By Marquita Herald, Emotionally Resilient Living, June 1, 2015
Whether we realize it or not, most of us put a lot of work into ensuring that certain things in our lives remain constant … few surprises, no uncomfortable challenges or unfamiliar boundaries.
What we treat as our personal “comfort zone” is invisible, but very real and the longer we live in our ‘zone’ the more difficult it becomes to move beyond those boundaries . . . familiar places, people and activities, even the habits we long to break.
The thing is, for better or worse, life has a way of throwing us off balance with unexpected events – loss of a job, the passing of a loved one or illness in the family, an unexpected move or change in relationship. It’s usually at these times we are confronted by the walls we’ve built over time, making life transitions even more challenging.
Nobody ever died of discomfort, yet living in the name of comfort has killed more ideas, more opportunities, more actions, and more growth than everything else combined. ~T. Harv Eker
Stepping outside of your comfort zone doesn’t mean completely changing your life or doing something crazy. The best approach is to gradually build your tolerance for experiences that include an element of uncertainty of discomfort.
Every single step you take, no matter how small, will have a profound effect on your self-confidence. That said, most of us have built up some pretty sturdy walls around our comfort zone which means that expanding them will require deliberate action on a daily basis.
10 Ways to Begin Expanding Your Comfort Zone
Try a New Food
It’s easy to fall into eating the same foods, same meals over and over. I have a friend who has eaten a tuna sandwich and hardboiled egg for lunch every day for the past ten years! Experimenting with a new-to-you food or cooking a new dish is a fun and easy way to begin getting comfortable with different experiences.
Learn Something New
Take a class, learn a foreign language; take up an instrument or a new sport. Any of these activities will allow you to expand your knowledge and comfort zone in a rewarding yet non-threatening way because you’ll be surrounded by other people who are also learning something new.
Use Public Transportation
This one might be more fun that you think. When I walked away from the corporate world a few years ago, I also left behind my company car. Rather than immediately buying a new car, I decided to save the money and take advantage of our great local public transportation system. You’d be amazed at the discoveries you’ll make, the things you’ll see you never noticed before, and the really awesome people you’ll meet!
Eat at a Restaurant by Yourself
Many people find eating alone in public, especially in a sit-down restaurant to be very unnerving. You can begin to increase your comfort level by practicing eating out for breakfast or lunch. You’re far more likely to see other solo diners and family groups during the day which will help to take some of the pressure off.
Choose a lively dining spot with food you like that has relatively quick service. Bring something to read so you have someplace to look instead of continuously looking around the room and it will also help you to make a conscious effort to eat a little slower because you’ll be tempted to eat quickly to “escape.” To sooth nerves after you’re first seated engage the waiter – smile, ask for recommendation, comment on the weather, etc. Even in a crowded restaurant wait staff appreciate and respond to a friendly smile and grateful customers.
Ask for Help
This is a big issue for many people, and I count myself in that group. We all need help from time to time, and believe it or not, most people actually enjoy being able to lend a helping hand. Start with something that’s easy for you – like asking for a recipe, or a recommendation for a restaurant.
If you cringe at the thought of public speaking, networking or simply joining a group, Toastmasters is a great way to break down barriers in a comfortable and supportive environment. The groups are small, almost always people who live and work in the area because meetings are often at lunch time, and they go out of their way to welcome guests and new members.
Read a Book in a Different Genre
Discover a new author, or challenge you’re thinking by reading about a topic or issue you disagree with. I also highly recommend exploring the extensive collection at the Project Gutenberg website. You’ll find over 33,000 classic books from the start of this century and previous centuries, from authors like Shakespeare, Poe, Dante, as well as well-loved favorites like the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and (one of my personal favorites!) the original Dracula by Bram Stoker, along with a host of intriguing subjects such as the history of witches, ghost stories from the 18th century, and personal narratives by American frontier characters such as Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane.
Keep in mind the there was no such concept as “politically correct” at the time most of these books and stories were written. Your sensibilities are sure to be challenged when you come across stories making the argument for slavery, on the other hand, you’ll also find the inspirational writings by Booker T. Washington, the dominant figure in the African American community in the United States from 1890 to 1915. Well, as an avid reader and history buff I am obviously a HUGE fan of this site, and it doesn’t hurt that all of these amazing titles are available to download f-r-e-e!
Learn to Delegate
For many people this is a trust issue and it can feel downright painful to relinquish control. There’s no question that delegation is a skill that’s critical to business success and a healthy work life balance. So take a deep breath and start nudging your boundaries. Start small, be specific, decide who to delegate to – don’t just pick a name, let the other person get on with it and whatever you do; provide constructive feedback rather than criticizing if the end result isn’t exactly the way you would have done it.
There really is no better way to begin expanding your comfort zone than reaching out to lend a hand to those in need. You’ll have new experiences, meet new people and as an added bonus, you may just gain a whole new level of gratitude for all of the good things in your own life.
Make it Fun!
Why not create a family challenge to try one new thing a week and take turns deciding what that will be. For example a friend and I take turns coming up with “new” experiences – he’s introduced me to theater performances I never would have otherwise attended, and I’ve dragged him to ethnic restaurants neither of us would have tried on our own. It’s fun and challenging to come up with new adventures.
Once you’ve begun expanding your comfort zone, slowly continue to stretch your boundaries with new and greater challenges. In the beginning each new challenge may seem daunting to you, but the more you nudge those boundaries, the more comfortable you’ll become with that temporary nervous state of mind that comes with doing something new.
You may not be able to change your life in a day, but you can change its direction overnight.
Celebrate the day on which you choose to embrace the power you have to create your own life experience. It is an amazing journey and you alone will be responsible for the quality of it.
About Marquita Herald
I am an author and the Chief Evangelist and Founder of Emotionally Resilient Living. The mission behind ERL is to provide the tools, resources and inspiration to help you cultivate emotional resilience so that you can confidentially embrace ALL of life’s experiences, knowing that no matter what happens you will be okay.