How To Break Free Of Your Comfort Zone

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I have a friend who can’t handle difficult feelings. He plans away the unknown. He can’t wait for things to come to him in the right timing. Though he may consider himself strategic or even a “go-getter”, underneath he’s impulsively pain-avoidant.

I’m learning more and more that my ability to stay in the tension in life is necessary for growth.

The painful and difficult places are where substantial change takes place.[tweet this]

When I feel most afraid — afraid of failing, afraid of missing out, afraid of deep desires going unmet — those are the times I have the opportunity to become more than I have been before.

Everyone has their own lists of what they do and do not allow themselves to feel. These lists create the comfort zone around us— keeping us safe from any surprising and difficult experiences that we cannot predict, control, or (seemingly) overcome.

The problem with your comfort zone is that it’s too small for you.[tweet this]

It doesn’t allow you to discover more of who you are. It keeps you from stretching. It keeps you from risking. It keeps you from finding the deeper places of meaning and calling.

Why?

Because tension and risk are difficult and scary feelings. Because they will require you to be in ways that you’ve never experienced before. Because you’ve experienced something outside of that comfortable place and you don’t want to experience it again.

There are ways to change this.

1. Follow your fear.

Our fear shows us the borders of our comfort zone.[tweet this]

When we get close to the edge, fear tells us to go back. Our fear is trying to protect us. But fear can be used to our advantage.

When fear tells you to retreat, stay. When it tells you to go one way, try going the other. You will find that you can take it. You will find that you can handle more than you may have ever allowed yourself to feel.

2. Tell your stories.
At some point you discovered what is beyond what you can handle. When you have feelings that are uncomfortable, explore the stories where you’ve felt them before. Write them down. Tell them to a trusted friend. The more you understand the stories, the less power they’ll have over you.

3. Find a community of people who will challenge and support you.
You need people around you. Hopefully you already have some of these people in your life. Sometimes you just need to ask them to help and support you — even if they don’t understand what and why you’re doing what you’re doing. Or, sometimes you need to bring new people around you.

Remember my friend? The one who can’t stand the scary places of risk and the unknown?

You know this friend too. He’s in all of us. He’s certainly a part of me!

We have the opportunity to gently guide that friend—that part of ourselves—toward growth, strength, courage, and vulnerability.

It’s in the difficult and scary places that we discover who we really are.

In the comments, what have you discovered when you’ve been able to step outside of your comfort zone? What are the feelings that you have a hard time allowing yourself to feel? Click here to comment.

(Photo by gato-gato-gato/CC)

Dan Cumberland is on a mission to push you into the places meaning, life, & work intersect. He is the author of The Meaning Manifesto. Read more about him here, and connect with him on facebook and twitter.

There Are 6 Comments On This Post.

  1. Carol

    I so love this article Dan, I think I have had an eternal relationship with my comfort zone for the longest time. I loved the follow your fear advise especially because I tend to always ran (very fast) away from the things that scare me. Its only last year that I gathered (some) courage and started baking a thing I was so afraid to do (I don’t know why) but ended up being good at. I am really praying and hoping to join a bakery class soon God willing and hopefully this will be a gateway for me to face all the things I’ve been too afraid to do.

    Thank you, am truly blessed.

    • I love the way you’re risking and stretching, Carol! I hope you bake some beautiful and delicious things. Way to go!

  2. Paul

    “The more you understand the stories, the less power they’ll have over you.” I love that. It makes such sense. The pain from the conflict from six months ago somehow decreases over time, especially in light of gained perspectives of where I was coming from and where I’m going. I hope to revisit some of those stories before the Fall picks up to all the more pursue freedom from the grip of those stories.

  3. Katie

    Your website is always so well written! I’m very surprised that there aren’t more comments! Onto me: I don’t have any courage. A possible theory is that my parents allow me little privacy (I’m 20), so I have to not only remain in my comfort zone, but also theirs. And they never asked me if I was uncomfortable with something and would like a slower approach. (Such as being forced to hug unknown adults) Being ripped away from a comfort zone and then belittled for feeling out of place makes it hard to escape willingly. It’s better at college, but I still can’t press it much. And there’s just so much that I haven’t experienced. My main response to the unknown is to freeze and tense up. I can’t think, speak or act. My muscles get close to cramping. I still freeze up all the time, but in the past year I’ve managed to do so many new things that I thought would make me faint. But reading this does make me feel better. I love to have conversations with my best friends where I state at the beginning, “All of this is pure honesty, I won’t filter my thoughts.” i just need to apply that to real life, now!

    Whoops that was an essay. I never know when to stop talking, I’m sorry.

    • Thanks for your comment, Katie! And thanks for your kind words about the Meaning Movement!

      It sounds like you’re taking some big risks! Way to go!

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