of your life that may change throughout the course of your life.
Take a moment to imagine your comfort zone as a cozy, comfy house.
Maybe it’s a cottage in the woods surrounded by wildflowers. Maybe it’s a penthouse apartment with all the latest appliances. Maybe it’s your childhood home.
Now, when you think of expanding your comfort zone, think of updating your comfort zone.
Rather than renovating the entire house, which is expensive and takes a lot of energy and means you have to move out or deal with dust and noise and it’s just a mess, you can do smaller DIY projects in one room at a time.
You can update one area of your comfort zone at a time.
The benefits of expanding your comfort zone
There are three main benefits to expanding your comfort zone:
- Growth: You grow as a person by experiencing new things. Even if you don’t commit to the new thing you try, just trying it is growth all on its own.
- Learning: As you try new things, you learn new knowledge, skills, and strategies to get through situations easier the next time around.
- Practicing discomfort: Getting comfortable with the discomfort of growth is so important and helps you prepare for future trips outside your comfort zone. When you expect the tough, uncomfortable parts of growth and change, you will learn that it’s just part of the process.
One of my favorite examples of growth is the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly or moth. In order to become its beautiful, winged, next-level version of itself, the caterpillar first has to form a cocoon and turn into a pile of goo.
The caterpillar doesn’t know it’s going to be okay on the other side. It just knows it has to do this part.
So you have at least one thing going for you over this caterpillar. Your comfort zone expansion is coming from a decision you’ve made to grow and believe in your ability to be the butterfly.
What are some examples of stepping out of your comfort zone?
Sometimes we are thrust into new situations and have to scramble to figure out the new normal. That’s not what I’m talking about here. Making the choice to step out of your comfort zone is just that — a choice. A decision. A belief that you can do it.
Here are some common ways we step outside our comfort zones:
- Committing to a new habit
- Learning a new skill (instrument, art method, software, anything)
- Creating and maintaining healthy boundaries
- Being in a healthy relationship for the first time
- Being vulnerable in therapy
- Trying new foods
- Changing your style or appearance
- Public speaking or attending a new group
- Applying for a new job or changing your career
- Doing something without asking people for feedback first
- Ending a relationship
If we know these things would be good for us and lead to growth and being a “higher version” of ourselves, why is it so hard? What keeps us from going for it and expanding our comfort zone?
It comes down to vulnerability and shame. We fear rejection, making mistakes, starting over, burning out. And we fear that if we truly embrace what we want — if we dare to say it out loud and try to achieve it — and we mess up on the way there, the shame will be overwhelming.
We may also fear the loss of part of our identity. If we’ve spent a long time being the version of ourselves we are right now, trying to become a new version feels like losing who you are.
But you change who you are by changing what you do. The fundamental parts of you will always be with you.
How to notice your comfort zone
When you decide to expand your comfort zone, you make a decision to do something new to achieve that result. So when you find yourself frustrated because you made the decision but the result isn’t happening… you may still be in your comfort zone pretending to make that decision and take that action, but not really doing it yet.
Here’s an example:
I recently realized I was maintaining a comfort zone in my business.
Along my varied, job-hopping, millennial career path I have done a lot of things. I’ve done marketing, purchasing, sales, and customer service. I’ve helped people create budgets, resumes and cover letters, social media content calendars, and logos.
I’m an author, a marketer, a coach — but how long did it take me to get to coach in that list?
I was hedging my bets, taking on resume and logo clients, doing social media here and there, and freelancing so that I wouldn’t have to “rely on” coaching to make my full time income.
(There’s a thought: Relying on income from my business. Duh. Where else would I be able to rely on income?)
As soon as I realized my diversified portfolio of freelance offerings was a distraction rather than an asset, I scrubbed the marketing offers from my website, found someone in my network to refer these gigs to, and have showed up 100% for my coaching clients since then.
And I have felt the shift in the way I approach my work.
That boundary of saying no to paid work, because it’s not the paid work I want to be doing, is a huge comfort zone shift.
It feels a little icky, because of the privilege inherently present. I can turn down work, wow, must be nice, right?
But I do my best work when I am helping others show up as their full, authentic selves in their creative passions, and by focusing on helping those clients, I can fully be there for them and make their investment in me even more worth it.
By turning down the work, I can refer it out to others in my network who do need the work. And then I’ll help them get the confidence to charge the prices they want to charge.
I am good at resumes and social media. That’s my comfort zone. But just because I’m good at it doesn’t make it my life’s work.
My life’s work is helping creative people achieve their passion project goals without burnout.
To do that, I have to show up as that person.
When is it NOT your comfort zone?
The vulnerability of trying new things is scary and can make you feel uncomfortable. But this does not mean that every time you feel uncomfortable is a time to push through for the sake of growth.
Discomfort isn’t always a sign of working through comfort zone discomfort.
When it’s your comfort zone, it’s something that you’ve made a choice about. The change in your life comes from a decision you make.
- The decision to change careers
- The decision to stop doing something that people ask you for
- The decision to quit your job and move across the country
- The decision to leave a relationship
- The decision to have a hard conversation instead of avoiding conflict
- The decision to raise your prices
When it’s NOT about your comfort zone, it’s usually someone else trying to influence your decision.
- Someone telling you that your business idea is too risky
- Someone asking you for something after you’ve said no and established a boundary
- Someone telling you that moving across the country for a fresh start is a terrible idea
- Someone telling you that at least your partner isn’t cruel, so why break their heart?
- Someone telling you to live and let live, forgive and forget, just ignore it when you want to address a conflict you’re having
- Someone telling you that you’re going to price yourself out of work
To help yourself identify what the discomfort is, you’ll need to access the emotions at play. Is it doubt? Fear? Shame?
When you know what the feeling is, figure out where it’s coming from.
If it’s coming from inside you, what’s the thought causing it?
For example: “Starting a business in this economy is risky.”
Then use logic to deconstruct the thought and all the emotional charge that comes with it. What exactly are the risks? Has anyone else started a business in this economy and been successful? What is your plan? When will you know if you need to change course?
If it’s coming from outside you, that’s someone else’s fear and doubt and issues, NOT YOURS. You have enough to work on within yourself. Renovate your own house.
Notice when your discomfort comes from a person violating your boundaries and evaluate your next steps there. Do you want to keep that person in your inner circle? Can you maintain distance so that their doubts aren’t getting all over your dreams?
Looking forward through your comfort zone
One extremely cool benefit of working on your thoughts around expanding your comfort zone is using it to visualize your long-term vision.
The version of you 10 years in the future who has already gotten through the tough comfort zone stuff — what are they doing? What are they thinking? What are they prioritizing?
Use that future vision as a visualization exercise when you’re feeling doubt or fear. Does 10 year you worry about those things, or did they decide to work through it and get to the other side?
Take baby steps
You don’t have to expand your comfort zone all the time.
If you’re working on stepping out of your comfort zone in one area, like raising your prices, you can work on that first, get comfortable enough, and then move on to something else.
Finish the project in one room of your comfort zone home and make it livable (not perfect, but livable) before moving on to another room of the house.
I am proud of you for stepping out of your comfort zone!
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This post is a companion to my podcast episode, “How to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone” available on all podcast platforms. Please subscribe to Run Like Hell Toward Happy and leave a review for the show to help others connect with it!
You can also get a copy of my free eBook, “How to Achieve Your Dreams Without Burnout,” with several exercises to work through self sabotage, imposter syndrome, and other negative beliefs that keep you from expanding your comfort zone.