Two months ago I asked my 19 year old son what he wanted for his birthday. He told me in lieu of a gift, he wanted to do something he has never done before, something adventurous, but I had to go with him. He chose skydiving. I was hesitant at first, but I didn’t want to let him down, so I agreed.
For the past month I didn’t think much about what I agreed to. I would tell myself how going skydiving shouldn’t be that scary. I have gone bungee jumping in the past and never missed a chance to ride the latest and greatest roller coasters. Heck, I even flew a Mig fighter jet a few years back! Skydiving should be a breeze. The adventure was still one month away, so I didn’t really give it much thought, until now.
We are one week away and my stomach has been in a constant knot. Where is all this fear coming from? Is it because I am older? Is it because I am doing something out of the norm? Why am I having such anxiety leaving my comfort zone? I thought of backing out but at the same time, I am excited to go. What should I do? What would you do?
So many self-help books encourage us to get out of our comfort zone and do something we normally would not. And as much as we want to do this, getting out of our normal routine sometimes takes too much work. But how do we know when we have pushed ourselves beyond the boundaries of our comfort zone? What exactly IS a “comfort zone,” and is it really beneficial to go beyond our level of comfort?
Our “comfort zone” is our safe haven. It is a place where our behavior patterns align with our activities so our anxiety and stress levels are low and our happiness is high. The result is mental security. Comfort zones equal steady levels of performance, nothing more.
A place “just outside our comfort zone,” known as “optimal anxiety,” puts us at a higher performance level and raises our stress level slightly. Someone who has pushed themselves to get to the level “just outside their comfort zone” has learned that if you challenge yourself, you can get great results. However, for some of us, pushing ourselves too hard causes a negative result, which makes us not want to challenge ourselves further than our safe comfort level, where our anxiety and stress are at comfortable levels. This is one of the main reasons people don’t want to leave their comfort zone.
Trying new things in life is difficult for most of us. If it wasn’t, we would be doing it all the time. Yet there are many benefits to leaving our comfort zone if we allow ourself to do so. We can deal with unexpected changes better, can be more productive, can push oourselves to higher levels more easily and our thought process goes beyond what it used to be. But keep in mind, everyone’s comfort zone is different, and something that may benefit one person can hurt someone else.
We know that optimal anxiety can be a good thing, but how can we go beyond our comfort level without going overboard?
Keep these things in mind:
Make a small change each day. Instead of eating at your favorite restaurant each week, try a new one. Carpool to work, or take a different road to work. Take a “how to” class at your local library. Whatever you choose, don’t give up, even if the result wasn’t in your favor.
Break out slowly. Just wanting to go beyond your comfort level is courageous enough, so starting slow by taking small steps is a good thing. Take the time to learn what your fears are and face them one at a time. Ask someone out for coffee, join a book or walking club, connect with people that inspire you. All these things can help you push yourself past those mental walls you have built around yourself, and give you the confidence to make larger changes, like learning a new language, volunteering, or traveling with a group or tour. Let’s face it, trying new things in life is difficult for most of us. If it wasn’t, we would be doing it all the time.
Focus on the benefit, not the stress. The reason we decide to step out of our comfort level is not to stress us out. Instead, it is to welcome new adventures and experiences, and to feel what “optimal anxiety” feels like in a controlled, manageable way.
Make a habit of leaving the comfort zone. If possible, try something new once a week or every month. Just remember, safety is first! New experiences don’t have to be big, either. Yoga or meditation can be just as powerful and bungee jumping or skydiving.
The comfort zone is always there to return to. Keep in mind that we cannot live outside our comfort zone all the time. It is healthy to come back “home,” relax, and process our adventures and experiences. This way we appreciate the efforts and reap the benefits of exploring beyond our normal zone so we can apply them to our day to day living.
Jump in tandem. Finding a friend or family member to share the journey out of the comfort zone – it will reduce the stress of change as well as strengthen the relationship’s bond. We don’t have to leave the comfort zone all by ourselves.
Whether by choice or by force, change teaches us exactly what we are capable of. And, it teaches us to cherish the memories of those uncomfortable yet memorable experiences that inspire us to become more productive, creative, and happy in life.
As for me, I have decided to go skydiving with my son and my two sisters. The confidence I will gain and the memories I will cherish for a lifetime are just too good to pass up!