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Why ‘stepping out’ of your comfort zone doesn’t work and what to do instead

“You have to step out of your comfort zone! Just do it!”. My entire life I have been hearing this. And chances are, you have too.

When I was 13, I attempted to just step out of my comfort zone (like they told me to). And I literally got stuck on top of a 12-foot wall, scared to make another move (in front of lots of people I didn’t know!). Figuratively speaking, it can often feel like that too.

Whilst the intentions are well meant, hoping to encourage and offer us a sense of self-belief. Have you ever been left wanting to shout “BUT THAT’S TOO SCARY” and “HOW DO I EVEN DO THAT?”. I know I have.

It’s true. At Quiet Connections, we talk about comfort zones a lot. We see the value of trying something new and believe it is how we grow confidence. We also understand it’s not always as easily done as said.

What is a comfort zone?

Our comfort zone is our bubble of safety. All the behaviours, strategies, people and activities that we feel familiar and comfortable with, live within this bubble. Staying home and watching a film or reading a book, hanging out with only my closest friends, being alone and keeping what I enjoyed to myself – all examples of what lived within my comfort zone (who am I kidding, this is still the same!).

Outside of that bubble was pretty much anything that involved other people – minus a small handful of besties. Speaking up in a group, delivering a presentation, reading out loud, asking for directions, making phone calls, trying something new in front of others, are just some examples of what was outside of my personal comfort zone. What about you?

We are naturally drawn towards comfort and safety. These are basic human instincts. And at times it is healthy and beneficial for us to be within this space. But we also crave learning and new experiences – and staying too long at one given time within that safety bubble can leave us feeling stuck, depleted and unfulfilled in life. We miss out on the good things!

When ‘stepping out’ feels too much

But when you think about stepping out of your comfort zone though, what do you picture? For me, it was like taking a massive leap from one rock to another with no support in-between. Wanting to stand still on that rock comes as no surprise if that is what it seems we’re expected to do.

Now imagine you were given some rope, and with that rope, you could make yourself a bridge that connected your rock to where you want to go. Sure, at first it might feel uncomfortable, maybe even a little scary with the initial step out onto it. But as you move across, slowly and steadily, you can see yourself making progress, getting closer, and believing you can do it! That bridge removes the panic of simply jumping and hoping to land on your feet. Bye comfort, hello panicking.

Another way to look at it is that you wouldn’t run a marathon without training and stretching your muscles first. Which is why we prefer to call it a Comfort Zone Stretch instead!

So, what’s the space between comfort & panic?

Take a look at the diagram. Traditional advice, or at least the way in which we interpret it, often results in us going from comfort zone right into panic zone! That’s the leaping! This isn’t helpful. We store those memories and create associations that might lead to us wanting to avoid similar situations again in the future.

Easing ourselves into the learning zone is what we really need to do. Gradually increasing our confidence one little step at a time. And the best part is that this actually grows our comfort zones too.

When I first began public speaking, I didn’t start by standing up in front of hundreds of people and just going for it. Diving in at the deep end may work for some, but it doesn’t work for most of us, and it didn’t work for me. In fact, it usually reinforced limiting beliefs that I wouldn’t be able to do it at all. If ever.

Instead, it worked best to break it down into smaller stretches. I started by practising in front of small and safe groups. Then I recorded myself. Practised some more at home. Delivered a few workshops to groups no bigger than 8 at a time. Within 9 months I was courageously standing in front of a large room and presenting, without shaking legs. Panic to Calm. – you can read more about that journey here.

Today I view most activities and tasks as practising and comfort zone stretching. When I forget to do so, that’s when life paralysis tends to strike once again.

You can start stretching your comfort zone today

Maybe your end goal is to deliver workshops and share your insights and knowledge to help others. Perhaps you want to network and make connections that would help you progress in your job or kickstart your career. Or you may want to attend parties with friends or family and feel comfortable speaking up in a group and sharing your opinions. And you want to do this feeling panic free and quietly confident.

To help with this, we’ve created a free workbook that supports you in stretching your own comfort zone in 4 simple steps and at a pace that is right for you!

This workbook will teach you exactly what you need to do over the next six weeks to start feeling at ease in social situations so that you can finally begin showing up and joining in the way that you want. Imagine what you might achieve!

Get your Quiet Person’s Guide to Gently Stretching Your Comfort Zone here

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How to Get More Calm & Confident in Social Situations

A Quiet Person’s Guide to Gently Stretching Your Comfort Zone at Your Own Pace

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