“Everything you ever wanted is one step outside your comfort zone.” ~Unknown
We’ve all seen this quote or similar ones. All the magic, growth, and transformation seem to happen there. Not everything that happens outside the comfort zone is magical though. So, when we go wandering, leaving the safe shores, we also need to be realistic and aware that mixed in with the good, there’s also potential pain and discomfort waiting for us.
Being aware of this, how can we still motivate ourselves to try something new and to step outside our comfort zone?
On the one hand, I love variety and I easily get bored. On the other hand, I am also risk-averse and easily scared. The latter doesn’t exactly lend itself to living the great adventures of life, whereas the former often acts as motivating kick up my backside.
I am also a very rational, analytical person. I can quickly see the benefits of doing something. But I also deeply dislike feeling uncomfortable. Thus, while I can see that it makes sense to do something, I prefer to avoid voluntarily putting myself in a position that I KNOW will make me feel uncomfortable.
With this in mind, let me give you a few examples from my life of where I left my comfort zone.
I used to be very shy. My mum would tell me that in kindergarten, I didn’t speak to anyone. While I did start speaking to others, my shyness continued all throughout school—and still somehow, I ended up studying abroad.
I will always remember sitting on the plane, crying my eyes out, wondering why on earth was I doing this to myself. How was I ever going to make friends? How would I pass my exams in a foreign language? It honestly was completely out of character for me—and ended up being the best decision ever.
For my third year at uni, I chose to spend the year in France. And that decision came so much more easily based on my previous decision to come to the UK.
A decade later, I was offered a promotion at work. To a job I literally had no relevant experience for. I knew that it included a lot of tasks that I despised, and just the thought of them made me very uncomfortable (sales and networking to name just two).
As you may guess, I said yes. And again, it proved to be an excellent move for me. I learned so much, and while it was challenging, I remember thinking that I had never before enjoyed a job this much.
By now I have lost count of how many times I quit a job without having had another one to start straightaway. In fact, often, I didn’t even have the faintest idea what I wanted to do next.
Growing up, I was taught how important it was to be financially independent. I’ve had many different jobs from my early teens and saved most of that money. Giving up a secure financial income was a huge step for me. Especially since it wasn’t that I was mobbed or close to a burnout or that anything else horrible had happened. I simply had come to the conclusion that I no longer wanted to do the job in question.
I am using these examples to demonstrate how change is always possible, and how pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can often prove to be the best decision you’ll ever made.
One option is to jump in at the deep end. But I appreciate that this can feel impossible at times. I want to share some tricks that have helped me over the years and that enabled me with all of the above examples. I believe they can help make that transition in a gentler way.
1. No comparison and no judgment
From the moment we are born the comparison starts, and it continues all throughout school (school reports) and into work (appraisals).
Social media does its bit to remind us of other people’s achievements, and we might feel like we are not measuring up to what society expects from us. This might lead us to either a) set unrealistic goals for ourselves or b) give up before we even started.
Please remind yourself that everyone’s comfort zone looks different. What is easy for you, might be a challenge for somebody else, 1. and vice versa.
Be honest with yourself and figure out what it is you want to work toward, and not what you think others expect of you.
What really matters to you? Setting an objective that feels worthwhile to you will make all the difference and will keep you motivated even throughout the lows that are often inevitable.
2. Baby steps
We all know that every journey begins with a first step. How about you make that a teeny, tiny baby step? Cause that isn’t so scary, is it? Seriously, start small. Even tiny baby steps, taken one after the other (and feel free to rest in between), will eventually lead you to your goal.
Not only are baby steps considerably less scary, they will also help you to keep going. If you are trying to make huge leaps, it is more likely that you will run out of steam quickly and/or get frustrated because it’s so hard.
Break it down. And then break it down some more. Remind yourself that you are making progress. It might not be visible to others yet, but you can see it.
3. Say yes now and figure out the rest later
This is probably the tactic I use the most. When I first started in event management, I got invited to speak at a conference. It terrified me. But rationally I knew it made a lot of sense to say yes to this opportunity. For myself as well as the company I worked for at the time.
It was a no-brainer really—if it wasn’t for my fear of embarrassing myself on a stage. It was still four months or so to go until the event took place. So, I said yes. My reasoning was that I would either have it figured out by then or in the worst case, would pull out (I didn’t, and it went well despite me still being pretty terrified and hardly getting any sleep the night before.).
If something excites you but also terrifies you, how about you say yes to it right now? Trust that you will work out the details over time. That you can ask for help and support. Or indeed that you can always change your mind. But don’t let the opportunity slip away.
