Note: This piece was originally published on DesignGood, but I'm republishing an edited version here because I thought some of you might enjoy reading it. To see the piece in its entirety, go here.
“Who dares, wins” – British Special Air Service
“Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live” – Dorothy Thompson
These cliché quotes are familiar to all of us. The idea that fear holds us back, hinders us, prevents us from going after our goals and the things that we want to accomplish is something we all know well.
The question is, why are we still so hesitant to leave our comfort zones and do what scares us? We know the results tend to outweigh the fears, and we know that our fears are often unfounded. So, what’s holding us back?
To start, let’s talk about the comfort zone and the power that it holds over all of us. Comfort zones are physical and psychological, and they exist in our personal and professional lives. Regardless of your age or professional status, comfort zones are where we feel most confident, and, often, least challenged. We have a way of clinging to them, even when they no longer serve us.
When met with a new situation that brings us fear, we stay put in our comfort zones, hesitant to move forward. Like many of you, I’m very familiar with this feeling.
I’d call myself a classic introvert in a lot of ways – I read Susan Cain’s “Quiet” and rejoiced in knowing that I wasn’t alone in my natural tendencies. Despite this, there’s something inside of me that fights my desire to stay home and hide under the covers. It’s a gut feeling that pushes me out of my comfort zone on a regular basis. It’s drive, or maybe it’s my extroverted side. Whatever it is, it’s kept me going, changing and growing. I’ve moved cities multiple times, lived outside of my home country and pursued difficult careers – even though all of these things felt really, really scary.
I think there’s a lesson to learn from this. Don’t get me wrong – I am in no way a finished, fearless product. But there is something I can teach based on my experiences, and that’s that the rewards that come from stepping out of the boundaries of your comfort zone cannot be measured. They extend far and wide, and are much more than the literal rewards that can come with forcing yourself to act fearless.
The secret is this: Once you step out of your comfort zone once, it becomes addictive. The feelings of initial fear will pass, and you’ll likely accomplish something new and positive. If nothing more, you’ll experience a feeling of accomplishment for doing something you initially feared.
Let’s break it down into a few easy ideas. The next time you’re hesitant, consider the following four steps to breaking out of your comfort zone:
1. Identify your fear: What is it that’s making you fearful?
2. Consider potential gains vs. potential loss: With many situations, we quite literally have nothing to fear except fear itself. Still, there are exceptions. If you honestly do not see yourself gaining from the experience on an internal or external level, then I’m officially giving you the go-ahead to pass up the experience. But if you think facing the fear will aid your growth in any way, move on to the next step.
3. Just do it: Unless what you’re planning to do is dangerous or harmful in some way (and hopefully it’s not), then you should stop thinking and just act. Honestly. The more you analyze the fear, the bigger it will become and the greater control it will have over you. Stop thinking and start doing.
4. Review your experience: Think about how the action of stepping outside your comfort zone made you feel. Do you feel a sense of accomplishment? Did anything bad actually happen? Consider writing down your feelings to reference the next time you’re feeling afraid or hesitant.
Without pushing yourself to do the uncomfortable, growth never happens. While this is something people talk about a lot, acting on it and making yourself do the things you fear most is still somewhat of a rarity.