It’s a natural human tendency to prefer people, places, and things that are familiar. People will usually stick to what they know until something forces them outside of their comfort zones. This might be a push from the outside world or a calling from deep inside, and both can serve as a catalyst for change.
This article will discuss what comfort zones are, how to find yours, and explain what you might gain by stepping outside of them. You’ll also get advice on 12 ways to leave your comfort zone, build more self-confidence, and embark on a journey of lifelong learning and growth.
- What is a comfort zone?
- How to get out of it
- What determines a person’s comfort zone?
- How to measure your comfort zone
- Benefits of getting out of your comfort zone
Your comfort zone describes the situations you feel comfortable in, usually because they’re very familiar to you. Comfort zones are usually comprised of activities and tasks you’re confident about, as well as situations, places, and experiences that are a part of your normal routine.
You don’t have to spend a lot of time overthinking things when you stay within your comfort zone. Like a play you’ve rehearsed a hundred times, you know what your lines are, where to stand, and have a good idea of what will happen next. While there’s always a chance something unscripted might happen, it’s unlikely that it will.
This degree of certainty feels comforting, manageable, and safe. Comfort zones should always be expanding as you grow, learn, and change. When they don’t, comfort zones can become less comfortable and start feeling more like a limitation. Spending too much time in a comfort zone that isn’t big enough can stifle growth, creativity, and confidence.
At first, stepping out of the bubble of your comfort zone will cause stress and anxiety, but it doesn’t take long for this to change. The more time you spend outside of your comfort zone, the faster it will grow and the safer you’ll feel in a number of new situations. Below are 12 ways to expand your comfort zone.
1. Name your fears and make a plan
It’s fear that keeps many people in their comfort zones, but not everyone has taken the time to identify what exactly they’re afraid of. Unnamed, a general fear of the unknown can loom like a dark cloud over your head any time you’re considering trying something new. You can take some of the power away from your fear by identifying specific things you’re afraid will happen.
Naming these threats also makes it possible to plan and prepare in ways that make them less likely to occur. For example, if you’re feeling nervous about making a profile on a dating app, that nervosity is coming from one or several fears. Here are some of the specific fears you might have (and ways you can deal with them):
Fear that someone at work will see your profile
Ways to reduce the likelihood that this will happen:
- Setting parameters on your search to filter certain types of people out
- Choosing an app where you get to initiate (e.g., using Bumble if you’re female)
- Reducing the amount of personal or identifying information on your profile
Fear of being assaulted by a stranger you met online
Ways to reduce the likelihood that this will happen:
- Screening people before meeting in person (e.g., phone or video calls)
- Meeting in public places and letting a loved one know where you are
- Driving yourself to meet them (so they don’t know your address)
Fear of being rejected or ghosted
Ways to reduce the likelihood that this will happen:
- Go slowly and work on gradually building trust and closeness
- Pay attention to red flags, signs of a one-sided relationship, or disinterest
- As things get serious, talk about what you’re both looking for long term
2. Rename your nervousness as excitement
Chemically speaking, nervousness and excitement are about the same. Both can cause restless energy, butterflies in your stomach, a racing heart, and other physical signs of anxiety. Even though nervousness and excitement feel similar in your body, your mind probably labels one as ‘bad’ and the other as ‘good.’ This can also influence whether you imagine good or bad outcomes when you’re thinking about something new you’re planning on doing.
This proves that words do have a lot of power because they can change the way we think and feel about something. That’s why renaming your anxiety as excitement can actually cause a positive shift in your mood and your mindset. See if this trick makes a difference for you by telling yourself that you feel excited instead of nervous, worried, or scared when you’re talking about upcoming plans with other people.
You might also like this article on how to use positive self-talk.
3. Tap into your FOMO
Tapping into your FOMO (fear of missing out) can be a great way to find the motivation to leave your comfort zone. While other kinds of fear and anxiety can lead to avoidance, FOMO actually has the opposite effect, pushing you to do the things that you’ve been putting off. To tap into your FOMO, try journaling or reflecting on these questions:
- When do you feel the most FOMO?
- What kinds of experiences trigger your FOMO?
- If time froze tomorrow, what would you regret not doing?
