Breaking Free! How to get out of the comfort zone! is about escaping from the routine and familiar with some personal tips and suggestions on how to do it.
A few years ago, I had the typical indicators of a good life; I had a solid job, a nice car, and my own place. But behind closed doors, I was restless. I’d gotten myself into a pattern and rhythm of living that wasn’t challenging, fulfilling or satisfying, and my progress had reached a plateau.
I’d previously been more outgoing and adventurous, regularly travelling and getting excitement from meeting new people and trying new things. But the trappings of life had limited my options and brought about monotony and an overwhelming sense that I was wasting my time.
It’s in my nature to overthink things and worry, and as I didn’t know how to make a change, I became paralysed, reluctant to make any new moves, and contained in a place that was all too safe, well-known, and restricted – my comfort zone.
The “comfort zone” is defined by a set of typical actions, behaviours, and routines that are familiar. It consists of regular habits where we experience minimal stress and live with little to no risk.
But the comfort zone can become a place of disconnection, inertia, and stagnation and provide no opportunities for dreams and goals to thrive. It can be likened to the feeling of being “stuck in a rut” or a negative sequence of behaviour.
Starting a new journey outside of your comfort zone begins with some reflection and self-analysis – thinking about things we want to change or areas in our immediate life that could be more compelling. The process can include looking at our existing routines and habits and evaluating if they’re of any real benefit.
My comfort zone had grown to include some ritual practises that got me through the days – things that I had once enjoyed but that had now become tedious and empty. I don’t remember there being a defining moment or grand epiphany, but the cycle had become quite negative, my physical health was suffering and it became apparent that I needed to make adjustments.
I found that addressing my less fulfilling habits was a good place to start, swapping them for other activities that provided more of a mental challenge. It didn’t happen overnight, but gradually I filled my time by trying diverse things, easing out of some of my predictable, non-serving patterns. I also began making different choices in other areas, sampling new things where I could each day.
By mixing things up a little in everyday life, it’s like training the brain to be more accustomed to changes. Making small changes to daily routines could be as simple as opting for an alternative coffee, taking another route to work, or experimenting with your style.
As I progressed, I felt ready to take on some bigger challenges and began thinking of things I wanted to try and ambitions I wanted to achieve.
Similar to making a bucket list, writing a list of things that are far out of your comfort zone is a great way to visualise what you could aim for. It’s about thinking of things that excite you but also make you nervous, shy, or scared. Maybe some things on the list will remain an absolute “nope”, but others might be more manageable and easier to say “yes” to.
Saying “yes” has become a theme in popular culture, from movies like ‘Yes Man’ (2008) and ‘Yes Day’ (2021) through to the ’24-Hour Yes Challenge’ on YouTube. It’s based on saying “yes” to all invitations, opportunities, and social occasions that arise and seeing the subsequent results.
Although saying “yes” to every single offer we receive is unfeasible, possibly leading to burnout and depleted finances, I believe there’s some merit to the concept.
Personally, since I started breaking out of my safe places, I’ve said “yes” to activities and events that I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with or prepared for but did so because I knew I’d receive a new experience. Saying “yes” has led me on some rides that were never on my radar but became some of the most enjoyable and memorable.
A big part of breaking free from your comfort zone is being open-minded – open to suggestions, ideas, points of view, and experiences that fall outside of your norms.
Being open-minded could mean embracing new hobbies, work, cultures, and places, generally exploring unfamiliar territory with a positive attitude, minimising any perceived negatives, and maximising the potential positives.
Having an open-mind helps you become receptive to opportunities for growth as they occur. I found that reading material that was unfamiliar helped with broadening horizons; alternative books, blogs, and articles are all useful in getting you to think in unorthodox ways and out of the box.
Being open-minded also aligns with learning to relinquish some control and the need to have everything planned out. The desire to be able to control our surroundings and circumstances is interlinked with our comfort zone and ingrained into our consciousness because the more we know about our world, the safer we feel. But letting go of control allows us to take the plunge, make deeper connections, and be less reliant on specific outcomes that are probably beyond our control.
When we give up control, we learn to take whatever life throws at us and are more able to go with the flow. And that means that when things unravel, we can cope with different outcomes and be prepared for the unexpected.
In fact, in the last few years, as I strayed further away from my comfort zone, one of my favourite mantras has been “expect the unexpected”. I could strategize and prepare all I wanted, but ultimately, life often throws curveballs, and to have the best and most organic experiences, there has to be an element of sitting back and letting things unfold, inviting in opportunities for serendipity and surprise to occur.
For some people, letting go of control is a big fear. But that’s what leaving your comfort zone is about: facing fears and pushing yourself to level up. Other 90’s kids might remember Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Everybody’s Free (to wear sunscreen)’ (1999), a spoken word song based on a graduation speech with advice for young adults. One of the lines in the song said, “Do something each day that scares you,” and although that’s not really viable every single day in the average life, it always stuck in my mind. The sentiment stands as a reminder to regularly face our fears, to learn, grow, live life regret free, and avoid staying permanently confined to a safe space.
Although pushing yourself and breaking free from the known can, of course, be scary, it’s best not to overthink it and worry about scenarios that are unlikely to happen. Uncertainty is difficult for me, but a healthy way of approaching new challenges that can cause anxiety that I learned is by “living in day-tight compartments” – taking things step by step and not thinking beyond the current day and whatever you can do with it. For me, this approach has been essential in setting changes and movements in motion.
One of the main challenges in breaking down our barriers is facing up to ourselves, because subconsciously the mind has a way of talking us out of things and can be our own worst enemy. This is often to do with fears of embarrassment, failure, or rejection and is usually based on previous lived experiences.
Everyone fails at something at some point or another, but the important thing is to learn from any mistakes and not allow them to cloud our lives. By letting go of past occurrences, particularly those that have left us jaded, we can stop living so cautiously that we go nowhere and instead move onward and upward.
Stepping off the beaten path can ultimately make you happier, more fulfilled, and more inspiring to the people around you. It doesn’t mean making huge, unsafe decisions or recklessly throwing caution to the wind; it’s about reaching for potential, rejuvenation, and gaining life experience. It seems that maturity naturally brings with it more caution, so I think it’s especially important to remind ourselves to snap out of the habitual every now and then as we get older.
My escape from the comfort zone began small but eventually led to some of the most dramatic changes, pivotal moments, and extreme contrasts in my life, and while it’s still necessary to retreat to my safe places occasionally to recharge, reflect, and plan the next move, I don’t believe I’ll stay there for long.
Once you’ve experienced the benefits of breaking free, like improved confidence and a sense of achievement and pride, it becomes more natural, and you’ll have the assurance, self-belief, and knowledge to fearlessly make it happen time and time again.
Did the tips in this post inspire you to break out of your comfort zone? Or do you have any other suggestions and strategies? Any comments are welcomed and you can also download my free ‘How to Break Out of the Comfort Zone’ info-graphic below!
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All text ©J. Thomson, 2023