February 2014

Being Better: The Benefits of Getting Comfortable Outside Your Comfort Zone

Author: Kitty Bartell

Is the road less traveled your home address? Do your friends and family expect the unexpected from you? Would you describe yourself as confident, brave and fulfilled? If your answers are yes, yes, and yes, then you are a rare bird. You most likely have discovered how to unlatch the proverbial gilded cage, and have found your way out of your comfort zone to where the real magic in life happens.

Statistics will confirm that making iron-clad resolutions to change behavior will likely result in failure. Behavior is a natural follower, a coat-tail rider, a wanna-be; and behavior’s greatest wish is to find a dynamic leader who will provide an easy solution to a nagging concern. The problem is that the real meat in life, the biggest rewards, and the greatest possibility of being a bit better than we are today, comes only when behavior shakes off the mantel of follower and becomes a leader, and the only non-pharmaceutical way that I know to do this, is to get the heck out of our comfort zones.

Comfort zones are the places in our minds in which we reside where we perceive the risks and stresses of life to be manageable. Comfort zones disguise themselves in deceptively appealing ways: being nestled in a cozy chair sipping cocoa, watching reruns of TV shows and movies that you could quite nearly recite, or ensconced before a computer screen surfing across the ocean of web waves (a.k.a. the best friend of those with a proclivity for procrastination). Comfort zones may also be a job that pays the bills but provides little else, a hobby that has become a chore, or simply a habit repeated mindlessly despite its lack of purpose or fulfillment. The real enigma to comfort zones is that despite their benign appearance, they actually tend to create dissonance. Our brains crave both familiarity and change. Comfort zones are the familiar; however, when there’s a little too much familiar, the internal battle begins.

It is well known that great entrepreneurs are rarely in their comfort zone and embrace change more readily than most. They push boundaries and take great risks… often culling great rewards for their daring. What they have learned is that inside the comfort zone, life is a bit mediocre. While outside, they are more fulfilled, confident, and prosperous. They also know that with every foray outside the comfort zone, it becomes easier to do it again, and again, and again.

While we are not all driven to become great entrepreneurs, we do all have the same brain chemistry that sends out the call to be better at being outside our comfort zones, and our job is to answer the call. The first few times you answer the call, you may find fear waiting on the other end of the line. Fear will find a way to tell you that you might fail. It may come in the form of being reminded of the mailbox full of bills that arrive each month, just as you are about to go part-time at work in order to devote more time to your children; or that the last time you tried hosting a dinner party you and your standing rib roast nearly burned down the kitchen. You may get booed in the middle of your inaugural karaoke set, or face-plant in a snow-bank in front of everyone sharing your first chair-lift ride.

Why would you want to put yourself out there and risk the embarrassment that failure brings? One very compelling reason: the potential rewards are infinite. And we inherently know this; otherwise, we would not crave change when life becomes a little too mundane. Almost anything is possible once we get outside our comfort zone: new adventures, new hobbies, new work, new friends, new relationships, better health, prosperity, happiness, confidence, fulfillment, excitement, security… the possibilities are limitless.

The leap from your comfort zone does not have to be monumental to realize the benefits. If fear is whispering in your ear that you had better maintain the status quo, or else, fight back by sneaking in a few being better victories that won’t rock the boat too much, but that will show you change is possible.

1. Do everyday things a little differently. Take the children to school via a different route. Go to a farmers market for your fresh fruit and veggies instead of the supermarket. Start your work day with tea instead of coffee. Do a crossword puzzle after dinner instead of the usual TV veg-fest. Volunteer for a short-term project at church or in the community rather than being overwhelmed at the prospect of an on-going commitment. The possibilities truly are endless for who you may meet, what you may see, what you may learn, or what doors may be opened to you.

2. Make decisions differently. How do you make decisions? Are you one to make decisions quickly, or do you take your time? Now, do the opposite. If you are a snap-decision person, try mulling over your choices. Do some research and spend time simply thinking over your options. If you are slow to make decision, try trusting yourself and make some choices more quickly. Either way, you have some experience at making decisions; now trust yourself to do it a little differently. You may find solutions and answers that you had never imagined.

3. Identify your fears and then take small steps to test your limits. Fear of public speaking: practicing speaking up in meetings before volunteering to give the key note address at your company’s annual meeting. Fear of water: take beginning adult swimming lessons at the rec center before throwing yourself off of the high dive. Once you try these baby steps and experience a few small victories, don’t be surprised if you find yourself bungee jumping on your next vacation, spear-heading a Habitat for Humanity project, or launching your own business.

As many of life’s great gurus have said, including my dear grandmother, “Everything in moderation,” which thankfully means we will always need our comfort zones to balance us. Stepping out of the comfortable places in our lives and our minds will encourage behavior to become the lead-dog on our journey to being better; with the reassuring knowledge that a cup of cocoa and a rerun, or Pinteresting the evening away now and then, just may be good for us too.

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