Living Comfortably By Expanding Your Comfort Zone
Ah, the age-old inspirational proverb: go out of your comfort zone. The term itself strikes anxiety and fear in some but risk and adventure in others.
Your comfort zone is a controllable headspace.
Within this mindset, your stress and anxiety vanish as you feel at ease with your surroundings. The outcomes within this safe space may not be predictable, but they are always acceptable.
Outside your comfort zone, however, you are vulnerable like a gazelle in on the Savannah. Stress and anxiety lurk in the shadows, ready to pounce on you at any moment.
The paralysis of uncertainty can feel overwhelming.
On the other hand, opportunity and growth await outside of your bubble. It may not be evident at first, but that's because your comfort zone is always there as your haven. Challenging yourself in unknown environments is the best way to be your best self. Scientists have even proven that bits of anxiety can improve human performance.
Still, it isn't easy to consistently venture outside your comfort zone - unless you expand your comfort zone. Learning to understand your stress, anxiety, and fear in a controllable headspace will allow you to reap the benefits of the uncertain world while minimizing the risk. So, it's imperative to expand your comfort zone rather than strictly living outside of it.
Defining Your Discomfort Zone
Before you begin to expand your horizons, you first need to understand what makes you uncomfortable. Defining your discomfort zone may be difficult, so let's look at an example for clarity.
Imagine your comfort zone like a small get-together with friends. Everyone is having a ball, and there's a feeling of security and comfort. Then your neighbor overhears the fun you're having and decides to join. It's a minor nuisance, but you can handle it. Then, he invites over a few more friends, and at this point, you're on edge, but you can deal with it. Finally, some more unexpected guests arrive, and that's when your fun soiree turns into an unwelcome stress bomb.
That tipping point is the beginning of your discomfort zone.
It's when your patience has burst, your stress levels kick in, and you no longer have control of the situation. Your safe space is full of unwanted emotions.
It's important to understand that you're not at fault when you've reached your discomfort zone. Humans have won the evolutionary Olympics; we earned the gold, silver, and bronze. Unlike our ancestors, we aren't fighting for our lives every day. It's okay to have a safe space, and it's healthy to retreat there every so often.
Yet if you want to grow and develop as a person, you should learn to expand this zone.
10 Ways to Expand Your Comfort Zone
"A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there." - Author Unknown.
Expanding your comfort zone is about learning to deal with uncertainty and utilizing those behaviors next time you are outside your bubble.
Think of it like driving a rental car: you haven't driven this exact car before, but you know how to drive a car, so it shouldn't be that difficult. In actual terms, if you have anxiety about going asking for a raise, you may utilize your experience haggling with a car salesman.
If you need some help, here are a few ways to grow and flourish by expanding your comfort zone.
1. Be a Yes Man
An underrated Jim Carrey movie, and even better advice, being a Yes Man will open your world to new experiences. Life happens when we least expect it, so opening yourself to new experiences is vital for development.
Instead of sitting on your couch watching Netflix, try going to an arts festival at the park or that new Thai restaurant down the street. If your friend asks you to move, then help them move. All of these things may not seem like much, but not only will you start to expand your horizons, but you'll also strengthen your relationships.
Although, the downside to being a Yes Man is that you need to have reliable standards. Many times, opening up your world to new and exciting experiences may seem thrilling. Still, you need to know the risk factors involved with each scenario. For example, a reasonable opportunity would be going to an art class with a friend even though you haven't held a paintbrush since second grade. A dangerous risk would be hanging out with a group of drifters under the bridge while they share needles.
Also, being a Yes Man shouldn't come at the cost of your pride. Toxic people who know a Yes Man when they see one will walk right over them. We call this a pushover. So, it's important to distinguish when someone provides you an opportunity to learn versus when they are using you.
2. Don't Think, Just Do
Remember, your comfort zone is a mental construct that you created to ward off uncertainty. It was carefully crafted in your head with hours upon hours of deliberation, most of the time without you knowing. Those thoughts turn into doubts, and those doubts hinder your growth.
Counteracting negative thoughts is best done by living outside your mind and taking action. Overthinking is the force that keeps you within your comfort zone. The wiring of the human brain evolutionarily reduces stress and anxiety. By living in your head, you will never be able to achieve success.
In his book The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology, author Gregg Krech touches on this subject. If you ask for that girl's number, start your business, or finally take that trip of a lifetime, the outside world does not change. The sun will always set at the end of the day. But, by "creating ripples" in your reality, as Krech calls them, you can alter your perception of the same reality.
Action itself, though, is not successful without planning. You shouldn't just jump into the river without checking the depth. It would help if you also didn't blow your life savings on a Gold's Gym franchise without proper research.
The proper order of action should be: plan, evaluate, act. If the evaluation is positive, or there are only minor risks involved, you should take action. Instead, many of us choose to overthink between the evaluate and act stage, leaving us stagnant.
Don't let your thoughts of doubt control your opportunity to develop.
3. Make a List of Your Fears
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” - Marie Curie
People tend to think of fears in a more physical sense, like phobias. Many common concerns are physical, like fear of heights, fear of insects, or fear of snakes. These are all legitimate fears, as they have an evolutionary makeup. You should be scared of heights because you don't want to fall and die.
