How to get out of your comfort zone (in 6 simple steps)

March 11, 2022 - 22 min read

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What is the comfort zone?

Why is it hard to leave your comfort zone?

How to get out of your comfort zone

What happens when you leave your comfort zone?

Steps to getting out of your comfort zone

Key tips when getting out of your comfort zone

In the warmth of our comfort zone, life feels safe and familiar. More often than we care to admit, finding the motivation to leave is hard. But the more we’re stuck in our comfort zone, the more opportunities we miss to fully immerse ourselves in the human experience. 

Learning how to get out of your comfort zone takes willpower and a change in mindset. Each step you take to expand your comfort zone leads to personal growth, learning, and success

Let’s find out what a comfort zone is, why it’s hard to leave it, and the steps needed to break through that bubble and find out what you are capable of. 

What is the comfort zone? 

The comfort zone is a psychological state in which a person feels at ease because they’re not being tested. 

Inside the comfort zone, people don’t typically engage in new experiences or take on any challenges. They only participate in activities that are familiar, making them feel “in control” of their environment. 

People stay in their comfort zone to avoid feelings of anxiety or stress, and pain. Anything outside the comfort zone creates uncertainty, and uncertainty makes us feel anxious. Naturally, human beings are wired to avoid these feelings. This makes them reluctant to leave their comfort zone. 

After all, why should they?

As comfortable as it seems, this safe bubble keeps people from personal growth and doing the things they want but don’t have the courage to do. 

For example, staying in an unfulfilling job for years leaves you feeling burnt out and disengaged. Yet, it’s become your comfort zone. You know you’re capable of more, but venturing out and challenging your boundaries scares you because it involves uncertainty. 

Why is it hard to leave your comfort zone? 

Finding the motivation to leave your comfort zone isn’t easy. Here are three reasons why you may be hesitating to take the first step. 

Fear and uncertainty 

In your comfort zone, everything is predictable, which makes you feel safe. For example, you know exactly what to expect when you take the same route to work every day. 

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When you think of leaving or expanding your comfort zone, you’re met with uncertainty. And according to Psychology Today, uncertainty equals danger, which makes you fearful. 

So even when you know you’ve outgrown your comfort zone, fear holds you back from moving forward. For instance, you may hesitate to pursue a different career path because of a fear of failure.

The temptation of comfort 

Even if we want to grow, the pull of the comfort zone is strong. Because it’s safe and easy, it’s natural for people to want to stay there.

Yet staying there also means never moving forward and growing. As Dr. Margie Warrell explains to Forbes, “growth and comfort can’t ride the same horse.” She explains that we often forget about the risk of not taking risks. In other words, you risk missing out on the life you have the potential to live. 

A fixed mindset 

When you have a fixed mindset, you convince yourself that you don’t have the necessary skills to do or accomplish something. This makes you less motivated to look for opportunities to grow and learn new skills

Instead, you use your skills as an excuse to stay in the comfort zone, making statements like, “I can’t do that” or “That’s not something I’m good at.” 

This mentality keeps you stuck in the comfort zone as a way to avoid challenges and hardship. 

Fixed habits 

Successful behavioral change is difficult because our behavior is habitual. The more we repeat certain behaviors, the more we get stuck into fixed patterns. 

For example, waking up at 6 am every morning will be difficult at first if you’ve been following an irregular sleep schedule for years. 

Lasting behavioral change starts with a strong willingness to change. 

How to get out of your comfort zone 

In 1908, an experiment performed by psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson found an interesting relationship between performance and anxiety. They discovered that mice were more motivated to complete a maze when given mild electrical shocks. However, the mice hid in fear once the shocks became too strong. 

According to the Yerkes-Dodson Law, an optimal level of pressure or anxiety increases performance, but only up to a point. Too much pressure has the opposite effect, causing someone to panic. 

Trying to jump too far outside your comfort zone can have the same effect. Doing activities that increase your anxiety too much can have you scurrying even further back into your comfort zone. 

The best way to leave your comfort zone is to gradually expand it and find your optimal level of “good stress.”

