why I want to jump out of my comfort zone, not just step out of it

but truth is, comfort zones can shrink.

Photo by Hana Fox

Confession: I really like being uncomfortable.

I think that at the outskirts of your comfort zone, you find yourself. And once you push past those outskirts, you grow.

After all, “outside of your comfort zone is where the magic happens.”

But the reality is that your comfort zones can shrink.

Settling into a routine, doing things that are challenging but not uncomfortable, doing things that you excel at… those are all things that can shrink your comfort zone, or at least stall your efforts to expand it.

It’s sneaky, though. Because you’re challenging yourself, you don’t realize you’re not truly uncomfortable.

What, then, expands it?

  1. Traveling
  2. Doing What You Fear
  3. Doing What You Suck At
  4. Novelty
  5. Breaking Your Routine

Each of these disrupts your daily life; forces you to think and push.

1. Traveling

My obsession with comfort zones stems from my old AP Lit teacher and swim coach. On one of our first days, he told us:

“My job is to make you comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

And he did just that. He assigned us readings that weren’t necessarily dense, but made most of us (or at least me) deeply uncomfortable (for a list of those readings, click here).

He pushed us to think and to question, and encouraged us to travel—he had backpacked/cycled throughout Europe and New Zealand when he was younger, and as a not-widely traveled high schooler, that fascinated me.

But as I took my own backpacking trip through Europe, as I thought back to my summer teaching English in China, as I traveled more and more, I realized that travel isn’t all gorgeous views and exotic places.

Sometimes (oftentimes) it’s quite scary. You’re by yourself or with a couple of people; you probably don’t know the language and definitely not the culture, and unexpected things happen.

It’s the unknown. Sometimes, you absolutely hate it, and want to just give up and go home.

It’s once you don’t give up, once you push past and adapt, that the magic happens. You fall in love with the changing scenery, with exploring new places with new people and trying new things.

By forcing yourself into these new situations, you learn to adapt and push past your comfort zone.

Travel is like shoving a baby bird out of the nest — you’re stuck in that new place, and you have to either fly or fall. Find your wings. Choose to fly.

2. Doing What You Fear

This may seem obvious, but it’s not always as dramatic as cliff jumping. Sometimes it’s networking. Sometimes it’s breaking your routine (more on that later). Sometimes it’s being spontaneous.

Whatever it is, just do it and see where that takes you.

3. Doing What You Suck At

I’m a huge culprit of this one. I like being good at things.

No, that’s wrong. I like being awesome at things. That’s why I gave up skiing after trying it twice. I’ll try almost anything, but if I’m not good, I tend to push it away.

The obvious issue: you won’t ever get good at something if you don’t keep working at it.

People are rarely naturally good at something. Practicing is 1) what makes you better and 2) gets you out of that comfort zone.

4. Novelty

Novelty is inherently both exciting and scary. The unknown is unpredictable, and that in itself is uncomfortable.

We crave the familiar; we find comfort in it. That’s also why we settle into routines. So whether it’s trying a new food or restaurant or taking a new fitness class, break your boundaries and be adventurous.

5. Breaking Your Routine

We are all creatures of habit. Routines are important, but they’re designed to be comfortable.

In an ideal world, we would follow a routine 90% of the time and aim to disrupt it the other 10%. That way, when something unintentionally disrupts our routine, we aren’t as upset.

Routines can also be why we plateau and why we settle. Whether that’s a fitness plateau, a life plateau, or even a cooking plateau, when we get used to doing the same things over and over again, it becomes less effective.

Sometimes it takes a disruptor to clear the air, for you to see where your true priorities are and where you currently stand. You may find yourself re-evaluating your life.

So take the time this week to do something that’s non-routine. Disrupt those habits for a bit, and see what habits bring you joy and what no longer does.

An example of this: do you drink coffee every day? Is it because you love the taste of it, or you’re just used to it, or you need it to stay away? Challenge yourself to go without it for a day and see what happens.

Call to Action

Jump out of your comfort zone. I challenge you.

I’m challenging me. I’ve grown far too comfortable in the past year — less traveling, more routine. When things get stressful, I rely on habits to make myself less stressed.

Break out of it. Break through it. Take the leap.

Here’s to all my fellow boundary-breakers.

Follow me on Medium for more thought-provoking stories, or on my personal blog for health/fitness/well-being posts. You can also find me on Instagram (health account here and personal account here).