5 Steps to Stretch Your Comfort Zone, Take Risks, and Enjoy Them


Jess Whittlestone | Tiny Buddha

“You can only grow if you feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” ~Brian Tracy

I’d love to be a really good public speaker. But the thought of standing up in front of an audience and giving a talk fills me with fear. I’d be able to think of nothing else for days beforehand, and upon getting onto the stage, I’d be so nervous I talked at lightning speed.

I’d love to be stronger. But every time I go to the gym, I walk straight past the free weights room. Heaving with muscular, sweaty, men, the thought of going in there as a fairly petite girl makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable.

I’d love to learn about things I don’t understand from people who are more knowledgeable than me. But every time I’m in a conversation and I don’t understand something, I’m terrified that people will think I’m stupid if I speak up. So I don’t say anything, and I lose track of what’s going on.

About six months ago, I realized I was having a lot of thoughts like this, and that they followed a similar pattern.

There was something I wanted to get better at, some way in which I wanted to grow. But to do so, I’d have to subject myself to something that made me feel afraid or uncomfortable. So I’d stay stuck—scared of public speaking, the free weights room, asking stupid questions—and tell myself I’d deal with it another time.

We all have things we avoid because they make us feel uncomfortable; these are just a few of mine.

Sometimes, this discomfort is there for good reason: it’s warning us of potential danger. I’m uncomfortable overtaking cars on the motorway when it’s busy, for example, because I’m afraid of having a crash. But a lot of the time, I think the discomfort we feel doesn’t signal any real danger.

What’s the worst that could happen if, say, I stood up in a shopping mall and sung at the top of my voice? My gut says I’m probably going to die; the ground is going to open up and swallow me up. In reality, I’ll probably just get some weird looks.

Discomfort stops us from doing exactly the things that help us grow.

If we spend all of our time just doing the things that feel comfortable, we’re probably missing out on a million opportunities to try new things, and so many ways in which we could improve. It’s a simple truth that if you want to get better at something, you’re going to have to go through a period where you’re not so good at it, which might mean feeling uncomfortable.

I realized that if I could get better at telling when my discomfort was blown out of proportion and overcome it, I could do so much more, be so much more as a person. So I decided I’d start deliberately making myself do things that made me uncomfortable, and write about them to better understand my experiences and share them with others.

I’m still learning as I go further in pushing the boundaries of what makes me uncomfortable. But here are the most useful things I’ve learned so far:

1. Become aware of what’s outside your comfort zone.

You can’t face your fears if you don’t know what they are. As I started thinking more about discomfort, I realized that there were a lot of things that made me uncomfortable that I’d hardly even been aware of.

Big things like public speaking are obviously uncomfortable, but I started to notice a lot of smaller day-to-day discomfort around things, like asking someone for feedback, that I didn’t even know where bothering me.

When we feel an emotion like discomfort, it’s natural to want to push it away and not think about it. But I’ve found that noticing the discomfort and allowing myself to feel it in its entirety has allowed me to become more accepting of it—more comfortable with discomfort! This makes it much easier to face the thing causing the reaction.

2. Take small steps, not giant leaps.

I initially envisioned doing wildly uncomfortable things from day one, standing up and making announcements on the subway, for example. I soon realized this wasn’t realistic, and setting too-high goals might make me more likely to miss them and berate myself for it.

Start with something that’s just a little uncomfortable, but doable, and then work upward. Start by smiling at strangers, and when that no longer feels uncomfortable, start saying hello or striking up conversations.Small steps and giving yourself positive feedback are the keys to progress.

3. Be honest about when you’re making excuses.

When you have an aversion to doing something, your brain can be incredibly good at coming up with reasons against doing that thing. Maybe you’re really not feeling that well, actually. Maybe you have too much work to do. Maybe you just don’t have enough time.

It can be really difficult to tell good reasons for not doing something from mere excuses. I’ve found it helpful to imagine what you would tell a friend in your shoes. Would you encourage them to drop the excuses and just do the thing?

4. Be clear about what you’re aiming to overcome.

The first time I went into the free weights room in the gym, I felt elated with my achievement. I then went to the gym four or five times afterward without going back into the weights room. I told myself I didn’t need to because I’d already shown I could. But really, I hadn’t overcome my discomfort at all and was just making excuses.

The problem was that I pretended my goal was to go into the free weights room once, when really what I was aiming for was to overcome my discomfort from going in regularly. If I’d realized this, I’d have seen the first success as one small step towards the goal and so gone back in the next time rather than thinking I’d achieved what I needed and could stop.

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  1. ursabhishek@yahoo.con' gopal agarwal. New Delhi. INDIA says:

    Extremely encouranging and real time article. Every body in this world have unconfortable zone in life, but after going thru this inspiring article, I am sure , this phobia can be eliminated. Thanx a lot for giving precious lifetime encouragement . Thanx once again.

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