But, when we mention fears, we are talking about psychological terror. These types of worries do not put your physical being at risk but may affect your psyche. These include fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of judgment, etc.
Understanding your psychological concerns is imperative to growth since they often act as bouncers for club success. The best way to overcome these anxieties is to become an abject observer to them by making a list. The first step to overcome fears is to acknowledge them.
By writing your fears and breaking them down into chunks, you begin to separate yourself from your anxiety. You can then tackle each aspect of that fear and enact healthy lifestyle changes.
Now, many social and psychological fears hold firm in evolutionary biology, so they may be difficult for you to tackle individually. Don't be afraid to seek professional help to overcome your fear. The only way to grow is to recognize what's holding you back and face it head-on.
Our mental processes can be complicated. Emotions and feelings tend to twist our thoughts into doubt. To expand your comfort zone, you must separate yourself from these thoughts and strive for mental clarity. Meditation is a great technique to achieve this goal.
Before we get into the idea of expanding your comfort zone through meditation, you must understand your decisions' feedback process.
- Perception - Understanding reality through one of your senses: feeling a pain, seeing a person, hearing a car horn, etc.
- Emotion - Based on the perception, we begin to feel an emotion. Some feelings also have a physical response (fight or flight), while others have an unexplainable answer.
- Thought - From that emotion, we often think about how to deal with it. Unwelcome emotions tend to cause negative thoughts.
- Action - Based upon your thoughts, you'll take action, or in most cases, inaction.
Most people can't control their perception or emotion since they emerge from reality. These are aspects of our brain that are hard-wired. For example, if you see a man running at you with a knife, you feel scared. But we can control our thoughts and actions. You could run away from the man with a knife, step to the side, freeze, or fight. Many times this mental feedback loop is instantaneous, and we don't understand how it works.
That's where meditation comes in. By training your mental awareness, you tend to gain clarity. Through clarity, you're able to separate each process of your feedback loop to act independently. You become a bystander to your thoughts and emotions, so they don't entangle within each other. Then, you can take the proper actions with an empty, level head.
In essence, this is what expanding your comfort zone is all about. Your emotions and thoughts become separate entities, and your actions become deliberate.
There are several different forms of meditation, but if you want to begin training your awareness, try apps like Headspace or Calm. Next thing you know, you'll have one of these fancy meditation benches chilling in your apartment.
We suggest trying different mindfulness exercises - as well as meditation - for the best results.
5. Think Like An Animal
We've already mentioned a bit about the gazelle, but let's look at its predator: the cheetah.
These fierce cats are the fastest mammals on the planet, sprinting at a blistering 60+ mph to catch their prey. Their bodies are so finely-tuned to hunt. Cheetahs have a flexible spine, which allows them to stretch and pivot at high speeds without the risk of injury. Their tails are two-thirds the length of their body, which gives them a rudder to center their gravity and counterbalance their momentum. Every aspect of the cheetah allows for optimal hunting, but there is something you may not know.
Cheetahs are one of the most shy and anxious animals on the planet. In captivity, they get so stressed by social interaction that they often fail to breed. It's common practice for zookeepers to provide emotional support dogs for cheetah cubs to help them gain confidence and ease their anxiety.
So, how does this seemingly shy animal turn into a successful hunting machine? The drive to survive.
Although, unlike the cheetah, human evolution has allowed us to ignore the necessities for pure survival. We have a place to sleep at night and can order DoorDash whenever we want. But, like the cheetah, our brain needs to hunt for success to grow and develop.
Our brains are just as finely-tuned as the cheetah's body. We have unlimited capacity to enjoy success and hunt our dreams, despite being afflicted with stress and fear.
Next time you're feeling anxious about a situation or realize you are struggling in the depths of your discomfort zone. Think like the cheetah.
6. Solo Travel
"A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions." - Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
Traveling by yourself can be an adventure that not only expands your comfort zone but allows for you to broaden your worldview.
Vacationing to new and exciting places will put you outside your normal comfort zone, especially when you don't speak the same language. There may be some communication issues or local cuisine that is much less than tasty. Still, you begin to understand yourself more from these experiences.
Unlike traveling with a group, nothing is stopping you from doing what you want to do when you are by yourself. You can get up at 5am and watch the sunrise over the city or go to that weird museum that you heard about on Reddit. There is flexibility to explore the world without the constraints of others.
Constraints of others, along with our minds' limitations, are what keeps us inside our comfort zone. The freedom to travel alone allows us to engage with the world in a new light and be ourselves.
From our experience, solo traveling has allowed us to seek inspiration in places that we've never imagined. From a last-minute spiritual retreat in Peru to an unplanned visit to a Buddhist monk tattoo parlor in Thailand, these experiences will help you grow and develop your comfort zone.
Unfortunately, traveling can be expensive, yet the lessons we learn from traveling are priceless. If you don't have the cash to go overseas, try to go to local cultural festivals. Meeting others from different walks of life will expand your perspective. Culture is about people, not places.
