Beyond Comfort Zone

By Yin Nwe Ko


Are you ready to discov­er what lies beyond your comfort zone? Life is full of changes, and one thing we know for sure is that time never stops moving forward. Every day brings new opportunities and challenges. Some people feel comfortable with this idea, while others may find it a bit scary. It’s natural to crave stability and routine in our lives. We find comfort in knowing what to expect each day, but could there be something exciting waiting for us if we dare to step outside of our comfort zones?


Many of us lead lives that are predictable to some extent. We have responsibilities and com­mitments that keep us in familiar routines. Whether it’s taking care of family, managing finances, or staying healthy, these obligations keep us within our comfort zones. However, could there be benefits to occasionally pushing ourselves be­yond these boundaries? Research suggests that stepping outside of our comfort zones can lead to val­uable learning experiences. In a study published in 2023, research­ers found that participants who faced challenges outside of their comfort zones experienced signif­icant growth and learning. Could this be the key to unlocking our full potential?


Consider the story of Char­lotte Rooney, a woman who has embraced the unknown through­out her life. From moving to dif­ferent countries at a young age to embarking on various career paths, Charlotte’s journey has been one of constant exploration and adaptation. Reflecting on her experiences, Charlotte emphasiz­es the transformative power of em­bracing discomfort. She believes that pushing ourselves to do things that feel uncomfortable can lead to personal growth and happiness. But what does stepping out of your comfort zone really look like? Let’s explore some real-life examples and discover the potential rewards that await us on the other side.


There are few things that one can guarantee in life, but one of them is that time will keep on moving forward. Each day will roll into the next, the calendar cycles through the months, and the years keep coming - the next one always feeling slightly faster than the last.


Whether you find this idea a comfort or a concern will depend on your outlook, but something that many of us fall into is a level of predictability. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. When we feel safe and secure, taking our time and falling into patterns, banking on the idea that ‘someday’ will hap­pen, someday is natural. In fact, to some degree, it’s necessary.


Many of us live lives that have to be predictable in some sense. We have to be in certain places at certain times. Caring respon­sibilities, financial commitments, health, and countless other de­mands can play a role in why we remain in our comfort zones. But could there be a benefit to pushing those boundaries every now and then?


In a 2023 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, research­ers analyzed the experiences of 198 students from six courses in five different countries as they were encouraged to leave their com­fort zones with a series of eight to ten challenges. The researchers found that learning occurred when the participants left their comfort zones and that the key to learning was an element of surprise. The paper on the research starts with a quote from the Roman playwright Terentius: Fortes fortuna adiuvat: fortune favours the bold.


It’s a proverb that suits Char­lotte Rooney. At the age of seven, Charlotte moved from the UK to Canada to begin school in a brand new country. At age 15, she moved to France to finish high school. At 18, she moved to the Nether­lands for university, and at 23, she was off to Peru to run a volunteer project. Four years later, Char­lotte arrived in Bolivia to set up an agricultural business school in a rural village before becoming a humanitarian aid worker in a war zone in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She later joined a management firm before leaving it all behind in 2022 to begin her coaching and mentoring business.


When she reflects on what this experience has taught her, she shares how living in many coun­tries, meeting new people, and speaking multiple languages has transformed her ability to connect with others.


“In a general sense, pushing yourself to do things that feel un­comfortable causes you to grow and learn new things (as long as you are open to it’). You will find out that you have talents you didn’t know about and strengths that you love using, which means you can use them more and give yourself more chances to be happy.”


But, as Charlotte explains, ‘achievements’ in whatever form that may be for you aren’t the only reward for stepping out of your comfort zone.


“Challenges teach you how to ask for and accept help and how to recognize when you’ve gone too far to manage alone,” she explains. “Sometimes that can be as small as needing to ask for a translation, and other times it can be much more consequential, like when you realize that you have agreed to do one more project than you can handle without burning out, and you need to have an awkward conversation with the people you have overcommitted yourself to. Or, it can show you what you don’t want - like when a crisis in the DRC taught me that I no longer wanted to be an adventurer chas­ing danger.”


It’s also important to recog­nize that precisely what pushing yourself out of your comfort zone looks like will be different for each of us. Take Adela Mei, for example, who experienced a pivotal moment in her life when she was 50, and she learned to ride a motorbike.


“Last year, I was suffering from social media burnout from working online for long hours and leading a life plugged into my computer as all my coaching work was online,” Adela explains. “I celebrated my 50th birthday and decided to push myself out of my comfort zone and do something I had wanted to do since I was a teenager: learn to ride a motor­bike!”


Adela recalls having to over­come a lot of fear and doubt as she began her lessons, but with perseverance and practice, she passed her test to get her full bike license.


“I was drawn to learning to ride a bike as I needed something drastic to shift in my life,” she says. “This experience changed me completely; I felt freedom and confidence knowing now that I can do anything that I put my mind to.”


In a study published in Psy­chological Science, researchers found that seeking discomfort can lead us to feel motivated be­cause those tangible feelings of discomfort can be seen as pro­gress towards our goals. Other studies have similarly linked it to inspiration, personal growth, and overall happiness.


Perhaps this is the year you start saying ‘yes’ more, or maybe open yourself up to new challeng­es and set goals that you always thought were beyond your reach. Whatever it may be, Charlotte has some insider tips.


“First, think about what it is that you really want to do but are feeling nervous or afraid to do. When we do hard things, having a really compelling reason to do them makes it easier because you can remind yourself when it gets hard, and you’re tempted to quit; you can remind yourself why you’re doing it and get re-motivat­ed. It’s going to feel uncomfortable at times - and that is normal.


“I would also plan for your recovery. Imagine it’s like you are inside a bubble, and what you want to do is gently stretch the bubble a bit (not explode it!), and then you let it come back to its normal size, recover, and remind your brain and nervous system that you are safe. That is what grows your self-trust. And what feels more manageable,” Charlotte continues.


There is a lot to gain from stepping out of our comfort zones every now and then, whether that’s in big or small ways, further afield or on your doorstep, in meaningful or playful ways. So, with all that to consider, what will you do next?


In addition, stepping be­yond our comfort zones can open doors to new experiences and op­portunities. While it’s natural to crave stability and routine, push­ing ourselves to try new things can lead to personal growth and fulfilment. Whether it’s embarking on a new adventure or facing a challenge head-on, the rewards of stepping outside our comfort zones can be profound.


As we’ve seen through the stories of Charlotte Rooney and Adela Mei, embracing discom­fort can lead to transformative experiences. From learning new skills to gaining confidence and self-awareness, the journey out­side our comfort zones can be both challenging and rewarding. It’s not just about achieving goals; it’s about discovering our strengths, building resilience, and expanding our horizons.


In sum, as we move forward into the unknown, let’s remember Charlotte’s words of encourage­ment: embrace discomfort, seek out new challenges, and believe in your ability to overcome obstacles. Whether it’s saying “yes” to new opportunities or setting ambitious goals, let’s take a step outside our comfort zones and see where it leads us. After all, the possibili­ties are endless when we dare to explore beyond what is familiar.


Here are extra scripts of ten small ways to step out of your com­fort zone right now:

Start a conversation with a stranger.


Sign up to learn a new sport.


Make a meal with ingredients you haven’t tried before.


Set yourself a goal to comp this time next week, next month, or next year.


Go alone to something you usually do with others.


Read a genre you don’t usually pick up.


Learn a new professional skill.


Challenge a deep-rooted belief you hold.


Face a fear.


Explore a new area.


Reference: Happiful Maga­zine March 2024