This is a guide covering the comfort zone and tips to get out of it.
“Comfort is the enemy of Progress” – PT Barnum
As enticing as it may sound, the comfort zone is not at all a comfortable place to live, at least not in the long run.
Living inside the comfort zone is choosing an ostensibly risk-free life because the alternative is facing your fears and taking deliberate action.
We choose the comfort zone because it makes us feel safe and secure, and as a result, it makes us begrudgingly complacent with the status quo.
Barely managing and doing just enough to stay above water, that’s not how anyone would consciously want to live.
You will probably experience life on a superficial level if you do not choose to proactively conquer your fears and expand your boundaries.
You probably can make more money right now, but you don’t want to work those extra hours; you can take that opportunity at work, but that would mean more responsibility; or you could make new friends anywhere, but that means putting yourself out there regularly.
Before we can start tearing through the barriers to getting out of that dreaded comfort zone, first, let’s try to understand it by exploring the meaning of comfort zone.
Then let’s look at why it is so hard to break free and what does it feel like to break out of the comfort zone.
We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):
What is the Comfort Zone?
The comfort zone is a state of mental being caused by the region of psychological, physiological, and mental stagnation brought upon by the fear of taking risks and expanding your boundaries.
The comfort zone is primarily caused by fear and lack of motivation. Fear of the unknown, risks, and change can handicap our growth.
Growth will always lie on the outside of our comfort zone.
To illustrate the comfort zone, think of a circle.
Put inside the circle everything that you are comfortable doing; these are the things that you find easier to do, and they are risk-free. Everything that you have put inside the circle represents your comfort zone.
Now, think about all the things that you fear doing because they force you to grow, acquire new skills, experience new people and places et cetera.
This is what lies out of your comfort zone. And this is where all the growth happens. Follow your fears, because that’s where the growth lies.
Is Being in the Comfort Zone Good or Bad?
Staying put safely inside your comfort zone is constraining your potential and experience of life.
The self-imposed barrier of fear can limit your ability to grow.
Life can be full of ups and downs, and if you aren’t working on your warrior spirit every second of your life then it can put you down hard.
Missing opportunities, letting experiences slip through your fingers and fearing a little discomfort might get you a little fleeting comfort, but the regret of missed chances and laziness can pile on over time and lead to crippling depression and pessimism about life.
Performance anxiety will be there even if you have mastered a skill to perfection. That is a different matter altogether.
Anxiety will always accompany any worthy endeavor in life. People need to have realistic expectations of anxiety levels.
In fact, up to certain level anxiety can even boost your performance by activating that fight or flight response.
But beyond that level, it can cause panic. More on that later in the next section: why is it hard to leave the comfort zone?
What you should fear the most in life is getting comfortable. You should diligently work towards acquainting yourself with discomfort, every time pushing the boundary a bit further out.
That is an extremely effective way to outgrow the person you are and become the person you want to be.
Even when you achieve your goals, or when a skill starts becoming comfortable, push further; there is always more room to grow.
Avoid complacency like the plague because it will keep you well inside your comfort zone, costing you your valuable potential for growth.
To further explore this subject, we recommend this TED Talk by Luvvie Ajayi Jones:
Why is it Hard to Leave the Comfort Zone?
Getting out of the comfort zone ultimately means facing up your fears.
The best things in life are on the other side of fear, and if you rarely face up to your fears, you will never get to experience life beyond a superficial level of depth.
But that being said, facing your fears is not a stroll in the park either. If it were that easy everyone would be jumping out of their comfort zones.
There is no getting rid of anxiety and fear altogether.
If anyone promises you that that is possible, run away from that person as far as you can because either they are selling you something for a quick buck, or they are on some half-baked psychological theories.
Ultimately, you have to learn to live with your fears.
Managing your fears rather than eliminating them, because fear, as negative as you might think of it, can help you in increasing performance.
Fear can push you harder where positive motivation can only take you so far.
It is hard to break free of the comfort zone because it is about our fears and anxieties.
Once we can manage them through practice or exposures (also therapy) we can enjoy our lives despite our fears.
What Does it Mean to Get Out of the Comfort Zone?
Your comfort zone is a scary place to be if you see it for what it is: a comfortable road to a wasted life. Breaking out of that prison of limitation can be freeing.
As frequently you try to get out of your comfort zone, the more you will be able to expand your circle of comfort.
One of the obvious effects of your regular forays outside the comfort zone will be an increased level of confidence and self-esteem. You might start thinking to yourself, “Is this what I was afraid of?”
You will start exploring places and meeting new people because you can and you want to, and not avoiding them because you are afraid of exposing yourself a little.
Your outlook on life will get a cheery upgrade, and you will see that abundance is everywhere.
Fear and anxieties close in on us, making everything around us seem dark and melancholic.
