There’s a fantastic quote by Neale Donald Walsch:
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
What’s it like when you’re in your Comfort Zone? For most of us it’s a warm and fuzzily familiar place where things are pretty much predictable; and though it feels comfortable and cosy it’s actually a place full of fear and anxiety. The fears keep us trapped in old habits and old ways of thinking and behaving; then our anxiety about losing control stops us from making changes.
The Comfort Zone’s a recognised psychological state* which we believe prevents stress and offers us the reassurance of familiarity.
But stepping beyond is where the magic can begin to happen
Because beyond your Comfort Zone is another place; a place where you can try different things and explore new experiences, even push yourself to try something that really scares you. We call the state beyond Comfort the Stretch Zone, and this is where things feel a little frightening but exciting; here we may feel nervous but it’s also where a lot of magic and transformation happens. You can set yourself a Goal in the Network to help you on your way out of your comfort zone.
Beyond that is the Panic Zone, where we can be almost paralysed and where we believe we can’t possibly take any action. It’s probably familiar if you’ve ever been very stressed and found you can’t think clearly for the rising tide of terror. It’s not a good place to be so we need to recognise the panic and take action (see point 8 of my Action Plan below).
So how do we begin to be brave enough?
Well for a start you don’t have to make massive changes all at once. We actually do better if we take smaller steps and gradually build on those – we’re much more likely to be successful at this if we expand the boundaries of our Comfort Zone slowly – and develop new habits and ways of being over time.
If we go too far too fast we may just end up in a panic!
Here’s my 8 Step Action Plan for leaving that Comfort Zone behind:
- Make small changes in your daily routine
Just because you’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the only way. You could change your morning routine a little at first – take a new route to work, swap your toast for muesli, go to the gym early rather than in the evening. Do you stay at your desk at lunchtime? Try going outside or meeting a friend. See how making changes alters your day and the way you feel. Visit the Digital Organisers and our checklists and planners to plan the new changes in your day.
- Learn something new
There’s so much evidence about how learning new things affects our brains – rewiring neural pathways and creating new connections – and it can be something really fun! Some of the best choices would be to learn to dance, sing, play an instrument or learn a language. Whatever you choose (and why stick at only one!) you can be sure that you’re also protecting yourself against some of the affects of ageing. [5 ways to discover your inner talent]
- Make a list
Think about things you’ve dreamed of doing and write them down, no matter how far-fetched and unlikely you might feel they are. OK so you wanted to be an astronaut when you were little and now you’re probably too old – well, write it down anyway! Don’t dismiss anything out of hand – remember this is about moving from Comfort to Stretch.
Look at ways that you could still follow some of those dreams, even if it’s in a smaller way. What about visiting a space centre and finding out more? Read a biography like Lynn Sherr’s “Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space”
- Unplug from your technology
For lots of us this is quite a big change to make but turning off your gadgets can give you lots more space in your head and makes you feel much happier (you’ll experience less anxiety and more time to be properly present with what’s going on around you). Start slowly by making sure you turn off your phone and any other devices at least an hour before you want to sleep, then try staying unplugged for one day a month and gradually build to one day a week.
- Switch off the telly
Spending the evening in front of the TV is often how we think we ‘switch off’ from the stresses of our daily lives, but it sucks up loads of time and makes us more likely to procrastinate. Be really selective about what you watch and watch it when it suits you – after all we have the tech to do that now so easily – by recording programmes or watching on catch-up. Try to spend no more than an hour a day watching live TV.
- Use the extra time you have
If you’ve taken action on all the previous steps you should find that you have some time on your hands (even after those new tango classes and Spanish lessons!). [Too many tasks? the best tools for time management] Look at the list you made at step 3 and make a start on something new, spend more time with people who are a positive influence on your life or start volunteering with an organisation who does something you believe in.
- Start believing you can make things happen
Do you think things just happen to you and there’s nothing you can do about it? This kind of thinking will keep you stuck in your Comfort Zone so it’s important to begin to see yourself as someone who’s in charge of your own life – and how you respond to things that happen makes a really big difference. [The power of visualisation in making your dreams come true] Try to see things in a more positive way (even when they don’t go to plan you can look for the lessons to be learnt) and practice gratitude for even the smallest things in your life. Over time this way of thinking will actually change your brain and help you to be happier.
- Don’t panic!
The idea of pushing those boundaries isn’t to get stressed and anxious, but to slowly introduce significant changes in to your life that will help you become the person you want to be, and discover what you’re truly capable of doing.
If you do find yourself in the Panic Zone you need to get grounded. You can do this quickly by taking deep breaths and focusing on physical sensations – perform a mental ‘scan’ of your body and notice where the feeling of fear is located in your body. Name any feelings and sensations. Close your eyes and feel your feet on the floor, really becoming aware of your feet in your shoes, to reconnect and ground yourself. Later on it would be useful to look at what happened to take you into the Panic Zone.