For some people, it comes naturally, but for a lot of us, stepping out of our comfort zones can be really difficult. In fact, it’s often something we shy away from, for fear of the unknown, for fear of failure, or just plain old fear. But doing things outside of your normal, safe, box can actually be extremely beneficial.
“[Stepping out of your comfort zone] really allows you to learn more about who you are,” says Kiran Chatha, a life coach based in Vancouver. “There are so many benefits.”
Doing different things, whether it’s trying a new food, changing up your haircut, travelling, or riding a roller coaster, opens doors for you and makes you aware of your boundaries, Chatha explains. If you never try anything new, you’ll never know what you like or don’t like.
“It really makes you face your limiting beliefs about yourself,” she says.
And that fear, by the way? It’s completely natural.
Think back to when our ancestors were faced with sure death if they did anything outside of their comfort zones. Anxiety and fear are our bodies’ natural signals of potential danger. The problem is that now, our bodies don’t necessarily know that the fear we’re feeling about singing in public for the first time is quite different to the fear of meeting a saber-toothed cat face to face.
“That’s just where we evolved from,” says Chatha. “You completely are fighting biology.”
The most important thing to do is to be aware of your thoughts and feelings when you’re facing something new and scary. Listen to the thoughts of self-doubt and fear, and then analyze your situation. Ask yourself if you are actually in any real danger, or if your brain is just reacting.
“Our brains produce so many thoughts, but not all of them are truth,” Chatha says.
She offers a personal example: She gets anxiety going into a new gym for the first time, not knowing her way around and not wanting to feel foolish. But when she pauses to think about the situation, she’s able to recognize there is no real threat present – her brain is simply reacting to the feeling of a new unknown.
Of course, it’s not easy, Chatha agrees, which is why she recommends you take baby steps when choosing to do something outside of your norm.
“Know that it’s going to be one small step at a time,” she says.
Being mindful of this will help make these kinds of changes more manageable – in other words, it is a lot more overwhelming to look at the entire mountain you have to climb, rather than focusing on how many steps you can make in an hour, or a day.
Chatha also suggests properly making space for doing this by scheduling rest time to recharge. Stepping out of your comfort zone means doing something that goes against your natural tendency, and that can feel draining.
But the benefits are worth it, Chatha says. Doing things that are scary (and that doesn’t have to mean bungee jumping or skydiving, though it can), and surviving them, makes us feel good about ourselves and helps us build resilience.
By challenging yourself, you’re revealing how strong you really are, and what you’re truly capable of, inadvertently setting yourself up for success when life throws you a curveball. Self-confidence is also a “huge by-product” of pushing past your comfort zone, Chatha says.
As you make an effort to try some new things, it’s important to be aware of your mind chatter and have compassion for yourself, she explains. Listen to your emotions when you feel anxious or scared or uncomfortable – is there really a threat present, or are these self-sabotaging thoughts? If it’s safe to continue, trust your intuition and give it a try. You might surprise yourself.