How to step out of your comfort zone and why you should do it

Ahhh… that feeling of being comfy…lovely isn’t it. Curling up under the duvet after a long day or relaxing in your garden with a good friend on a summer’s afternoon. We all like to be comfortable. And for many of us we try to do all we can to feel this way as much as possible. We live in our comfort zones.

A comfort zone is a way of living which is familiar and comfortable; we feel calm and competent. Somewhat paradoxically we don’t always actually like our comfort zone. Ever stayed in a job you don’t really enjoy? You don’t like it but it’s comfortable; it’s known, it’s a familiar routine. There can be something quite comforting about moaning with your colleagues for the nineteenth time about how irritating your boss’ voice is!

In order to minimise our fear and stress we often opt to stay in this familiar place. And it’s not a bad place to be. However, we can become ‘stale’; stuck, bored or disconnected if we stay here all the time. We can end up living life on autopilot, going through the motions and pondering on that age-old question ‘shouldn’t there be more to life?’

Studies have proven that a certain level of stress or discomfort is actually good for us. (check out P Nixon’s Stress Response Curve). With no stress whatsoever we’re not as productive; we can become lazy and lethargic. Too much stress and we can burn out, become ill or just be downright hysterical and on the edge! But just the right amount – now that’s where we’re at our best.

It’s normally fear that prevents us from stepping out of our comfort zones. Fear of the unknown, fear of looking stupid, fear of failure. Sometimes we’ve taken risks in the past and we’ve been hurt. A relationship may have ended badly, a new job or business venture may not have turned out as we’d planned. So we admit failure, admit defeat and stay comfortably (albeit perhaps discontentedly) in our comfort zone. After all, we know what we get when we’re here.

So why are we so scared to fail? If you ask any successful business person or sports person they will tell you that failure is essential. It’s the best way to learn and improve and actually succeed.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

Robert F. Kennedy

“Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I've met people who don't want to try for fear of failing.” -

J.K. Rowling

“I have taken more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over again in my life; and that is why I succeed.”

Michael Jordan

Have you ever done something you didn’t think you could do? Or something that terrified you? Last week I gave a talk to a group of local business people. Standing up and talking to a group of people is really frightening to me. But I made myself do it. Sure, I stumbled on a few words, perhaps I spoke a bit too quickly. But I did it. And I felt unbelievably proud (and relieved) afterwards.

A few years ago I did a mountain trek in China. I’m terrified of heights and this trek started with a 300 metre long, 800 metre high rope bridge. Oh. The. Fear. Later in the week we had to cross a narrow mountain ledge with a drop of thousands of feet to one side. I trembled like a leaf, feeling utterly sick as I stumbled across it. When I got to the other side I went haring off down the slope, arms outstretched like a deformed Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. I was utterly exhilarated. I felt like I could take on the world. It’s a memory that stays with me to this day and is one of my favourite moments of all time.