Have you ever done something that has surprised you? Perhaps you met with a mentor that you’d been hoping to talk to. Or presented a speech for the first time. Maybe you took on a project that’s a bit out of your job description? And you realized that you pushed the boundaries and moved out of your comfort zone?
Ahh comfort zones – they are warm and cushy. And as creatures of comfort, we love sitting in these pockets. But does it challenge us, help us grow, and improve our confidence? Short answer, no. One of the most effective ways to improve your self-confidence is to regularly push yourself out of your comfort zone.
In the book, The Tools, psychotherapists Phil Stutz and Barry Michels share research-backed strategies for people to overcome the internal barriers holding them back from success. These practical steps allow anyone to reach their full potential.
Tool #1 – Reversal of desire
The first tool in the book is the Reversal of Desire. It explains that your areas of growth lie just outside of your comfort zone. Yes that’s right, just outside of your comfort zone!
Your comfort zone feels great because it’s a state where your brain perceives very little risk. You’re in a familiar, safe situation. Changing habits, learning new skills, trying new things, and other self-improvement activities are all unfamiliar. You have to get out of your comfort zone to do them.
Stepping outside your comfort zone is stressful, but research shows that our brains need to feel slight to moderate anxiety to improve. Psychologists refer to this as “optimal anxiety” — the level of stress that compels you to take action.
Deadlines are helpful for understanding this. If you’re like most people and you’re given six weeks to do a project, initially you’re not worried at all. You feel like you have a ton of time and don’t push yourself to be optimally productive for the first couple of weeks. However, once you’re a week or two away, the stress of potentially not meeting the deadline becomes a weight on your shoulders that pushes you to excel despite tiredness and any other barriers you face.
Be strategic about your comfort zone!
The key is to be strategic about how and when you step outside your comfort zone, ensuring that your anxiety does not overwhelm you. For example, if you’re terrified of public speaking, don’t start by volunteering to speak at a big community event. Instead, start with small groups to build your confidence and work your way up.
It’s like a muscle. The more you push your boundaries, the easier the optimal anxiety will feel to you. It’s like you will broaden the boundaries of your own comfort zone.
This feeling of nervousness brings on our sense of flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a psychologist who wrote the book, Flow. He describes ‘flow’ as a mental state of complete absorption in the current experience. When we are fully engaged and challenged by a task.
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Here’s a challenge (or two) for you
Write down 10 things that challenge you or make you feel fearful. Public speaking? Getting feedback? Introducing yourself to new people? Choose one of these areas to focus on. Brainstorm a range of activities to step out of your comfort zone and practice them in small but consistent ways. Remember your areas of growth lie just outside of your comfort zone! Try ten ways to practice this challenge – yes, not just once, but ten! Repetition is the only way you’re going to move outside your comfort zone to take on these challenging activities.
Moving out of your comfort zone doesn’t always have to be work related either – you could listen to unfamiliar music, read a magazine that you would never normally pick up, try a different hobby with a friend, go to a different restaurant. Get into the habit of pushing your areas of comfort. Reflect on what you learn about yourself in the process.
Don’t let the fears in your head stop you from trying new things and stepping up in your growth. Take the smallest steps forward and you might just surprise yourself!
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