At some point in your life, you’ve probably been encouraged to step outside your comfort zone. I adhered to this advice when I traveled across two NYC boroughs to a new high school; and then four years later to attend college out of state as a first generation grad. Four years after, I applied for and got a job outside of my preferred industries of nonprofit and education. Each time I stepped out of my comfort zone, I was nervous. However, each time was followed by a small step forward and then another and another. Eventually, I wasn't leaving my comfort zone; I was expanding it.
Everything within our comfort zone is familiar and safe. We can walk around this space like it’s our home in the dark. Everything outside of this space is what we consider unknown, unnecessary and out of our way. Who we are, what we’re drawn to, and what we know are challenged outside of our comfort zones. Stepping out into this space without feeling at least a tiny bit at ease can be counterproductive. You’ll step out once in a while—or, like I had, once every four years—but you'll inevitably retreat to a safe place if you're left overexposed.
Expanding your comfort zone, on the other hand, means feeling out new territory again and again until it becomes a commonplace. Instead of putting yourself in completely uncomfortable situations, make more situations comfortable. This will require stretching—emotionally, mentally, physically—to take up more than you're given, more than you have. Still, it’s innate to want to safeguard yourself from the unknown; to want to stay where you’re comfortable; and to exist in your corner of the world. But if you expand, you courageously choose to live a fuller life.
TIPS FOR EXPANDING YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Be Courageous but Reasonable
To expand, choose experiences that make you nervous, hesitant, or gets your palms sweating. Move at your own pace, but move nevertheless. Expanding doesn’t require you to be fearless, but instead to fear less. If you're uncomfortable going to new events with new people, go, but bring a friend. Just be aware that people, too, can be comfort zones. Break new ground with those who will hold you accountable and boost your confidence to act courageously—especially when you don't want to.
Be Consistent and Resilient
Consistently push yourself forward rather than putting yourself out there every once in a while. Practice building your confidence by creating a habit of stretching and taking small steps forward. Take yourself out to dinner or to a new class once a week. Visit a new city or neighborhood once a month. If you're afraid of talking to new people, strike up a conversation with a stranger in the elevator or in line at the coffee shop. Not only will you trust yourself to do more things differently, but you'll loosen up and handle anxiety-inducing situations with confidence and ease.
Brace Yourself then Proceed
Be prepared for push back, internal and external. Your comfort zones is where you as well as others recognize, accept and approve of you. When attempting to expand, to stretch yourself, you will face resistance. It will take on the form of your inner voice that likes things just the way they are, which is free of vulnerability, shame, failure, ridicule, rejection, or change. Create positive affirmations to replace that voice. Resistance will also come from the people who know and love you, and want to protect you from uncomfortable experiences. Appreciate them, but trust yourself enough to know what's best for you. And, of course, keep moving.