5 Reasons Why You Should Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone

JWBlogPicI let out a squeal as I felt my dingy rising and tipping as the sail caught another strong gust of wind and dumped me into the waves. I was in Spain, taking my RYA (Royal Yachting Association)Part 1 and the strong off shore winds had seen me flung into the sea many times that day.

I used every ounce of strength to pull myself up onto the daggerboard to right the boat but she continued to bob on her side. I gazed momentarily towards the beach and had the sudden thought that I could pack this in, go and have a pre-dinner drink and lay on my lounger soaking up the sun. For a moment this seemed like a great alternative to learning to sail a dingy in high winds.

Although I ached from top to toe I continued to haul myself on that daggerboard. It wasn’t long before a favourable wind helped the dingy flip over and I was soon sailing across those beautiful Mediterranean waters.

Later that day I was chatting to my friend who had been watching my antics from the safety and warmth of the shore, she asked: ‘Jill why on earth didn’t you just come back to shore?

I knew instantly the reason why. I was doing something new, the thrill of learning how to sail made me feel totally invigorated and alive. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t mastering the techniques; being on the water that day seemed to nourish my very soul. And despite being battered and bruised I did pass the test and got an honorary award of Capsize Queen!

Sailing pic

I thought of that day again recently when I was faced with a task that took me outside my comfort zone. I knew immediately that attaining my RYA 1 in those conditions set me in a great mental space to tackle any challenge. The task was simply a phone call I didn’t want to make and I was feeling slightly anxious about what I knew I had to say. Remembering the strength and persistence I felt when I sailed, made me realise the call would be a breeze. And it was.


So what is a Comfort Zone? The Cambridge dictionary defines comfort zone as “A situation in which you feel comfortable and in which your ability and determination are not being tested.” We all have these invisible boundaries that grow without you noticing. That’s because the mind adapts itself to anything that you do on a regular basis.

Once you may have had to really think about how to drive, work a new computer but now those tasks are automatic. The skills are driven from a different area of the brain – one that requires little mental effort. Your mind would only be alerted if something new occurred, like driving on the other side of the road to what you are used to. Or having to learn or fix a new program on your laptop.

Why stay in a Comfort Zone? Your comfort zone can be just as it says – a pretty chilled place to live. Doing what you have always done protects against stressful situations, minimizes risk and can make you feel more relaxed and safe. However this safe harbour can play havoc with preparing you for when life does get tough.

You are wired to find new challenges and discover new limits. The brain science behind motivation and reward is governed by two groups of chemicals. Dopamine gives you motivation; serotonin and natural opiates generate a sense of satisfaction and reward.

When you get used to an activity your brain turns down the reward mechanism. So people who are proficient sailors would take more than a few tacks and gybes as I did to bring about a feeling of reward and excitement. That’s why athletes, business people, and anyone who is seeking to be the best they can be will naturally look towards a new challenge. They will seek to be faster, stronger and more proficient because they won’t get the same level of satisfaction as time goes on.

Why is it important to push against your Comfort Zone? If you are remotely interested in extending yourself as a person you need to be doing new things in your life because:

  1. Taking on a new skill has great knock on effects.As your mind rewires itself to new skills, those same neurological processes can be used in quite different situations. For instance, scientific studies have shown that if you dance it can help your numerical ability. That if you learn a new language it helps many parts of your brain develop not just the area for language.
  2. Your productivity goes up. Comfort kills productivity and any desire to stretch yourself. Over time you become scared to try anything new and that can be in any area of your life like a new relationship or extra business responsibility.
  3. Motivation increases. You will have heard the saying – ‘if you want something done, give it to a busy person.’ A study by psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson in 1908 showed that to maximize performance and motivation you need to be in a state they called ‘optimal anxiety.’ That’s not too far outside your comfort zone to cause high stress but just outside it. It’s a place where you feel stretched but not to out of your depth.
  4. You will become good at seeing things in a new light. When you are used to taking on new challenges you become more creative and better at problem solving; your brain develops a wider network of neural pathways to gather and link information from.
  5. You will be able to deal with changes more easily. Life has a habit of throwing a curve ball on occasions. An unexpected event can naturally derail anyone but if you are used to being in unknown territory you will be more able to deal with any problems and get back on track quickly.


How to step out of your Comfort Zone?

  1. Daily challenges. Aim to do small things differently. Take a different route to work, experiment with new foods. Talk to someone that you wouldn’t normally talk to. Go to a different place for coffee, or join a new class. It doesn’t matter what it is just that it is creating a new environment to awaken your mind.
  2. Step by step or in at the deep end? Take time to work out what’s best for you. Remember stepping outside of your comfort zone is about personal growth that equips you to ride the ocean swells and feel good. It’s not about feeling neat terror and having your performance compromised. Sometimes it is ok to take a massive leap of faith and other times step by step is a more life-enhancing pace.
  3. Set yourself goals and the steps to achieve them. Having long or short-term goals has been shown to increase motivation and the likelihood of reaching those goals.
  4. Make yourself a vision board. A vision board is just a large piece of card with pictures you have pasted on. The pictures would represent some aspect of what you want in your life – things that you want for your future. So if you want to be sportier there could be pictures of someone running or doing yoga. If you wanted more money you would have pictures that remind you of how life will be when you have more money.

A vision board will help jog you out of ‘run of the mill’ thinking and escalate your thoughts to how life could be. Put the board in a place where you will see it every day where it will be an unconscious reminder for taking action to make that life happen.

And lastly – why sometimes you should visit your comfort zone. Pushing yourself to learn and grow is a life enhancing exhilarating process but it’s important to have time to chill and reflect on taking measured risks.

Just as your comfort zone becomes a field of ingrained monotonous habits, so can constantly seeking the next personal growth moment, thrill or recognition. So take time out to enjoy your achievements and have some easy days. I certainly did enjoy lying on those loungers and soaking up the sun after my sailing antics.

Am I glad I did the sailing course? Sure am!

What did it give me beside a stack of bruises? ‘A deep level of personal achievement and a sure knowing that no matter how rough the water looked or how hard it might have been to follow the course. I dug deep and I found resources I didn’t know I had.’

You do too!



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