Two dogs looking out of an open gate

So you’ve decided that it’s time to leave your comfort zone. What now?

How do we leave our comfort zone?

By first figuring out why it is that we’re scared to in the first place. Why are we afraid of that thing that is just outside the boundaries of our comfort zones?

Let’s say you’re scared of water. Because of this fear, you’ve avoided learning to swim your entire life. You’ve missed out on having fun at pool parties, swimming with friends and playing all of the games. You’ve missed out on riding in a canoe with your friends. You couldn’t swim so you were afraid to get in, afraid you might tip over and end up in the water. On and on the list goes of the things that you’ve missed out on because of this fear. You stood on the sidelines and just watched.

At first glance, you aren’t really sure why you even have this fear. You love the water; the way it looks, the way it sounds, and the way it feels when you dangle your feet in the pool. But for some reason, you just can’t bring yourself to get in. Then one day, you’re talking to you mom and she reminds you of an incident that happened when you were very young. You almost drowned. She also tells you that she has always been afraid of water and never learned how to swim. You realize, in that moment, that your fear of water stems from that one incident, and from your mom’s fear rubbing off onto you.

It doesn’t always happen this way, with a conversation with someone. A lot of times it will be a video we watch or something else that we’re doing, but at some point, there is an ah-ha moment.

When we have that moment of realization as to why we’re afraid of whatever it is that we’re afraid of doing, that’s when the inner work begins. That’s when we can go back, reframe the situation, understand what really happened, and work to release those fears. We do this because it helps us to move forward. It helps us to make decisions in life based on reality and not based on fear. When we make decisions based on fear, they are generally not the best decisions for our lives. These types of decisions are what keep us in jobs that we hate, in relationships that we’ve outgrown, and in places that we don’t enjoy anymore.

Some people suggest that leaving your comfort zone requires you to just jump with both feet. All or nothing.

I believe that how you leave your comfort zone depends on the type of person that you are. My husband and I are perfect examples of the opposite ends of this spectrum. If my husband chooses to step outside of his comfort zone, he’s the type that jumps in with both feet. When I’m ready to push the boundaries of my comfort zone, I do so slowly and with intention. It’s like getting into a cold swimming pool. Some people jump in and get it all over with at once, while others get in slowly and get used to it a little at a time. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Everyone is different. Honor that difference in yourself and work with it.

With that in mind, what are some of the things that we can do to help us feel more comfortable in leaving out comfort zone?

Do your research. Quite often, if we are scared of something, it’s because we don’t know a lot about it. The unknown about said thing is the biggest fear we have. If we can make the unknown known, then we can move forward with more confidence in what we’re doing. Be careful not to over analyze things and scare yourself all over again, or to only look at the negatives of what could happen. Also be careful not to stall out in the research phase of things. Some people will keep saying they are learning and never actually take the steps to do.

Make a plan. Whether you take small steps, or you jump in with both feet, sit down and at least make a rough plan for what you are going to do. If you’re going to learn to swim, figure out where and from whom. If you want to sing in front of others, what will you be singing, where will your music come from, and where will you be performing? If you’re afraid of snakes, but you want to move past that fear, where will you go to learn about them? Who will help you? Making at least a rough plan will help you to work through some things that could trip you up before you even get started. It gives you a better chance at succeeding at moving outside of your comfort zone for good. If you don’t have a plan of where to learn to swim and who will teach you, if you just go and jump in the first river that you find, it’s probably not going to end so well. If you want to get over your fear of snakes and you just go try to pick up the first one that you find, again, it won’t likely end well. Then your experience will give your brain more evidence for why you need to stay in your “no swimming” comfort zone. Without some sort of plan, you can set yourself up for failure before you even begin.

Set realistic expectations for yourself. While some things that you try to do will happen easily and quickly, many other things will take time. Overcoming the fears behind most things that keep us in our comfort zones will take a little time. Be honest with yourself about the type of person that you are (someone who takes baby steps, or someone who jumps in) and set realistic expectations for your progress. Doing so will keep you from getting discouraged about the length of time it takes to over come those fears and make that step outside of your comfort zone.

Celebrate any progress that you make. (Chris Shelton has a great blog post about “Celebrating Your Wins”) Even on those days when you feel like you aren’t moving, celebrate any forward movement. Remember, any forward movement is progress. You are one step ahead of where you were. You don’t have to make it to your final destination of being able to swim, getting over your fear of snakes, or whatever it is that you want to do, to congratulate yourself. If you are making the effort to better yourself, to step outside of your comfort zone, and to seek new experiences and opportunities, then you are to be applauded. Even if it feels small, it’s huge. Celebrating the small achievements also gives us the motivation to continue. When we recognize each of our steps along the path, we begin to see how far we’ve really come.

Can we make our comfort zone bigger?

Each time we step outside of our comfort zone and grow, we make our comfort zone a little bigger. I’m sure you can recall a time when you were afraid to do something. Maybe it was public speaking. You wanted to get better at it so that you could pursue your passion in life, to champion a cause that you’re passionate about, or you needed to get better at it to get a promotion at work. The first few times that you got up in front of people and spoke, you were terrified. Maybe the first 100 times you got up in front of people you were terrified. But soon, you became more and more comfortable with being in front of people talking. Now, it doesn’t bother you at all. Your comfort zone grew because you pushed yourself.

Anything and everything that we learn stretches our comfort zone at least a little. Use this momentum to take more and more steps outside of your comfort zone, and down the path to your happiest life. Don’t let the imaginary boundaries that you have set for yourself keep you from moving forward.

Read our related post, “What Do Our Comfort Zones and Spider Crabs Have in Common?”, to learn more about what a comfort zone is and why you should leave it.