About three years ago, I decided to take a huge leap of faith. I sold almost everything I owned, packed my Toyota Sienna from floor to headliner with the stuff too precious to part with, and headed 2,000 miles west across rivers and mountains to an apartment I’d rented sight-unseen in a city I’d only ever driven past on vacation once. It’s the single scariest and best thing I’ve ever done.
Comfort zone annihilation level: expert.
There’s good news, though. You don’t have to make a cross-country move to experience the simultaneous terror and exhilaration of stepping outside your comfort zone. We’re talking about making your Mondays a little more enjoyable here, so baby steps will do.
What is a “comfort zone” and why should you challenge it?
Your comfort zone is the space you inhabit where behaviors, activities, and settings are all familiar and routine. That familiarity becomes a buffer to reduce anxiety and stress. You embrace the status quo because you feel secure there.
If comfort is a good thing (and anyone who’s spent a day in their pajamas working from home knows it is), then why are we encouraged to take risks? The idea of challenging our comfort zones dates back to a 1908 study. It showed that while being reliably comfortable produces steady performance, ramping up the anxiety level just a bit, to a place called “optimal anxiety”, maximizes it.
As tempting as it is to stick with our familiar routines, challenging yourself to push just past that state of relative ease by taking some risks is where you’ll achieve your best performance.
Four Simple Ideas for Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone Today
If you’re ready to edge outside our comfort zone, here are a few ways to start shaking things up . . . just a little.
1 Take a different route to work.
We’re creatures of habit. Many of us follow the same, predictable path to the office each day. We don’t see much of anything new, but at least we know approximately how long the commute will take.
I make a point to take different routes whenever I go somewhere. Google Maps usually gives me a pretty solid estimate of how long the trip will take, and then I add five minutes or so to account for the unexpected. Changing my route keeps things interesting. Bonus: I know at least six different ways to get almost anywhere around my city.
2 Take a risk-taker out for coffee.
Is there someone in your life—a family member, colleague, or friend—who’s adept at taking risks? Challenge yourself to take that person out for coffee with the goal of asking them about their gutsy lifestyle. Ask them what drives them to color outside the lines, and how they cope with their fears.
Change is unnerving. We all need a little encouragement from time to time. Most risk-takers will enjoy taking a neophyte under their wing and showing them how to stretch their boundaries. When you’re trying to challenge yourself, it’s good to have someone in your corner urging you on.
3 Sign up for a class and learn something creative.
Creativity equals risk-taking. Creative people fail, and the most creative people fail all the time. You don’t think Picasso always painted masterpieces, or that J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series without a single rewrite, do you?
Think of a creative pursuit that’s always fascinated you and take time on your lunch break to look around for classes. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to use your expensive DSLR camera outside of auto mode. Or it could be you’d like to get your hands dirty throwing a ceramic pot. Your thespian side may long for an improv class. Face your fears and dive in!
4 Learn a language.
Learning a new language can be fun, and the process has many cognitive advantages. With apps like Duolingo and Babbel in your corner, it’s also easy. Sure, trying to learn something new can be a little scary, and trying to speak a new language when you’re still struggling to wrap your tongue around foreign sounds is unnerving, but the benefits are clear.
Comfort is overrated.
Looking back on our lives, we rarely regret the risks we’ve taken; we only regret the ones we didn’t. Comfort kills. It leads to apathy and boredom. It strips away our motivation.
Getting outside your comfort zone is not a means to an end, but rather a goal in itself. As soon as you choose to leave your comfort zone, you form a direct friction with life, go towards the pursuit of your dreams, and in short, really start living.
—Ran Zilca for Psychology Today
So, this Monday, go ahead and shake things up a little. There’s no reward without the risk.