Stop Telling People to Step Outside of Their Comfort Zone

We’ve all heard it before. We’ve all said it before. Hell, I said it last Tuesday. A friend was telling me how he wanted to accomplish a specific goal in his life, but he was afraid to take the first step. My response to him was, “Step outside of your comfort zone and just do it!” I don’t know why I told him this. Maybe he should stay all warm and cozy in his comfort zone. Perhaps he really isn’t ready for what’s out there. Or maybe it’s possible that he’s afraid he won’t be able to watch Scandal on the outside.

So what does “step outside of your comfort zone” really mean, anyway? I needed to understand what being IN our comfort zone meant before I could understand why we needed to step out of it. So I went to the mother of all sources to help me understand, you know….Wikipedia, and this is what I read:

“Comfort zone (also Comfort Zone theory), a behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition.”

Being inside of our comfort zone doesn’t sound like a bad place to be. Why would anyone want to leave that? Basically, you operate in a space that provides low anxiety, happiness, and a sense of security. For me, that’s like being at Target smack dab in the middle of the day while most adults are at work and their misbehaved children are at school. Pure heaven.

But this isn’t about me. So I digress…

Then, I wanted to find out what it meant to step outside of it. I came across a quote from Neale Donald Walsch. He tells us that “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Huh!?! Some people believe that life begins at conception. But OK.

I came to the realization that if you want to try something that you wouldn’t normally do, or if you want to stretch yourself, then getting outside of your comfort zone is the first step. But I think that there should be a few mini steps in place before you dip your foot into the anti-comfort zone. For example, if I didn’t know how to swim, I wouldn’t just rush right into the ocean to prove that I can stretch myself. The sharks might like it. I wouldn’t. The lifeguard wouldn’t. I would first take swimming lessons at my local community center. Then after building up my skill level, I would probably go to the beach, making sure someone else was with me, and get into the water. Only then would I be able to reap the benefits of achieving the goal I was working towards. These mini steps approach is useful for anything we desire to do that will stretch and grow us.

I think we mean well when we tell people to just go for it, but we are doing them a disservice if we don’t encourage them to take mini steps first.


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