Taking a step into the unknown is vital to our growth and development.
Stepping outside the sphere of our comfort zone in all dimensions of our life is not something we should do just occasionally. For personal growth such as overcoming irrational fears, or for improving in any activity, such as sport, we need to push ourselves a little bit harder than what feels comfortable on a regular basis. However, so our confidence isn’t shot, and to avoid panic alarms going off in our head, we need to do this in comfortable steps. So, if you think “going outside my comfort zone in comfortable steps, stepping into the unknown doesn’t seem scary at all, but like an exciting progression that is natural.
In psychology, there is a technique called exposure therapy where clients are encouraged and helped to overcome their phobias. However, if somebody is scared of spiders, the therapist will not have them hold a spider in the hand straight away! In all likelihood the client would freak out, and, it may worsen their phobia. However, and I quote Hermione Granger from Harry Potter: “The only thing to fear is fear itself”. This is because fear of anything reinforces that fear, so that it only grows. Therefore avoiding engaging in anything which makes us anxious will, over time, lead to growing fear. Psychologists have found exposure therapy works best when it is graded. Look at pictures of spiders, first, for example. This will gradually is more likely to have the best effect on our confidence level, our “I can” mentality. When we avoid, we reinforce the message to ourselves that “I can’t”. When we flood ourselves with the feared object or activity, in some cases it can work, but there is a risk that we may not be successful. There is a risk we may never even try what we were afraid of again, or for a long time.
That is why a zone is mentioned. Inside the comfort zone, life may be predictable and relaxing, and it certainly is a valid place to be especially during some times of our lives which are inherently stressful such as illness when stretching ourselves is not only unnecessary but can also be detrimental. The way to tell if your comfort zone is a healthy place to be for the present or whether you are avoiding something is whether you are back by fear. In these situations, the comfort zone can be a place of depression, stagnation, loss of self-confidence and not realising our fullest potential, so dissatisfaction. However, if being in one’s comfort zone is the best choice when not motivated by fear but by a rational realisation that too much is going on in your life right now and personal growth may, by necessity, have to get put on the backburner. When my mother was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, for me the comfort zone was like stepping out of a cacoon anyway…just getting out of bed was hard. So the comfort zone can be an appropriate place to be.
It is probably best just to pick one or two areas where you regularly step outside the safety of your comfort zone, for example even just exercise. When we make the steps toward going the extra step, we will have much more success if it seems do-able.
Stepping out of our comfort zones:
can be a realistic way to overcome irrational fears
a way to develop self-confidence as we conquer our obstacles in a realistic way
is necessary for personal growth or self improvement in all arenas
should feel exciting and encouraging but not terrifying
is not always appropriate during times of turmoil, stress, illness or grief.