Expanding Your Comfort Zone
“Courage is not the absence of fear,
but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”
~ Franklin D. Roosevelt
Your comfort zone is a place where your behaviors have found a routine or pattern to minimize anxiety and stress on you. It is your default area, your definition of #basic. The concept of a comfort zone goes back to psychological research done by Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson. They learned that a steady level of performance could be created from a state of relative comfort. However, in order to get the best performance some level of anxiety was needed.
They called this space “Optimal Anxiety”. It is the behavioral and emotional space just outside of the comfort zone. Too much anxiety and performance drastically decreases, yet not enough and it also remains low. Optimal Anxiety is precariously perched on peak performance with sharp drops to either side.
Before getting started, it’s important to understand that a comfort zone is amoral, neither good nor bad. It is is simply a natural state that people trend toward. When you break out of it you increase your risk and anxiety. The idea is to push just out of the comfort zone, then reset the norm so that your zone of comfort expands. Repeat this process enough and you will develop a habit of growth in your life.
Understand how you experience fear and anxiety.
The first step in expanding your comfort zone is knowing it’s bounds. Unfortunately many of us don’t know we are past our comfort zone until well beyond the line. Or we are in situations where we haven’t learned the line and don’t know until it is crossed. It’s these situations that make many people hesitant to push their limits. By knowing how to recognize your experience of fear before it becomes overwhelming you will have an early warning sign of coming close to the line. Knowing the bounds of your comfort zone you are then able to push those limits and expand your area of comfort.
Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress. Physical manifestations of fear and anxiety can vary from person to person. Some people break into cold sweat and feel clammy. Others may have increased hear rate and rapid breathing. Take some time to learn what fear and anxiety feel like for you. Recognizing the physical symptoms will help you to overcome your fears. You will know that it is just your body’s reaction to the anxiety provoking stimuli. Don’t let these sensations stop you from pushing yourself.
Emotionally, anxiety and fear can be draining. It can lead to apprehension or dread. You may feel tense and jumpy in uncomfortable situations. This may cause someone to be irritable, especially when they are in an uncomfortable situation. The experience is worse because they are not comfortable and experiencing anxiety. The expression of irritability can also make them feel worse about the situation.
Fear and anxiety can also take a mental toll on you. Fear affects how people think in different ways. For some it can be debilitating. They may anticipate the worst and even expect it. They could have trouble concentrating because they are constantly looking for signs of danger. For others it can be motivating. These are people who experience fear and that makes them want to do it more. Adrenaline junkies would fall in this group, but you don’t have to be that extreme. When you are here you want to dive into the things that scare you to learn why they are scary. Sometimes there’s a reason for that fear, other times you find something to overcome.
Prepare yourself for overcoming the fear and anxiety.
Do some research into what you want to do. Fear and anxiety tend to come from not knowing. Before you get started you’ll need to know what areas you want to expand your comfort zone. In the world of addiction, research shows it’s best to only quit one thing at a time. For habit formation you are more likely to succeed if you only work on building one new habit at a time. Spend some time learning about the area you are expanding. This could be watching videos or reading articles on the topic. It may mean joining meet up groups or talking to people who are doing it.
Rationalize your fear of the unknown. Now that you’ve identified the fear and anxiety you feel around the edge of your comfort zone, create a list of why you shouldn’t expand it. List out why you should allow your fear to win. You can write this down or do it in your head. Now go through the list and cross out all the rationalization that are more emotional than factual. Factual rationalization: If I fall off the skateboard while learning there is a chance of injury. Emotional rationalization: I’ll look silly learning to skateboard at my age. For each factual rationalization, list ways to overcome the fear, e.g. wearing safety equipment while on the skateboard.
Look at the worst vs the best outcomes. Create a list of the worst possible outcomes. What is the worst that could happen if you step out of your comfort zone. Think about how you would deal with those circumstances. This will help to put your fears in perspective. Then create one for the best possible outcomes. Understand that reality will be somewhere in the middle.
Redefine how you understand comfort and being comfortable. How do you feel in your your comfort zone? Is it safe and secure? Maybe bored and inflexible? Don’t let your comfort zone become your “failure zone” because nothing changes. Change how you see comfort to mean growth. Become uncomfortable with stagnation and inflexibility.
Look at where you are and where you want to be.