But facing up to your fears will result in those clouds of doubt and fear recede, and eventually, you will find that life is full of joy, fun, experiences, learning, and happiness.
10 Tips to Get Out of the Comfort Zone
So how can you get yourself unstuck from the comfort zone? There are certain strategies out there that can help in getting out of a rut of the comfort zone.
Here are 10 tips that I recommend for getting yourself out of your comfort zone.
1. Realize that fear and discomfort will always be there
Henry Fonda, the acclaimed Hollywood actor, himself admitted that he would throw up right before he went on the stage every time.
If that’s what a trained Hollywood actor experienced every time he went on stage, then it is pretty safe to assume that anxiety and fear will always be there, and pushing your boundaries will always lead to discomfort.
When you realize this, half your battle is won.
2. Identify the boundaries of your circle
The circle metaphor fits all this talk about comfort zone for a reason.
Your circle can expand or contract based on your ability or inability to face your fears.
Within its parameters are all the things that you currently feel comfortable doing, but outside the circle is where are the things that you want and need to do, but due to fear you are held back from doing.
Expanding your comfort zone boundary depends on your willingness to face up to the fears and anxieties that you normally associate with the things lying outside of your comfort zone.
3. Exposure Therapy with small increments
Exposure therapy can reduce anxiety levels by a whopping 49 percent if it is used for prolonged 16 – 20 weeks according to a study that compared it with cognitive-behavior therapy or CBT for curbing symptoms like anxiety and depression.
Although, the findings come with a caveat, and that is that these treatments need to be administered in small doses, or otherwise, an abrupt change in anxiety levels can cause intense panic attacks, which may discourage people trying to conquer their fears from staying the course with frequent exposure.
To further explore the idea of exposure therapy, we recommend this video by Therapy in a Nutshell:
4. Don’t be too self-centered
“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself” – Marcus Aurelius
Self-centered thinking leads to a victim mentality, which in itself is highly incongruous to growth and results in complacency with the status quo.
Yeah, I am talking about all that “woe is me” kind of arguments we can engage in from time to time.
If you ever want to move outside your comfort zone then it is essential that you identify your self-centered triggers and deliberately try and reinterpret your thoughts because at the end of the day thoughts are everything.
5. People’s opinion of you should be the least of your worries
Self-centered thinking also leads to the thinking that everyone is thinking about you.
However, it is based on this false sense of self-centeredness that is at the core of this problem.
Once we realize that not everything is about ourselves, we can truly learn to try new things, and explore live our potential.
6. Find your support system
It can be daunting stepping into the unknown and uncertain.
It helps to have family and friends around when you are trying to get out of your comfort zone.
This is your support system: a group of people that support you no matter what and are there to cheer you on when the going gets tough.
7. Adopt a growth mindset
Carol S. Dweck in her book on growth mindset explains that there are two kinds of people: one who considers habits and flaws to be etched in stone, and therefore, incapable of change.
Then, on the other hand, some people view their characters hamartia to be something that can be improved.
These are the people that Carol S. Dweck refers to as having a growth mindset.
Adopt the growth mindset if you want to ever face your fears, change your habits, and transform your life around.
8. Proactively look for opportunities that will make you confront your fears
It is not easy to confront your fear. But by constantly leaning against the boundary of our fears, we can regain ground from our fears.
You should proactively highlight the areas where you feel you need to progress and go after them.
9. Focus on habit formation
Habits rule our lives more than we can ever imagine.
Humans are creatures of habit. Habit-formation can take anywhere from about 18 to 254 days to become automatic.
You can take advantage of the brain’s amazing ability and make getting out of the comfort zone a regular habit for yourself.
Soon you will feel that something discomforting initially stops being so and the pressure eases with time as your behavior becomes automatic.
10. Remind yourself of the goal throughout the journey
Throughout your journey of conquering fears and overcoming anxieties, you should remind yourself of how different it would be if you didn’t have such and such fear.
Imagine if you were able to talk to anyone, anytime without anxiety, how effective would you be at your job, at making friends, and at relationships.
Always remind yourself of why you are doing this. It will inspire you to keep moving forward despite setbacks.
Trying to get out of the comfort zone can be best thing you can do for your self-development.
However, it is not as simple as it seems.
Comfort zone is mostly about your fears and to get out of it takes persistent exposure that you can ultimately become desensitized to your fears.
Sikandar is opinionated on a diverse set of topics that include, but are not limited to, Productivity, Health, Fitness, Motivation, and Career. He is in love with the written word and writes mainly to help others on their self-actualizing journeys. A journalist by education, getting to the bottom of things is his modus operandi. Often, he finds himself moonlighting as a life coach to his family, friends, and colleagues. He can be reached at his LinkedIn for collaboration.