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Comfort and convenience are two words that sum up modern life. Thanks largely to the internet, modern medicine and the ever-lowering cost of tech, we are rarely uncomfortable or required to wait for the things we want.
In some ways, this is of course fantastic. Our lives are streamlined and convenient, and in no other age have we had access to so much content at the press of a button or swipe of a screen. And yet…
… people are more depressed, bored and unfulfilled than they’ve ever been. And I believe one of the main contributing factors to this general unhappiness is that we spend far too much time in our comfort zone.
When you look back on your life, it’s certain that a significant chunk of your standout memories are from situations where you were in some sort of discomfort. And by discomfort I don’t mean unpleasant scenarios like being ill or feeling stressed; I mean those times when you willingly opened yourself up to fear or pain or exhaustion.
That ride on a rollercoaster, or your first half-marathon, or the first time you cycled 60 miles; those exhausting months after the birth of your child, or the 18 hours days spent launching the business of your dreams, or moving to another country—these are just a handful of experiences where your courage, resilience and determination rose to the surface and you realised you were capable or more than you previously thought.
Without discomfort, there can be no personal growth. Lying on your couch and binge-watching Netflix for hours might sound tempting, but it’s not going to make you feel better about yourself and it’s never going to lead you any closer to that ever elusive ‘meaning’ you seek.
True growth and transformation comes from wilfully exposing yourself to hardship. It’s when facing up to fear and pushing yourself through mental and physical pain that you get a deeper understanding of yourself—your strengths, weaknesses and superpowers.
Remember, too, that we are creatures of habit. This can be both beneficial and damaging, depending on the habit! When you get too used to doing things the same way, you remain in that zone of ease, of never being challenged, and this can potentially lead to limiting beliefs, which in turn affect motivation and ambition.
Here are six simple ways to step out of your comfort zone:
Read a book a month
No, I don’t mean ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ or Shane Warne’s autobiography—though no offence if you’ve read or enjoyed these books!—but rather a book that teaches you something new or, even better, challenges your way of thinking. Is there something (or someone) you particularly disagree with? Find a book touting all its positives. If you still end up disagreeing with it, at least you will have a more balanced perspective and will be better adapted to agreeing to disagree instead of dismissing something outright.
Take on a challenging hobby
It’s great that you’re an expert in business and can easily knock off 100 miles on your bike, but can you dance or sculpt or play the guitar? While it might be difficult to physically attend a class at the moment, there are myriad apps and online classes/tutorials that cover just about any hobby imaginable. Learning a new skill is great for creating new neural pathways in your brain and staving off Alzheimer’s.
Do an extra 25%
Whether you’re working or exercising or reading, try doing these activities for 25% longer than you normally would. Usually run 6 miles? Run 7,5. Get tired after reading for forty minutes? Read for an extra ten. Repeat this process every few months and you’ll discover where your true limits lie, and, in time, you’ll step over those limits as well.
While it’s good practice to weigh the risks and make considered decisions, sometimes you should just go with your gut and say “Yes.” By willingly thrusting yourself into an uncertain situation, you’re forced to adapt and learn new ways of doing things.
I’m not talking about going to an ashram and wearing weird pants—in its purest form, meditation is simply the practice of ‘being’. The first time you try to close your eyes and sit still for ten minutes, you’ll be shocked at how difficult it is. You’ll be made acutely aware of the sheer amount of random thoughts rushing through your mind, and how most of those thoughts are about the future or the past—both things we have no control over.
By practicing meditation daily—starting with ten minutes will do—you’ll not only challenge your body and mind to learn to be still, you’ll reduce your stress, sleep better and become more self-aware. You’ll also challenge yourself to confront yourself—scary, yes (this is where the discomfort comes in!) but in the long run this is hugely beneficial to both yourself and those around you.
Whether it’s to do with health and fitness (personal trainer) or business and personal development (peer group), put yourself in a situation where regularly discuss your goals with others, and are then be made accountable for them. This ‘pressure’ prevents procrastination and gives you that extra drive to succeed.
Being accountable is probably the most important factor in getting out of your comfort zone. Without having others around you who are also pushing themselves and sharing their successes and challenges, it’s too easy to take the easy, safe road instead of committing courageously to your dreams.