How often do you go outside your comfort zone? Most of us like routines. We like predictability. We like to know what’s expected of us and know that we’ll be able to perform competently.
A comfort zone is a safe place. We don’t want the stress of taking a risk on something new or unknown. We know that we can perform daily tasks and manage most life circumstances.
The expression ‘Steady as she goes’ has a nautical origin referring to orders to steer a ship in an established direction regardless of wind or cross-currents. This phrase is often used to encourage someone to continue on an established path, adhering to familiar routines.
Going outside the comfort zone becomes a greater challenge as we grow older. Yet, accepted knowledge tells us that staying sharp and mentally alert depends on doing new things and staying engaged with the world. Continuous mental challenge pays off in terms of greater life fulfillment.
Too much challenge causes stress
Daniel Goleman, writing in Psychology Today cautions that too much challenge causes stress and negates the benefits of venturing outside the comfort zone. He argues that each person has an optimal zone of performance that creates some level of stress. Pushing beyond the optimal zone results in performance declines and increased anxiety.
We need challenges; however, understanding the boundaries for stimulation and new energy is tricky. It’s easy to be comfortable with complacency yet without pushing past the comfort zone, we limit ourselves and we limit our true potential.
I confess that I’m a creature of habit. Most of the time I prefer the calm, predictable space of established routines. However, mental agility is something I value. Therefore, I regularly push myself to reach beyond my comfort zone and try new things to boost confidence. I don’t like to fail but I do challenge myself with writing, with physical activity, with adult education courses, and with establishing new social contacts.
Last year, when we moved to a new city I was thrown out of my comfort zone. I lost the predictability of established roles and routines. With such disruption in my life, I took risks. I searched out clubs, activities, and social events. The payoff is a changed, but a satisfying lifestyle, with new friends and acquaintances, new activities, and new routines.
Benefits of Going Outside Your Comfort Zone
Challenging yourself establishes a foundation for personal growth in unanticipated spheres. There will be mistakes; however, there’s much to be learned when expected success doesn’t happen. Missteps often set the stage for future success.
During my career, I often had to attend fundraising golf tournaments. I was never good at any aspect of the game but I sometimes had wonderful networking experiences when talented players helped me to make it through the course. I frequently won prizes for the highest aka worst score which was no accomplishment. There was lots of fun in the process and the reward of a steak dinner at the ’19th hole’ afterward.
New experiences inspire and educate. Creativity ramps up when we take risks. People may not like the art we make, what we write, or how we perform at a sport. Daring to take risks leads to achievement. Discomfort leads to learning and growth. Confidence is boosted. Self-knowledge increases with new accomplishments. When you are forced to dip into untapped knowledge about yourself, you gain trust in yourself and your capacity. Motivation to keep trying increases.
As we grow older we need to keep adapting to changes within ourselves and changes occurring around us. Sometimes it’s a major life transition like moving to a new community; sometimes it’s a disruptive change as a result of new technology; sometimes health causes change; sometimes it’s loss of someone dear to us. As we embrace new experiences and take calculated risks we build our repertoire of life skills that help us adapt to life changes.