If you’re like most people, you have a distinct comfort zone – that place in your mind that has boundaries on all sides that you never want to cross over. And yet, when you challenge yourself to step past that boundary, that’s when real progress in growth occurs. As a Certified Empowerment Coach, I want to help you step past those comfort zone boundaries, experience something new, even foreign, grow as a person. Here’s how…
What Areas of Your Life Need Expansion?
When clients consult me for advice on how to branch out in their life, I first ask them to make a list of situations or events in which they feel the most intimidated. For example, if a client tells me that they are anxious about going to public events by themselves, or avoid giving presentations at work, I make a mental note of the types of things a client needs work on. Of course, you may not need an empowerment coach to tell you what your weaknesses are, but I’d like to offer you ways to improve them.
First, let’s talk about why you might be anxious about, or avoid, certain situations in your life. Everyone, at one time or other has had painful experiences doing certain things. The next time a similar situation pops up, your first thought is to avoid the same pain, disappointment, embarrassment, rejection, etc.
Yet, what really happens is that your anxiety and fear about these situations becomes entrenched in your thinking. You develop a rigid way of coping by always recalling that negative event in the past. Doing so could actually cause you to pass up many opportunities that might come out of participating in new situations. Just because it didn’t work out the way you had hoped in the past, doesn’t mean that every situation like it in the future will turn out the same.
So, it becomes important to get past that initial negative response by pushing yourself to get out of your comfort zone of avoidance. When you do that, you force yourself to develop new coping skills, new ways to evaluate situations, and learn to not avoid situations that seem uncomfortable. This stimulates you to grow personally by expanding your coping skills and allowing you to become more confident in your ability to handle new things in your life.
Here are some ways you can step out of your usual comfort zone and experience something new:
1. Expose yourself to new people. Make a point of attending public events, such as conferences, lectures, book clubs, specialty groups you’re interested in. Try to talk to at least one person there to start, then next time try for two. Don’t shrink anonymously into the audience, ask questions and make your presence known. You’ll feel more confident and lose your anxiety if you interact with people.
2. Open yourself up to new feelings. If you tend to keep your feelings to yourself, start trying to talk to a friend, your spouse, relative, coworker about them. Many people push their feelings away by keeping busy doing their daily activities. Make time to get in touch with your true feelings about something – take a quiet walk by yourself and just be alone with your thoughts. Another way is to keep a journal; look at old photographs and write down how they make you feel; write a letter to someone detailing your anger, love, concern, etc to help you center your thoughts and what feelings you may want to convey to someone.
3. Learn new activities. Many people are lonely, bored, unfulfilled in their lives, and they daydream about breaking out of their unhappy routines with new experiences. Making the effort to try to learn a new activity, or participate in an event you feel drawn to, can inspire you to move toward something you really want to do in your life. Getting involved with new activities also involves meeting new, like-minded people who just might become a new set of friends.
4. What needs expansion? What areas in your life are minimized or shut down altogether? Do you forego attending public events, seeing a new movie or play out of anxiety? Would your career advance if you weren’t so nervous about making presentations? Would you like to have a new romantic partner in your life but don’t know how to put yourself out there? These are all examples of areas in your life that could stand expansion. How to start expanding? Whatever the issue is, come up with ideas/ways you could remedy the situation and then do them. For example, if your job could advance more by making presentations, get instructions on how to create a PowerPoint lecture, get help from a speech instructor, practice giving presentations until you feel confident. When the opportunity presents itself, you’ll be ready to volunteer for it.
There’s an old saying that says, “Better the Devil you know than the Devil you don’t.” It means that you may choose to stay with an unfulfilling situation you’re familiar with rather than trying for something better that’s unknown. Yet, the only hope of you ever bettering an unfulfilling situation is to break out in a new direction, try new things, and take new risks. The great thing about comfort zones is that they’re pretty pliable. They can be expanded to encompass learning new things and creating new situations. And, along the way you will have developed new coping skills and the confidence to continue to reach your goals.
Dale Brown, B.S., M.A., C.E.C.
Certified Empowerment Coach