If there is one piece of advice that I’ve received in my life that has stuck with me the most, it would be this: “Step outside your comfort zone. That is the only way you will be able to grow.” I never imagined that I would find the ticket to happiness while sitting in my sophomore year American literature class, but alas that is exactly what happened. Being an introvert, I’ve spent the grand majority of my life hiding in corners, silently observing the world around me. My mother tells stories of me, even as a child, preferring to hang out quietly with the adults rather than socialize with other children. My comfort zone had been built over 16 years, and I feared nothing more than stepping outside of my safe little bubble.
But, that’s exactly what I did, and it was the best decision I’ve made in my life.
When class registration came around at the end of 11th grade and it was time to choose which senior English class I wanted to take, Public Speaking was the first and only choice I put down. No alternatives. No backups. All or nothing. At first, I thought, “wow, what in the world am I doing?” However, that summer, I doubled down on my commitment, and began preparing myself for what was to come. A copy of the fantastic book Quiet by Susan Cain found its way into my hands, and it gave me everything I needed. In this book, Cain extensively mentioned something called exposure therapy, which is gradually exposing yourself to something that causes stress or anxiety as a method of overcoming that fear. When I walked into Public Speaking class that first day, I no longer doubted my decision nor regretted it, but rather I approached it as my exposure therapy. Over the course of the year, roughly 7 speeches later, I had broken out of my shell and unleashed a whole new version of myself that had been unable to find its way out.
My story is not an uncommon one, and you can have your own story following that some line of advice. Though, I would push it a step further: It is not enough to simply step outside our comfort zones, we must live outside them. That’s a very daunting task and may sound overwhelming at first, but when you commit to a plan that helps you take that first stride, the hardest part will already be behind you.
Stepping outside your comfort zone comes with great benefits, such as becoming more adaptable and open to change, and unlocking your full potential by forcing yourself to do new things. This reinforces skills and traits you already have, while allowing new ones to hatch and develop. Who knows, you may even find a new passion for something you never would have considered before! Along those same lines, trying new things and taking risks can be purely and simply fun! We humans are routine-driven, and we tend to follow habits day in and day out. Doing something that challenges your routine can break up monotony and invite a little extra excitement into your life.
The real question that you may be asking is simple: “how do I start living outside of my comfort zone?” The answer I would personally give is “baby steps.” There are many ways to take that first step, and even the tiniest push forward is still moving forward. Going back to my earlier point about breaking up routines and habits, even doing something as small as trying a new flavor of your favorite snack food can build momentum. First it starts with a new flavor, then you try a new snack, then you order something different for lunch, you get the idea. That same mentality can be applied to anything under the sun. The possibilities are endless, and trust me, once you start finding your rhythm, you’ll find it gets progressively easier to try new things. Above all, remember that ANY step is still a step. Don’t discourage yourself or feel discouraged that you aren’t doing as much as you should, or that you’re not moving along as quickly as someone else may. Do what is right for you. The goal is to find a happy balance between comfort and discomfort, between safety and risk. Pushing yourself too hard will only force you to retreat and be overly cautious. You got this.
Hopefully, you come away from this blog with a bit of inspiration. For some people, you may be ready to get up right now and start shuffling your life around, and for the others, you may need some time to reflect. Either way, keep these words in mind when planning (or spontaneously deciding!) what you’re going to do next. One thing I can say with certainty, though, is that everyone has it in them to take action and step out of their comfort zones. After all, that is the only way you will be able to grow.