How do you define your comfort zone? The dictionary says it’s the place where “you feel comfortable and your abilities are not being tested.” In a second definition, the comfort zone is the place where “you don’t have to do anything new or different.”
We’ve all heard the saying to get out of your comfort zone. But what does that mean? It sounds like an easy phrase to throw around, but sometimes advice is easier to give than to take.
Luckily I’ve learned some things about the freedom that comes from trying something new and breaking out of boxes and restrictions — sometimes self-imposed. I’d like to share the things that I’ve learned that may have seemed uncomfortable at first, but brought me joy, excitement and opportunities.
Embracing new experiences can do more that enrich your life and business career. Those new experiences could change your life and the direction of your career.
How to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
A long time ago, I was the assistant manager of a warehouse. It was a job that paid well and had a 9-to-5 schedule with no weekend work. My boss was a very nice man who treated all employees very well.
The company was sold and we all lost our jobs.
It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
Since college, I’d worked in jobs that involved warehousing, shipping and receiving. I was good at it. But I can’t say that I ever really liked it. I used the severance pay to buy a backpack and other gear, then spent three months hiking. Can you say, “get out of comfort zone”? And after lots of planning, I almost didn’t go. I got offered another job (another warehouse/shipping job).
What to do? Take the job? Or step off into the woods? As I agonized over the decision, here’s what my best friend said to me, “How are you going to feel if you don’t?”
So, there’s your barometer. Is there something new you’ve always wanted to try, a place you’ve always wanted to visit? How does it feel NOT to do anything about it?
Ready? Here are some ideas for getting out of your comfort zone and achieving new things.
1. Make Changes to Your Daily Routine
This is an easy one because it teems with opportunities to change. Leave early, park a few blocks from work and take a walk.
Walking -for pleasure – is kind of a lost art, rediscovered during the pandemic. Shelter in place, no nonessential travel – ugh. But no one said you couldn’t take a walk, in fact, there are few better ways to practice social distancing. A short walk is a nice way to spend a lunch break.
Do you always watch the morning and evening newscasts, at specified times? Skip it. Use the time to read a book or listen to music. Try a Book on Tape or Language Learning Tape during your commute.
This one may make you uncomfortable. Why you can’t assign some of your work to an employee, right? Wouldn’t it be better to do it yourself? What if the employee doesn’t do it right? What if it causes a problem?
You’ll never know if employees can handle a new task unless you let them try. The reward may be twofold – TWO people getting out of their comfort zone! The employee also steps up and gets to try something new. As a manager or team leader, you may find that delegating work is something that has the “fear factor” attached to it.
So, before you totally let go of the reins, delegate the work as you mentor that employee. In other words, keep a close eye on things that first time, as you are outside of your comfort zone. Start small with easy tasks, and add more challenges to the employees as you begin to feel comfortable with their skills.
3. Learn Something New
I have this very precious Fender folk guitar that came along with me each time I moved. Of course, I hadn’t played it for about 35 years. Then one day I saw that a local art center was offering lessons. Impulsively, I enrolled. It was awesome to reconnect with that side of me.
Learning to play a musical instrument is a great option for a new experience, but there are lots more. Ride a horse, build a model plane or car, take a class at a local college. Try an unfamiliar spot for a weekend getaway or vacation.
4. One Nice Thing/Volunteer
In my neighborhood, I couldn’t help but notice the changes being made to a formerly forlorn looking, plain house. A couple of times I saw a young couple working in the yard, where they’d added flower beds and a new walkway to the door.
I learned their names and got one of those blank greeting cards. I wrote them a little note, just saying that it was nice to see the house being transformed. It was just a couple of lines, and I didn’t sign it. I felt good about doing that and hoped they enjoyed the praise.
Try to do one nice thing for someone every day. This should not be a secret – it feels really good to do something for another person. It’s best if you can do it anonymously. You can also spend some of your free time volunteering, even if it’s only in a small way. You could visit someone at a nursing home or walk dogs at an animal shelter. Help clean up a town park or cemetery.