- If you only had a few months left to live, what would be on your bucket list?
4. Set and pursue goals
Setting goals is one of the best ways to plan and direct the course of your life instead of leaving things to chance. The best goals are ones that push you to learn, grow, and get out of your comfort zone in exchange for something you really want or care about. For example, professional goals can help you secure a better job, a higher income, or your dream home.
Because these are things that probably matter to you, you’ll be more motivated to put in the hard work to achieve your career goals. It’s equally important to set personal goals outside of work. Because we usually don’t grow when we’re comfortable, any goal that challenges you will also help you do things that are outside of your comfort zone.
5. Stop rehearsing for life
Overthinking can make it harder for you to leave your comfort zone. Instead of helping you feel more confident and prepared, spending too much time planning, preparing, and rehearsing is more likely to worsen your anxiety.
If this happens to you, try to interrupt the mental dress rehearsals by using mindfulness to refocus your attention on something in the present moment. This could be a task you’re working on, something you can observe about your surroundings, or even just focusing on your breathing. These simple mindfulness techniques can help you feel calmer and more relaxed, making it easier to do things that scare you.
6. Do one brave thing every day
Leaving your comfort zone requires courage. Even if you don’t consider yourself a brave person, courage is something that anyone can develop by taking small steps outside of their comfort zone. A gradual approach to facing your fears is usually the key to success since it helps boost your self-esteem while also increasing the likelihood of making lasting changes.
Try to challenge yourself to inch out of your bubble by doing one small, brave thing each day. Examples of actions to take include:
- Apply for a job (even if you’re underqualified for it)
- Message an old friend you lost touch with
- Speak up in a work meeting
- Try a new piece of equipment at the gym
7. Stay away from your favorite spots
A lot of people who feel trapped in their comfort zone describe themselves as creatures of habit. If you have a routine that involves eating at the same restaurants or shopping at the same stores, going to new places is a great way to experience new things.
Going to new places and immersing yourself in different subcultures is something that researchers believe quickly helps expand your comfort zone. While a trip overseas takes more planning (and funds), it’s possible to start small by exploring new spots in your own city.
To begin, challenge yourself to try a new restaurant, store, or brand each week, and try to do this consistently for a month or longer. After a few months, you’ll probably have a handful of new favorites.
8. Up the ante to hold yourself accountable
If you are someone who often makes excuses to back out of plans, signing yourself up for things and paying in advance is a good idea. Having already registered, committed to going, and paid money to go makes it harder to cancel and back out when you start feeling uneasy.
These accountability tricks give you that extra nudge to follow through by making it harder to back out when you feel yourself losing your nerve. Another way to hold yourself accountable is to tell someone else about your plans or even invite them to join you. If canceling at the last minute will affect other people or your relationships with them, you may think twice before deciding that you won’t bother.
9. Surround yourself with a diverse range of people
Research shows that exposing yourself to people with different backgrounds, cultures, life experiences, and viewpoints helps you learn and grow. It’s natural to look for like-minded people to form close bonds with, but there are many benefits of having a diverse friend group.
For example, having a diverse social network can make you more culturally competent, expand your worldview, and help you relate to different kinds of people.
If you’re not sure where or how to begin diversifying your network, consider trying one of these actions:
- Volunteer in your community to give back and help others while also forming connections with people who have different life experiences than you.
- Spark up more conversations with people who seem different than you at work, in your neighborhood, or in other places you frequent.
- Consider traveling to new places in a tour group, studying abroad, taking a mission trip, or traveling alone and staying in a hostel.
10. Buddy up with someone more outgoing
A lot of people who need help getting out of their comfort zone are introverted, reserved, or more risk-averse. That’s why it can help to pair up with a friend or partner who’s more extroverted, outgoing, and adventurous than you.
Sometimes, close friends or a girlfriend or boyfriend who is adventurous will even make plans, initiate, and push you to come out, go to new places, and try new things with them. For a lot of people, the idea of going on an adventure alone is much scarier than doing it with someone you love and trust.
You might also like to try a few tricks to be more outgoing yourself.