4. Worst-case scenario planning
Let’s be honest: You are indulging in worst-case scenario planning anyway. You might as well do it deliberately and mindfully. What really is the worst that could possibly happen? Chances are, it’s not all that bad.
Doing this will help you realize that even if things don’t go as hoped, you will be okay. And it also helps with putting measures in place to avoid some of the more likely scenarios you are trying to avoid. So many wins in that one!
5. Can you feel it?
Now that you’ve indulged your pessimistic side, it’s time to refocus on the positive. Stepping outside your comfort zone is not something you do just for the sake of it, but because you long for something that is out there. Your famous WHY.
Why is this even your objective? What’s your motivation? Who are you striving to become? What are you hoping to achieve? And once you get there, how is it going to make you feel?
Go all in and visualize the hell out of this! Close your eyes and imagine having already achieved it. Really feel it with all its glorious consequences. It’s that feeling and that fire that will help you make the next step. Remind yourself regularly of what it is you are after.
6. Getting others on board
I accepted promotions in the past partly because my superiors offered me help in the transition. You don’t have to go it all alone. You are not getting brownie points for NOT asking for help.
Check in with yourself: Is your pride in the way? Is there a part of you that thinks the achievement will be better, more valuable if you do it all by yourself?
There are certainly times when you will benefit from doing things yourself. But if it’s a question of not doing it at all or doing it with the help of others, surely the choice is clear?
Surround yourself with people who inspire you. And make use of the wisdom they have to share. Chances are, people have done what you are trying to do now, in some form. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
7. Be your own role model
In an attempt not to be labeled as arrogant, it seems that we have gone too far the other way. We often practice self-deprecation instead of shining a light on our strengths and achievements. But let’s face it, you can’t have made it this far without having learned, grown, and stretched yourself.
Can you name your strengths? Do you have a list of your achievements? What are you proud of?
If you are finding these questions difficult to answer, I strongly recommend taking some time to think about them. And as highlighted above: this is YOUR list. No judgment, no comparison, no diminishing of what you perceive as your achievements just because you think society, your family or friends don’t value them.
With all of that present, can you now see how you can be your own role model? What are the strengths that helped you reach those goals in the past? How can you harness them for your current project?
8. Expectations and acceptance
It goes without saying that leaving your comfort zone is unlikely to be plain sailing. We might experience setbacks, frustrations, stress, and ultimately, we might not even reach our goal. All of that is human. Don’t let this deter you from trying.
Redefine what success and failure look like. The outcome might be different to your expectations, but you will have learned something along the way. At the very least you will have gained resilience.
Accept the discomfort. Be realistic about what the journey looks like and expect some detours. It’s all part of it, and I believe that the biggest disappointment arises from things not going as planned.
So, what changes when you are detaching from the outcome, when you practice acceptance of whatever happens, all the while knowing that you can handle whatever comes your way?
9. Reward yourself
This is my favorite part! Reward yourself for reaching milestones, which can be as small or big as you like. Do whatever you need to motivate yourself on this journey. Take a break, get some rest, re-adjust the plan, get more help. But most of all, acknowledge what you have already achieved. Congratulate yourself even just on the decision to make a change.
10. Practice makes perfect
This is not a myth but a fact: It really gets easier over time. At the very least, with every experience you will have more on your list of achievements to celebrate (step 7), right?
While it gets easier, it doesn’t mean that the experience itself will be pain-free or more comfortable. Trust me, any speaking engagement still makes me really nervous! But having done it once, I know I can do it again. Your self-confidence will make all the difference. Your belief that you will be able to handle it, will grow.
Life is short. It’s my belief that we are put on this earth to make a wide range of experiences. You are limiting yourself if you aren’t prepared to step outside your comfort zone. And I really do believe that you are missing out.
I also believe that it helps not to take ourselves too seriously. Very often, the consequence we fear the most is embarrassing ourselves should our plans not work out. When you think about this more deeply though, are you really going to let potential gossip stop you from going after your dreams? And as I like a good, cheesy quote, let me end with this one:
“What if I fall? Oh, but my darling what if you fly?” ~Erin Hanson
About Karen Schlaegel
After a career in event management, Karen started her life coaching business. She supports people in activating their strengths, identifying their goals, working toward them, and generally moving through life with more ease, happiness, and fun. After eight years in London she moved to Bavaria and is offering coaching online and in person in English and German. karenschlaegel.com / instagram.com/karen_schlaegel.