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Getting out of your comfort zone is terrifying, but facing new challenges is insightful and rewarding. What’s stopping you?

I don’t like to get out of my comfort zone. I definitely never gave public speaking any thought. It was never an option. I told myself I would be useless – my nerves would get the better of me and I’d turn into a blubbering mess. But I was asked to participate in our company’s TED-style speaking event called Metamorphosis last month. Staff could talk about their passions outside of their day job. I wanted to refuse instantly: no way did I want to get involved, but my subconscious had other plans and I automatically agreed. What was I thinking?

It’s such a common fear for so many, the dreaded public speaking.

I remember the first time performing to a large(ish) group of people, in the first few months of starting secondary school. Our year had to perform/speak/sing, individually to our classmates. It was humiliating.

For me, being centre stage has never been a desire. I’ve never even daydreamed being famous. It comes naturally for me to be on my own and at ease with my thoughts and I love it that way.

So why am I writing about doing something extroverted, that makes you incredibly uncomfortable? Because this experience taught me that having some moments where you push your boundaries and experience something new can be spectacularly rewarding. Being a little uncomfortable and learning how you cope in that situation can set off a chain reaction to embrace new ideas, hobbies, even friends.

The experience got me thinking about all the opportunities we miss as they fall outside of our comfort zone. We’re creatures of habit, but staying in the same routines, day in and day out can lead to frustration and stifles growth. When we search and embrace new experiences, for genuine reasons, we can get the most out of them and it drives real, honest change. That’s incredibly empowering.

So, how can we make new challenges a little less intimidating and face them in the best way possible? I’ve broken down some key points that helped me embrace this new challenge in the hope that they can help you too.

ROUTINE’S ROLE

Understand the role that routines play in our lives: they provide mental security. As children, a routine gives the feeling of safety and as adults, they provide a sense of purpose. Both feelings are surprisingly similar. They fit a pattern that minimises stress and risk, making our comfort zone so appealing.

But not all routines are created equal. They can dull our lives; we need to examine them on occasion and question what purpose they serve. A good example is, what’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Do you instantly grab your phone and check your notifications, or do you get up and exercise or meditate?

Unfortunately, those habits that cut us off from the world; watching too much TV, comfort eating, excessive drinking, smoking or constant phone checking are just too tempting for many of us. To regain our sense of wonder and reconnect with ourselves we need to seek new things that turn autopilot off and stop those negative habits from defining us.

As much reassurance there is with keeping to the familiar, it will only get you so far. It’s important to try new things and have a variety. You don’t have to go to extremes. Start small if the thought makes you anxious.

ADDRESS ANY DOUBT AND FEAR

The greater the doubt, the greater the awakening;

The smaller the doubt, the smaller the awakening.

No doubt, no awakening.”

Master Po Shan

I read the above quote in a book about trauma; said by the Buddhist monk, Po Shan. I couldn’t stop thinking about it as it spoke so true to our relationship with doubt and fear. Both emotions can improve your outlook and quality of life when you acknowledge their importance. They’re your driving force.

Re-frame your doubt and fear with a new voice: you’re worried/scared because you care. They’re part of the process of growing – to become better than who/what you are now. We often think they’re negative emotions, whose purpose is to make you feel terrible, so we avoid feeling them altogether. These emotions overwhelm us when we forget the purpose. Rather than focusing on why we’re doing it in the first place, we get too caught up thinking about what others will think or how silly we’ll look. If your purpose is authentic and has meaning to you, this will shine through.

We naturally want to avoid new stressful situations, but pushing past the emotional blocks will change your relationship with fear and doubt to help you embrace them positively. In the quest for growth, allow a little fear. Let those worries act as your guide, confirming you’re on the right path to discovering something new, challenging and exciting.

UNDERSTAND YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

Everyone tolerates different levels of stress. Your comfort zone is completely subjective so it’s important to understand your personality traits and how you work. What triggers or excites you? Where do you flourish? Be comfortable in your thoughts which will make you more self-aware and help you realise this. You can find this out by reflecting, questioning and experimenting a little. 

Ask yourself how you learn things. When I needed some tips about how to approach my talk, I received such a variety of advice. Some told me to take a more relaxed approach and focus on learning key words which would prompt me on each slide. Others encouraged me to plan well ahead and memorise the entire presentation word for word.

I had to take a more intense approach. I knew my nerves would get the better of me if I didn’t learn everything by heart. Being well prepared is in my nature. I used my daily 5-mile commute as practice and would record myself so I could listen back, make improvements, then record again and repeat. When the day of the presentation came, I knew deep down that I’d put in the time to memorise everything and that gave me so much more confidence. I was then able to focus on other things like speaking clear and slow and engaging with the audience.

Set yourself up for success and know your limits. If you need a lot of encouragement, ask your support network to help set realistic milestones and hold you accountable. Come back to your comforts occasionally and allow time to process. You don’t want to be in way over your head so prepare and be sure to ask yourself if this is the right time. Check-in with yourself and relax to avoid burn-out.

BE PASSIONATE

Passion is a powerful force behind your success and happiness. When the reason for your new experience is engaging it ignites energy, reminding you of its purpose and helps curb those thoughts telling you to give up.

My topic was about disconnecting and spending time with your thoughts. With technology taking over all aspects of everyone’s lives, it’s never been so important. I work as mental health first aid support in my office (read more about my experiences in this post) and I see, first-hand, the toll that everyday stress puts on people. Allow time for your mind to process and reflect, it’s so simple. We have forgotten how to be restless and uncomfortable. These states aren’t your enemies. Welcome them. This message is what I want to keep sharing.

Here are some pictures from the event. We were the first to use our newly refurbished office, and the atrium. It made the ordeal much more exciting; being in a fantastic location definitely took the edge off my nerves. The auditorium has a colourful mural painted on one side; built over two floors, with theatre-style seating making the entire audience visible. I felt butterflies on the day for sure, but after a few morning rehearsals, I was surprisingly at ease.

For people who missed the event, we did a re-take online. Here is the video!

Trying something new is never as bad as you expect. Getting out of you comfort zone only requires some commitment and guts. You won’t know what you are capable of until you try. Yes, it can be scary and awkward. I won’t pretend that it’s all plain sailing, but the effort it takes is worth it, to help you develop and be more resilient. You should always seek and encourage new perspectives in life. It has a tremendous snowball effect, helping you think differently and apply your new insights to other aspects of your life.

Be authentic and meaningful with whatever new experience you tackle. Take concrete yet manageable steps to make it a successful change. I hope it’s something you can love and be proud of. Your more confident and creative self will be incredibly thankful.

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