We all have a comfort zone and most people choose to operate within those confines whenever they can. What they don’t realise is that comfortable just means safe. It doesn’t mean content. Comfort zones can often work against us. Just because we’re used to them doesn’t mean they’re the best way to go. Staying within this zone often means avoiding hurt, avoiding rejection. But safeguarding yourself against negative feelings might prevent you from taking a chance for positive change. Comfortable can often be lonely.
It seems counter intuitive to put yourself in a position when both your mind and body are telling you not to do something. I was reminded of this recently when I took a course in the flying trapeze. At many stages throughout the exercise, I felt I was going against sanity: as I climbed the tall, narrow ladder to the top, as I jumped off the platform to swing high into the sky, as I hooked my legs around the swinging bar and let my hands go, and as I let go of my grip on the bar to do a back circle dismount, into the net. My mind and body kept screaming, ‘This is wrong! This is scary! Are you crazy?’ You don’t have to be 32 ft in the air to have this reaction, it often happens at the mere thought of starting a conversation with someone, even with both feet, firmly planted.
Those protective mechanisms were put in place for a good reason. But, unlike our hunter/gatherer ancestors who needed these signals to protect them from real danger, like a wild animal who was about to eat them, we don’t have these same concerns in our modern, western lives. Yes, that’s right, we’ve over-evolved. We are stuck with this ‘danger alert’ mechanism that we don’t need. So how do we overcome this in order to take that first step out of our comfort zones?
1) Don’t listen to the voices inside your head.
Voices; we all have them, and they are usually are more nagging aunt Edna, than cool, hippie friend. So, just do what you would do when encountered with an egocentric windbag: tune it out. Again, counter intuitive, but don’t assume those voices in your head are right. Don’t listen!
2) Be logical
The first time I climbed up the ladder for my flying trapeze routine, I was nervous, scared and even trembling. It didn’t get any better as I stood on the small wooden platform 32 feet in the air. However, my logical voice told my scared voice that it was ‘normal’ to be scared, that I had never done it before, and the next time wouldn’t be as scary. My logical voice was right. It got easier every time.
3) You’re not going to be good at something straight away
Often what keeps us from trying is the fear that we won’t be any good or that we will make fools of ourselves. Would you expect to be fluent in a new language straight away? Become a professional athlete after one game of tennis? Play the guitar well after only a few lessons? What we tend to forget is that being good at something takes time. It’s a process. Your first step out of your comfort zone will not make you a professional. That’s fine, just keep it up. As Malcolm Gladwell says, anyone can be an expert in anything if they put in 10,000 hours.
4) Take a leap of faith
The main thing stopping us is the fear of the unknown. We don’t know what is outside our comfy bubble, but whatever it is has the potential to make us look foolish. But the more often we step out of our comfort zone the less ‘unknowns’ there are. If you continue to do it, your comfort bubble becomes bigger and what makes you uneasy becomes smaller. So, just close your eyes, don’t listen to the voices in your head and take the leap. You’ll soon find that it’s not as scary as you had imagined.