I used to think being uncomfortable was a sign that I should slow down or stop what I was doing. I couldn't have been more wrong.
When I left Kalamazoo, Michigan to embark on a 5 month backpacking trip around SE Asia, I may not have taken my baby blanket with me, but what I brought along was worse—I brought my best friend.
Now let me clarify here, I was thrilled to share a once-in-a-lifetime experience with someone who means so much to me—there’s nothing wrong with that part of the story.
The disconcerting part was the moment when I started to lean on her to avoid doing things that were foreign or uncomfortable to me. It was the fact that I couldn’t even get myself around without her help.
And so, when she decided that she’d prefer to stray from our original plans, I suddenly found myself faced with a difficult decision to make, where the only way to explore the places that most interested me meant doing something that I found terrifying, exhilarating, and way beyond my comfort zone.
Today I’d like to share the story of how breaking my comfort zone and being uncomfortable led to one of the best experiences of my life. It also introduced me to my new partner-in-crime: Bambi Flower.
If you feel inspired to embrace being uncomfortable, here are three tips to get started:
Identify what makes you uncomfortable, specifically—and why.
If public speaking makes you feel uncomfortable, explore what is specifically distressing. Is it public speaking in front of a certain group size or age group? Is it on any topic? And push that one step further, what’s the deeper why behind it? For example, does it make you feel uncomfortable to be the center of attention? Or, perhaps you’re afraid of failure in a very public space.
Getting clarity on what makes you uncomfortable, and why, will help you define clear goals, improve self-awareness, and define where the boundary of your comfort zone really lies.
Break your goal down to smaller steps, then up the ante.
My story didn’t start by riding across Vietnam or buying a 500cc motorcycle, it started by riding a scooter up a dirt hill. For the example of public speaking, think about reading your own story in front of a group of friends before you go out and sign up for the slam poetry contest in public.
Start small, and build confidence as you continue to push yourself a little further each time.
Embrace the unfamiliar in your everyday routine.
Do you have a favorite meal that you always order, instead of trying something new? Are there hobbies you haven’t tried because you were afraid to fail? Have you never struck up a conversation with a stranger because you weren’t sure if it would feel too awkward?
Most of us have countless interactions and choices in our everyday routines that are influenced by the limits of what feels most comfortable or familiar to us. If you continue to confront these habits, you’ll continue to extend your comfort zone.