Guidebook Tip: Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

Excerpt from Courage and Croissants, Inspiring Joyful Living (St. Remy Press 2010) by
Suzanne Saxe-Roux and Jean P. Roux

Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew. They’re what make the instrument stretch—what make you go beyond the norm.
Cicely Tyson, American actress (1933-)


Confirming the old expression “use it or lose it,” research now shows that we have to keep our brains and bodies active and learn new things in order to combat the diseases associated with aging. Stepping out of your comfort zone enables you to live a longer, healthier, and fuller life overall.

Not surprisingly, most of us will do whatever it takes to stay within our comfort zone. Many people never venture further than fifty miles from the place they were born, and fewer than 25% of Americans own a passport. However, traveling is only one of many ways to expand your comfort zone. The important thing is taking steps to expand your own horizon.

The reward of pushing your own boundaries is an incomparable feeling of vitality and new energy. And, the more you step out, the more comfortable and competent you become at doing so.

Your comfort zone comprises 4 distinct areas: Place, People, Pursuits, and Power (of the brain)

Place: Being in a new place for the first time is an experience for many in living outside of their comfort zone. Traveling, putting yourself in new situations, and enjoying different physical environments are wonderful ways to grow and learn. Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” 

Living in France and traveling around Europe and Africa gave us the opportunity to see and experience things that were new, different, and exhilarating. We felt as fascinated as children as we walked down a cobblestone street, scaled a sand dune in the Namib Desert, or stared up at an ancient church built in the 10th century. 

People: Venture out to meet and interact with people you don’t know. Go to a lecture or networking meeting, volunteer, or attend a class or a party with the intention of meeting new people. 

Being understood and understanding others in the French language was—and continues to be—the ultimate push out of my comfort zone. The reason I stick with it, however, is that when I am able to have a conversation I am thrilled and walk on air for the rest of the day with added excitement and confidence. 

Jean pushed himself out of his comfort zone while conducting his Ph.D. research. He reached out to a professor at the Université Montpellier and asked for her assistance. He was able to involve her in the project as a research supervisor and, as a result, was able to conduct his study with both US and French subjects.

Pursuits: If you continue to engage in activities with which you are familiar and competent, you are in your comfort zone. When you endeavor to learn a new sport, skill, or activity, you start to push the boundaries of your comfort zone.

In France, we would constantly venture out as a family to new towns and villages and explore the countryside. These adventures pushed us out of the known and into areas that challenged us. Our senses were on high alert, from reading the roadmap to deciding the best place to eat lunch or go for a hike. We often found that driving sixty kilometers to a new village or region was as exhilarating as touring the whole continent. 

Power of the Brain: Completing tasks with which you are already familiar keeps you in your comfort zone. Stretching yourself to try a new skill or task takes you outside of it.

Currently, our brains are being constantly stretched as we endeavor to learn new social marketing tools such as Twitter and Facebook. We decided a while ago that we can’t learn all of them at once but will take on one per month until we find a pace that feels comfortable and keeps us growing.

Why don’t we step outside our comfort zones more often?

In many ways, humans are still functioning on the biological instincts that tell us to play it safe, stay with the herd, and protect ourselves from possible danger. This was important at one time but no longer serves us today. As children, it is our nature to grow and develop, but as autonomous adults, we are faced with the choice to either stagnate or continue to learn. 


A few tips for stepping outside your comfort zone

1. Take small steps. Pick one or two domains in which you are willing to experiment.

Say, for example, you want to learn how to knit and decide to take a class with all strangers. What is the worst that could happen? You stab yourself with the knitting needle and someone laughs at you. But wait, if it is a beginner’s class, they won’t know how to knit either, and the teacher is sure to show you how to properly handle the needles. Breaking it down this way often helps allay our fears of entering into something new.

2  Stick with it until it becomes comfortable.

Keep going to the knitting class until the basic principles become second nature. Suddenly, you might find yourself signing up for the more advanced class or trying a more difficult pattern.

3.  Repeat the process over and over and over again.

As you practice stepping out of your comfort zone, you will find that you become bolder, more courageous, and want to try out new things. Take your first experiment into another domain. After knitting, you might travel to an unfamiliar state, learn to sail, or develop a new relationship with someone who stretches your interests.

4.  Find the joy in stepping out of your comfort zone.

Acting on your dreams, desires, goals, and wishes will require that you move out of your comfort zone. If you want to create the life you hope for, keep practicing moving out of your comfort zone. You may suddenly find yourself captivated by the feelings of joy, liberation, and accomplishment.