But then you would never grow either. And growth is our natural, creative state. As scary as change can be, you will always feel better, more alive, more vibrant, when you are growing creatively. The comfort zone is familiar. It feels safe. Too much safety, though, is stifling, and most of us have experienced the feeling of being “stuck” or “going nowhere” at some point in our lives. These are moments we need to change, to step out of the safe zone. Being able to step out gracefully requires training the nervous system to tolerate the scariness of change. Opportunities for change appear not coincidentally, but at key growth points in our lives, when we’re ready to heal a piece of painful personal history, take on a new professional role, create (or end) a romantic partnership, or all of these at once!
When I think about stepping out of my comfort zone, it usually makes me feel insecure or afraid of being judged. For the longest time I couldn’t establish a fitness routine because I was afraid of confronting the version of myself who was not as fit as I wished I was. If I didn’t try, I couldn’t fail, but I also couldn’t get stronger either. Eventually my partner Isaac coaxed me out of my comfort zone by making running into a date, something we did together. We ran in 1-minute increments, then 2, then 5. Now we hike and stretch together, too. I actually look forward to it.
Often we don’t have a supportive friend or partner available, though. What then? Here are three strategies to try when you’re in a moment that calls for trying something new, especially if it feels uncomfortable or scary:
1. Choose Compassion Over Critique
As it turns out, there is actually hard science that explains how self-compassion is a more productive stance than self-critique. The myth that self-loathing drives our success is a big fat lie. In fact, test subjects practicing self-compassion score higher on skill improvement, focus, and overall performance. I spent a long time getting to know my own inner critic, and fitness was an area where I really did not expect it to pipe up. But it did! If the next step of your growth is important to you, your critic is probably going to throw up some resistance. When it does, just see it for what it is, a healthy fear of change, and ask it to kindly take a seat while you go about your business.
2. Find A Buddy
The buddy system is one of the most reliable forms of accountability, and reaches deep into our genetic instincts for community and connection. Isaac and I used this method to get me (and us) running on a regular basis. You can use it for almost anything, remotely or in-person. You don’t even have to be doing the same things. You could commit to cooking dinner once a week while your buddy focuses on waking up early for meditation every morning. As long as you have regular progress-reports, it works!
3. Start Small
Find the smallest possible version of what you are trying to do, and do that first. In my case, we ran for one minute. That felt possible for me. After that, I was able to do more, and actually (shockingly) excited to try for more. If you’d like to ask for a promotion, make a list of all of the great things you have contributed to your work place. If you feel ready for a loving relationship in your life, try a new class or activity in your area.