Review your accomplishments. You’ve expanded your comfort zone in the past. Look for times you’ve successfully expanded your comfort zone. Even if you have to look so far back as to learning to walk or talk. Seeing that you’ve succeeded in the past will motivate your current efforts. Remember that pushing yourself then wasn’t easy but now look at what you have accomplished. Learning to drive is a great example of this for many people. It was scary at first with lots of things to remember, but now you do it without even thinking.
Watch out for the “frenemy” of familiarity. When comfortable, you come to rely on the familiar to maintain that comfort. However, unless well checked, relying on familiarity doesn’t allow for growth and expansion.
Find a compelling reason to push yourself. Go back and review your best possible outcomes for expanding your comfort zone. Visualize yourself successful outside of your comfort zone. Let these visualizations motivate you to make the changes necessary to expand and grow.
Create a plan to expand and push your comfort zone.
Write down a mission statement of what you want to accomplish. Come up with reasons to grow in the area of choice. Next ask yourself what you will gain from this expansion. Once you have both of these write them down in a simple statement that you can remember. Keep this statement with you all the time. This will become a phrase that you can repeat to yourself when you are feeling discouraged.
Create a step by step blueprint for yourself. Break your larger goal down into smaller steps. Create benchmarks to measure your progress. These will be mini-goals to accomplish. They will each move you a step closer to your goal of expanding your comfort zone. These should be small simple steps that themselves do not seem like much effort.
Make a plan to move from each step or benchmark to the next one until you reach beyond your comfort zone. Take baby steps from where you are to where you want to be. This will slowly de-sensitize you to the anxiety that jumping right into it might cause.
On the other hand is the concept used in emersion therapy. In this you jump head first into the fear inducing activity. If you are scared of public speaking, you would schedule a talk in front of 1,000 people. The idea is complete emersion and facing the strongest fear head on. This is a high risk path that can lead to faster bigger rewards, but also more magnificent failures. This is not recommended if you are not already familiar with pushing yourself. The slower path is better the first few times you intentionally push your limits.
Start with small steps away from your area of comfort.
Don’t wait to get started. Similar to analysis paralysis waiting on a time or date can prevent you from ever getting started. Instead start where you are right now.
One way to get started is to do regular things just a little bit differently. Challenge yourself by stepping outside of you comfort zone in small ways. Change up the way you do normal daily tasks. If every morning you order the same thing at Starbucks try getting something new. Or try going to a different coffee shop, maybe one locally owned. If you go through the drive through, take some time and go inside to order. The idea here is to still do the things you do but in a slightly different way.
Take time making decisions. Slow down and observe what is going on before making decisions. When speed and quick thinking are important slowing down can be uncomfortable. This can make it a good first step toward expanding your area of comfort. Simply saying, “Give me a moment to think about it.” can push you. Take time to think things through rather than reacting.
Also trust yourself when making quick decisions. On the other side, some are more comfortable weighing all of the options. This can lead to analysis paralysis. That is spending so much time analyzing a situation that nothing ever gets done. Start by making a few simple quick decisions. This will help you kickstart your progress toward the edge of your comfort.
Encourage yourself along the way.
See any challenge that arises as a growth opportunity. This can be difficult, especially when you are just trying to get through it. It’s easier to recognize growth opportunities after they pass. In the moment you don’t see them for what they are. You’ll let an opportunity pass without utilizing it. Use hindsight of past growth opportunities to help yourself see ways to grow when you are in challenging times. Sometimes friends and colleagues can see these where you cannot.
Use positive self talk to help through the roughest parts. This will help you as you start to move to the edges of your comfort zone. Say to yourself encouraging phrases. “I know you are scared, but you can do this.” If needed find a quiet place alone and say them out loud. When getting ready in the morning, say encouraging phrases to yourself in the mirror. Use dry erase markers to write encouraging things on your mirror. Leave yourself sticky notes with encouraging phrases.
Bring a friend along who will encourage you. Doing something new alone can be it’s own challenge. The goal here is to expand your comfort zone, so unless you are working on doing things solo bring a friend along for support. It helps if they are familiar with the thing you are doing or want to push themselves too.