11. Make a bucket list
Most people are familiar with the term bucket list, which describes a list of things that people want to experience in their lifetime. Some people make a bucket list when faced with a major life transition (e.g., retirement or being diagnosed with a terminal illness), but anyone can make one.
Items on your bucket list are often really big leaps outside of your comfort zone (as opposed to the small steps), so they aren’t the same things you’d put on your daily or weekly to-do list. Instead, they’re usually activities or experiences that require planning and preparation. Still, research shows that writing down a goal (including one worthy of your bucket list) makes you more likely to achieve it.
If you’re feeling stuck or unsure about what to put on your bucket list, reflect on these questions:
- If you only had one year to live, what would you want to experience, see or do?
- If you had enough frequent flyer miles (to cover flights and a hotel stay), where would you go?
- If you had a whole summer of paid leave, what are 2-3 things you’d want to do?
- If someone wrote a biography about your life 20 years from now, what things would you want them to write about (that you haven’t already done or accomplished)?
Whether you have a best friend or not, these ideas for a bucket list of things to do with your BFF might be helpful.
12. Commit to life-long learning and growth
Expanding your comfort zone isn’t something you do once and achieve; it’s a lifelong process. Committing yourself to be a person who’s always trying to learn, grow, and improve is the best way to ensure your comfort zone keeps growing instead of shrinking.
Whenever you start to feel stuck, stagnant, or bored with your routine, take this as a sign that you need to expand your comfort zone by trying new things. When you do, you’ll usually find that your comfort zone evolves with you, expanding and allowing you to live your life to the fullest. Even when a new experience doesn’t go the way you hoped or expected, it can still be a chance for you to learn, grow, and evolve.
You might want to take a look at these tips on being positive even when life doesn’t go your way.
Your comfort zone ends where your confidence ends, which is why some people have a bigger comfort zone than others. A specific kind of self-confidence called self-efficacy is what mostly determines your comfort zone. Self-efficacy is the amount of confidence you have in your ability to do a specific task, achieve a certain goal, or cope with something life throws your way.
Adaptability is also an important part of a person’s comfort zone, with more adaptable people having bigger comfort zones than people who are too rigid or inflexible. Some people find it easier to be adaptable than others, which may be partially due to personality traits like openness or extroversion. While personality traits do play a role, anyone can expand their comfort zone, including people who are introverted or who have more rigid personalities.
The only way to expand your comfort zone is to venture outside of it more often. Pushing yourself in these ways helps expand your comfort zone by building up your self-efficacy and confidence.
If you want to know whether something is inside or outside of your comfort zone, you need to reflect on your level of self-efficacy. Try it by rating each of the following tasks on a 0-5 scale in terms of how confident you are in your ability to do it well. (0: not at all confident, 1: not confident, 2: a little confident 3: somewhat confident 4: confident 5: completely confident):
- Applying for a promotion at work
- Using dating apps to meet new people
- Joining a recreational sports league in your city
- Starting a podcast or a blog
- Designing a website
- Leading a professional training or workshop
- Going back to school for a Master’s degree
- Meeting people and making new friends
- Becoming a manager or supervisor at work
- Giving a public speech
- Running a half marathon
- Doing your own taxes
- House training a puppy
- Learning how to speak Spanish
- Starting a small business
- Installing new floors in your home
Having a mixture of low and high scores is completely normal, especially since this is a random list of activities that require different sets of skills. Your high scores represent things that are probably inside of your comfort zone, and low scores represent things outside of your comfort zone. You can use this same scoring system to assess whether any goal or task is outside of your comfort zone or not.
The benefits of leaving your comfort zone are numerous. They include higher self-confidence, more self-efficacy, and generally feeling happier and more satisfied with your life. Perhaps the biggest return on investment that comes from leaving your comfort zone is learning, self-development, and self-improvement. Many experts refer to the spaces outside of your comfort zone as the growth zone since this is where people are most likely to learn and grow.
Leaving your comfort zone is difficult because it always involves uncertainty, risks, and potential challenges. But people who take these steps report that these experiences help them learn, grow, and discover new things about themselves and the world. If you’re just starting this process, go slowly, make small changes, and gradually work up to bigger goals and adventures.
You might also like to read these comfort zone quotes to get some inspiration.