7. Volunteer Your Time (or Money)
Giving is always better than receiving. Engaging with a volunteer organization will not only better the community but will better yourself. Volunteering is a way to increase others' happiness, all while increasing your satisfaction, confidence, and understanding of the world.
A joint study between UnitedHealthcare and VolunteerMatch surveyed over 3,000 volunteers. Among the participants, 79% reported stress reduction, 88% reported a self-esteem increase, and 93% reported a better mood from volunteering. By improving positive emotions and reducing negative ones, volunteering will help you expand your comfort zone.
Although, not all of us have the time to help clean up the park or walk dogs at the local shelter. If your schedule is packed full, you should consider donating money instead. Even if you're short on funds, it is essential to explore the philanthropic benefits.
Externally, your money is most likely going to good a cause. You can choose the charity of your choice, and most organizations are upfront about their allocation of funds. If you aren't sure, contact them and ask. If you don't like their answer, find a different organization.
Internally, you gain the same benefits as you would of volunteering your time. Still, you may think losing a few bucks will hurt you financially. Which of these will give you a better cognitive outcome: spending $10 on a drink at the bar or giving $10 to someone that truly needs it? We can't answer that for you, but the latter always has better results in our experience.
For those of you that don't know where to start, that's okay. Here's a list of five great resources to allocate your time or money for the greater good.
- VolunteerMatch: Able to sort by location and cause to find opportunities near you
- DoSomething: Youth-driven movement to with different volunteer options
- United Way: Specializes in giving back to local communities
- JustServe: Database filled with potential volunteer opportunities
- GivePulse: Online resource for volunteers that also allows for tracking volunteer hours
8. Understand Positive Empathy
A key element of emotional intelligence is empathy. In its rawest form, it's the understanding and awareness of other people's emotions. You've probably heard the
Empathy is often confused with sympathy. With sympathy, you pity the other person in that particular situation. But when you're empathetic, you understand how someone feels, and you think with them, not for them. It's like acting as if their position is your position. Walk a mile in their shoes, right?
Still, empathy is often associated with negative emotions. If someone is stressed-out or anxious, you may feel for their situation. While this is critical for relationships and self-development, it's not something that will explicitly break you out of your comfort zone.
On the other end of the empathy spectrum, there are positive emotions. Others may feel inspired, blissful, or proud, yet many look at these emotional accomplishments with disdain. Whether explicitly stated or not, there's a small portion of our brain that says, "Why do they get to be happy?"
Being happy for others when they are happy will allow you to analyze the journey they took to get to obtain those feelings. By understanding positive empathy, you'll grow as a person and lay the framework for your happiness.
For example, if your friend just ran a triathlon, you should be just excited for them as they were to finish. The long hours of training and dedication to push their limits should inspire you to do the same. The emotional journey of their triumph over their comfort zone should set an example for you to do the same.
9. Venture into Nature
"In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks." - John Muir
Nature holds an indescribable transformative aspect that is unmatched. The dancing trees, rugged landscapes, and imminent beauty have left many speechless.
In the wilderness, there is a feeling of oneness with everything, a breath of mental clarity. There's a sense of connection to the living world and a clearer understanding of your being. You feel small, albeit insignificant, to its overwhelming power.
Everything in nature is out of your control. You cannot stop the wind from blowing or rain from falling. The elements have a life of their own. Yet even in adverse conditions, beauty thrives.
Your comfort zone shatters within nature. There's little protection and loads of uncertainty, yet you learn to appreciate its allure. Taking these lessons from the woods into your reality will allow you to thrive in uncontrollable situations. Yet you will still be able to cherish those moments.
In life, negative emotions often obscure the beauty of uncertainty. When you're in the woods, you learn to deal with nature's changes by preparation. If it is raining, you put on your rain jacket. If you're tired, you take a quick break. Coping with the uncertainty of life with thorough preparation will help guide you on a path to self-actualization.
A good rule of thumb is when you begin to feel overwhelmed, treat your situation like you're on a hike. Put one foot in front of the other, over and over again, until you reach your destination. Along the way, appreciate the beauty that the world has to offer.
10. Keep a Journal
Of course, we will add journaling to this list - it's a website called The Bro Journal!
Shameless plug aside, journaling has been proven to have immense benefits for your well-being. Seeing your thoughts organized and goals recorded allows you to look at your mind from a different perspective. Studies have shown that practicing journaling for 15-minutes per day can improve liver function and lower blood pressure - two tell-tale biological signs of stress.
Unfortunately, our educational system has tainted the joy of writing. If teachers force you to write enough 500-word essays about two-centuries-old books, the process of writing loses its glory.
For many of us, writing is actually outside our comfort zones. But, that typically stems from the idea that others may see our words. Journaling is a personal activity that you can use to reflect on your day, improve your performance, or practice mindfulness. Even getting a few sentences down will challenge the limits of your comfort zone and allow you to expand your horizons.
If you are unsure where to start journaling, you can write about what your comfort zone means to you. You could perform a stream of consciousness exercise in which you write every thought that comes into your head. You could even check out our list of best journals for anxiety, which will help you face your fear.
It doesn't have to be grammatically correct or even wholly coherent. Just let the words pour out.
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