Over the past few decades, the concept of breaking out of one’s comfort zone has garnered a lot of attention. Self-help gurus have urged their followers to do things like walk over hot coals or jump out of airplanes. Nike has built an empire on the advertising slogan, “Just Do it.” We’ve watched popular movies and television shows where the protagonist uses large helpings of grit, determination, faith or just “sucking it up” to break out of a self-imposed cocoon and do things that once seemed impossible. What that hype doesn’t often convey though is that stepping outside of your comfort zone can be really hard.
Andy Molinsky, Ph.D., author of Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, and Build Confidence, has identified five primary psychological roadblocks that people could experience when they step outside of their comfort zone or consider it. They include authenticity, likability, competence, resentment and morality. Whether you worry about being liked by others after seeking and landing a promotion, or if you have what it takes to pursue an advanced degree, any of these can present a steep challenge. But if you’re ready to leave that comfortable place where your abilities aren’t being tested in the hopes of greener pastures and greater fulfillment, Molinsky presents four ways to help make it happen:
Conviction is a deep sense of purpose in the “why” of what you are doing. Differing by person, that strong conviction serves as the wind at your back when going against the grain of what you might ordinarily do. For example, if you’ve always wanted to lead an organization because it amplifies the impact you can make on the world, you gain the motivation to step outside of your comfort zone because it will help achieve that goal. Molinsky advises people to locate their sources of conviction and embrace them in order to move forward.
Recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all version of stepping outside of your comfort zone, customization involves adjusting a situation to your liking. Making tweaks along the way can help you gain more comfort while nudging yourself to take the leap. Let’s say that you have to give a presentation and hate public speaking. Customization can involve changing the words you use, delivery method, using a prop or wearing an outside that makes the situation feel more authentically your own.
Confronting something outside of your comfort zone can trigger some intense emotions like fear and distorted thinking. Clarity is the ability to normalize reactions and have more evenhanded emotional responses, which removes impediments to stepping outside that zone.
Take a leap.
Trying a situation can lead to tremendous self-discovery. “What I found in my research is that when people were able to notice themselves taking a leap, they often found that the situation wasn’t as scary as first perceived,” explains Molinsky. “The self-reflections based on actual lived experience will most likely help you avoid sort of a cycle of avoidance. If it is not as bad as you thought, it increases the odds of doing it again.”
Molinsky recommends building your “courage muscles” through repetition to make these new behaviors stick. The key is to start with doable tasks that generate small wins and then continue to stretch in further increments. That’s what Justin Mason did to overcome a 20-year fear of drowning, after ending up in the hospital when he tried to save a woman drowning in the ocean. For years, Mason avoided the water and even upon taking on diving, he couldn’t swim without the assistance of a wet suit and air tank on his back. Then at age 40, Mason decided to become a triathlete. The biking and running parts were fine, but he couldn’t swim more than 50 yards at a time in a pool without hyperventilating because of his fear of the water. Traditional swimming lessons didn’t help, so he tried hypnotherapy.
After the first hypnotism session, Mason was able to swim 1,000 yards without stopping. “Hypnotism is able to deprogram out negative sensors,” he continued. “It can’t get you to do things against your will, but it can de-sensitize negative issues. We went to the root of what started my fear and peeled it back like an onion, layer by layer.” After five hypnotism sessions, with gradually increasing practice and reinforcement exercises in between each, the fear dissipated. Six months later Mason finished his first Half Ironman race in the top 15% of his age category and spent the next few years swimming regularly in open water during Full and Half Ironman competitions nationwide.
How have you broken out of your comfort zone?
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