I’d make a guess that every nonprofit organization wishes it had more volunteers, and everyone has an email address. Don’t think you have any applicable skills? You may be surprised. Forget about being uncomfortable and make contact.
5. Physical Change, Mental Change
To get out of your comfort zone, you may make a physical change such as embarking on a fitness program and diet plan (with the guidance of a physician). Sometimes that leap from the comfort zone is a big one – take the first step by making an appointment with your physician and seeking advice.
Physical exercise can be a boost to your mental health. For another improvement to your mental health, take time out from news, noise and electronics by unplugging. Even if you only take a one hour shut down, the peace you gain is worth the disconnect. You may find you like this so much, you’ll make a point of doing it every day.
6. Face Fear
I always tossed and turned the night before speech class. I dreaded it. The teacher had this favorite exercise that I loathed.
She would write topics on little scraps of paper and put the scraps in a hat. She would stroll the aisles and stop next to a student, who would pick a piece of paper. If you were the victim, I mean, student, you would then walk to the front of the class, look at your topic, and give a three-minute speech.
And then a funny thing started happening as I got out of my comfortable zone three days a week. Well, I got used to it. I found that comfort zones were funny things – the things that you feared became things that were at home in the comfort zone.
Public speaking is something that most of us dread. But every time I got up in front of the class, I got better at it. I still get nervous if I have to speak in front of a large group, but facing the fear of public speaking in that comparatively small (30 students) class laid the groundwork. If the thought of speaking to a group makes your knees knock, start small.
Are there other fears that stop you from getting out of your comfortzone? One way to address these fears is to make lists, The Worst That Could Happen and The Best That Could Happen.
As my wise friend said long ago, “How are you going to feel if you don’t?” Focus on the best things that can happen if you get to face your fear. Accept that the worst things that can happen may not be all that bad.
7. Get Out There
Have you tried an unusual recipe? Crafted your thoughts about the season, or an event from your day? Redecorated your office, home or backyard?
Get it out there for public response! Posting a personal accomplishment or event can be daunting, if you’re afraid of negative response. Take the plunge and get feedback, good and bad. Every “like” will make you smile.
8. Up Your Game
Did you ever hear the advice about how (if you play tennis) you should always play tennis with somehow who is a better player than you are? That’s true in many areas of our lives and careers.
Think about where you want to be in your career. You may already know, or be aware of, people who are in that place. If you want to be successful like them, shouldn’t you hang with successful people?
To get where you want to be, reach out to someone you respect. The easiest way may be through getting the person’s email address. Ask if you can schedule a short meeting, to get feedback and advice on your current path.
9. Single Step
I used to work with a guy who, every day at lunch, talked about how all he wanted was a cabin in the woods. To my knowledge, he never did anything about that wish. For example, he didn’t start saving $10 or $25 a week toward that goal.
It’s said that the longest journey starts with a single step, and this is true. People may have a goal of running a marathon, but since that distance is so daunting, they don’t start.
If you have a goal and break it down into doable segments, that you then start doing, your attitude will change. You’ll be able to think positively about this goal, because you are on the move toward it.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
I’ve often been asked simple questions about working outside your comfort zone, and here some answers.
What is the definition of comfort zone?
A comfort zone is a place where you feel comfortable and your abilities are not being tested. In other words, comfort zones are comfortable, safe ways of existing and working, usually in a set routine.
Is it hard to leave your comfort zone?
Yes, it can be hard to leave your comfort zone. Fear keeps us frozen, but like anything, fear becomes a habit. Figure out the worst that can happen, and the best that can happen. Focus on those best things, and it will be easier to escape that zone comfort.
What’s wrong with staying in your comfort zone?
There’s nothing wrong with accepting that you like being comfortable and there’s a time and place for that. But do you also like excitement? If you want to do things in a new way, you’re going to want to step outside your self-imposed box.
Be not afraid. Lean into what life has to offer. Go for it!