It was Sunday morning. I woke up buzzing with excitement knowing that I was going to host a women’s circle later that night. But after that first wave of elation, I felt a sense of nervousness, even anxiety, creeping up. How strange! Today was the day I had prepared so well for! Why did I feel anxious?
As I tried to get some clarity, I received a text message from my friend, Croix, who had taken his first tap dancing class the day before. Tap dancing was something he had always wanted to try, and it was a real stretch for him to take the class—but he did it. “Tap class beat me up,” he wrote, “but I feel good.”
“Congratulations on stepping out of your comfort zone,” I replied automatically, and suddenly my pre-event anxiety made sense.
A few months ago, after 20 years of teaching and guiding others through a process of transformation, I began to reflect on the ways I could share my work with women in a bolder and more impactful way. The commitment I made with myself then was to open myself to being more vulnerable, to allow myself the courage to be seen, and to be real in my teaching.
The source of my nervousness that Sunday morning was the knowledge that I would be sharing my personal struggles with the group, as well as leading a body movement exercise. My comfort zone is sitting on a chair and reading from a script—not sharing my vulnerability and leading movement exercises. My real comfort zone, though, is staying home. But, in my heart, I know I can only speak my truth and deliver my message when I actively engage, connect, and interact with women.
“Step out of your comfort zone” is more than a cheesy tagline for motivational posters.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” —Neale Donald Walsch.
“As you move outside of your comfort zone, what was once the unknown and frightening becomes your new normal.” — Robin Sharma
Inspiring, right? But what do these quotes really mean?
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.”
So stepping out of your comfort zone must necessarily be a process where your ability and determination are being tested and you feel uncomfortable.
You have probably heard people talking about how rock climbing and bungee jumping forced them to step out of their comfort zones. I remember a woman I worked with years ago who was trying really hard to let go of an old trauma. When nothing else helped, she jumped out of an airplane. But skydiving didn’t help her either. What did help? Doing the inner work. (But that’s a different story!) Skydiving was definitely stepping—leaping!—out of her comfort zone. But what she really had to learn was to step out of her comfort zone daily, even in the smallest ways.
Why is stepping out of your comfort zone so hard?
Truly stepping out of your comfort zone is more than undertaking adrenaline-fueled sports. It is a daily practice of risk-taking, of daring to feel uncomfortable when feeling uncomfortable is something we try so hard to avoid.
Stepping out of your comfort zone always brings up some fear of the unknown. There is always some level of uncertainty when we push ourselves. We don’t have a clear vision of what is on the other side. But we have to overcome feeling uncomfortable, and we have to overcome feeling the fear.
Whatever you focus on grows. When you focus on fear, it grows. When you focus on courage, you invite more courage.
What does it really mean to step out of your comfort zone every day?
Creating a comfort zone is a healthy part of life. It protects us and keeps us safe. At the same time, it is easy to get into a habit of cocooning ourselves in a bubble.
If we stick with what feels familiar and safe and don’t push ourselves to heal, grow, and expand, we are choosing the easy way out: to stay exactly where we are.
To stretch ourselves, we must be intentional and mindful about the following truth:
The only way to step into your greatness and become the source of light you are meant to be is to venture out of your comfort zone.
How do you do it?
You keep facing your fears.
You keep testing your limitations.
You keep turning every challenge into an opportunity.
You show a side of yourself you’ve never shown before.
You try new things, and you take risks.
Staying in your comfort zone means staying small. But stepping out of your comfort zone means opening yourself to a world of possibilities.