Practice relaxation techniques to help you remain calm. Deep breathing helps to relieve stress in the moment. Focusing on your breathing will calm you down. As you breathe in, visualize yourself breathing in confidence and expelling fear and anxiety. Visualize a relaxing scene or even your idea of successfully expanding your comfort zone. Close your eyes and walk yourself through the scene in your mind. Try to see, feel, hear, and smell the things in your visualization. Now open your eyes and make that happen.
There will be setbacks, don’t let them stop you. You’ll have times where you don’t succeed or where you aren’t able to push yourself. Use these times as learning experiences. Fear of failure is one of the worst fears. Sometimes you have to let yourself fail just so you know it’s not as devastating as you perceived. Just like starting, don’t let a day or two of set back stop you from making progress. If you goal is to increase your socialization, don’t let missing a day of talking to someone new reset your progress. Go out the next day and continue right where you left off.
Become the change that you want to see in yourself.
Physically embody the change. The way you think affects your body and emotions. In the same vein, your behavior and what you do affects how you think. Sitting around watching TV at home will make it harder to do things when not home. Being active when home, even just around the house, will normalize being active outside of the comfort of your home. Be the change you want by behaving in the manner that you would if you already had the expanded comfort zone.
Use the phrase “Fake it ’til you make it” to your advantage. There have been several meme’s about this phrase lately. Most of them misapply it or misunderstand it’s intent. The idea is to act confidently even when you don’t feel confident. This is a counter to imposter syndrome. It’s the ability to act as if you are already comfortable in a situation even though you are not. By doing so you’ll begin to gain that confidence. Over time you’ll “make it” by being comfortable in once uncomfortable situations.
Build a habit around trying new things. This goes back to the familiarity being your enemy. You naturally want to stay with what you already know. It is proven to be safe. Train yourself you see new experiences as safe and fun. Start small and make it a routine to try something new. Routines provide comfort, but the new pushes that comfort. This could be as simple as trying a new restaurant at lunch on Thursdays.
Continue to push yourself and expand your comfort zone.
Make small changes that you normally wouldn’t do to encourage long term change. Now that trying new things is becoming a routine make changes to your daily routines. Basically push the comfort created by the routine. This works when things are going well and smooth in life. When other areas of your life are chaotic, be cautious of changing too much in your routine. These changes fit into your routine but are slightly different. It could be as simple as listening to a new genre of music on your drive to work or trying out a new podcast. The goal is to maintain small changes that expand or help you grow.
Aim to learn something new each day. This involves changing the way you view day-to-day life. Start off each morning (or night depending on your schedule) looking for chances to learn something new. This could be as advanced as taking a class or reading a new book on a subject you are unfamiliar. It could be as simple as reading a new blog, or talking to a new person.
Pick activities that challenge you. Don’t always do the same things when deciding how to spend your time. There is something to doing a regular relaxing thing like watching TV or gaming. Make trying new things to be something that is relaxing or that you look forward to doing. Look for activities in areas you are not familiar to expand yourself. You’ll find things that you never knew you could do, and others that you do not enjoy. Yes, you’ll do things that you find you don’t enjoy doing. The point is not to continue doing them but to learn and grow in the areas you do enjoy.
Chapter 3 is titled “A Farewell to Chairs?” Kutner starts off talking about Ernest Hemmingway and how he preferred a standing desk. He then goes on to discuss both the pros and cons of standing desks. It may surprise some, but standing all day long is not healthy. Standing is shown to help increase concentration and alertness. However standing for extended periods of time can be harmful. Sitting all day long is not the solution, because that has it’s own set of negative consequences. In the first section “Sitting is Considered Harmful” Kutner points out two studies that show a correlation between sitting for extended periods of time and disease prevalence. He goes on to point out that just a few minutes of activity each hour can reduce these risks from sitting without creating the issues caused by standing all day. Unfortunately we may not be able to get up that often and move around. So the next few pages include several exercises that can be done at a desk in a chair. In the next section, Kutner talks about research from Dr. Alan Hedge on standing desks and lists out the negative health consequences of standing all day. These include things like increased risk of developing carotid atherosclerosis, or constriction of the carotid artery. It appears the key to use of a standing desk is to alternate between standing and sitting. The idea is to keep moving, only spending some time in each position. In the final section before the retrospective, Kutner discusses ways to enhance your existing workstation or new ones that you can get. He lists two main rules: make it adjustable, and allow for movement.
Tricks of the Trade
Be willing to quickly be wrong.