Increased performance is just one of the many reasons stepping out of your comfort zone is important. It also helps you find out your true potential, reach your goals, and live a more fulfilling life. 

Let’s break down each of them, one step at a time.

1. Do one thing you’ve always wanted to 

If you have a list of things you’ve always wanted to do but just haven’t gotten around to yet, you’re not alone. 

Many people have so-called bucket lists filled with meaningful experiences and goals they want to accomplish

Challenge yourself by picking one thing you’ve always wanted to do and doing it. This can be anything from learning how to play the piano to learning a new language or running a marathon. 

2. Take on a fitness challenge 

According to YouGovAmerica data, getting healthier was the main goal of US adults in 2021. 

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Take on a 30-day fitness challenge like running or cycling. Fitness challenges not only expand your comfort zone but also improve your physical health and well-being

Studies show that regular exercise decreases the effects of stress on the body, lowering anxiety levels. This makes it easier for you to try things outside your comfort zone, as one of the barriers to stepping outside of it is the feeling of anxiety that it triggers. 

3. Change up your routine 

A routine built on good habits gives people stability and helps them get things done. 

But when someone becomes too cemented into their daily routine, they begin to feel like they’re running on autopilot. 

Shaking up your routine with some spontaneity is one way to get out of that rut. For example, say you’re working remotely from the comfort of your home office every day. Change up your routine and try working from a cafe or a different place in your home a few times a week. 

4. Expand your professional skill set 

Comfort zones can get in the way of your professional growth. Getting too comfortable in a role you’ve outgrown, for example, can keep you stuck when you need to move forward in your career.

One way to leave your comfort zone is to learn new skills that give you a competitive advantage and make you more employable. Use your organization’s learning and development resources to upskill yourself with in-demand skills in your industry. 

5. Choose a fear, and face it

You need to be brave to step out of your comfort zone. Being brave is not about eliminating fear but moving forward despite it. 

Choose one fear that’s currently holding you back and confront it. You can start with something small. For example, if you’re afraid of public speaking, practice speaking up more during work meetings, and join a local Toastmasters club

6. Travel somewhere new 

Traveling is one of the best ways to step out of your comfort zone. It’s not only fun, but it’s also eye-opening. 

If you go to the same beach resort every holiday, choose a completely new destination next time you travel. Exploring a diverse environment, language, and way of life is one of the most rewarding experiences because it offers new perspectives and challenges your ways of thinking. 

Travelling also exposes you to the natural wonders of the world and makes you gain a deeper appreciation for nature and the environment

What happens when you leave your comfort zone? 

There are countless rewards waiting at the end of your comfort zone. Let’s take a look at some of them. 

Increased resilience 

BetterUp research found that resilience is an inner strength that can be learned.

The more you expand beyond your comfort bubble, the more you strengthen your resilience muscles. Embracing uncomfortable situations over and over again builds mental strength. This helps you overcome obstacles in your personal and professional life with more ease and optimism. 

As change and uncertainty are bound to happen throughout your life, learning how to navigate them is a crucial skill. 

Self-actualization 

According to Dr. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization is our need to become everything we are capable of becoming. This is a process of personal growth and the development of abilities to reach one’s full potential in life. 

If you stay in your comfort zone, you’ll never know what you’re really capable of. Once you push through the initial fear of leaving, you begin to step into your potential. Start by challenging yourself, being more spontaneous, and looking for opportunities to learn. 

However, we should look at self-actualization as a continuous journey rather than a destination. 

A boost in self-confidence 

Self-confidence and comfort zones are directly correlated. This means that the smaller the comfort zone is, the less confidence you have in yourself and your abilities. 

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The more you face your fears and challenge them, the more confident you will become.

For example, facing your fear of public speaking will increase your confidence in two ways. It will make you a more confident public speaker, and it will boost your self-esteem. You’ll be proud of yourself for your achievement and your ability to take action despite your initial fear. 

Fewer regrets 

In her bestselling book The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, Bonnie Ware reveals the biggest life regrets of her palliative care patients. Three of their responses have a common theme: 

  • “I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself and not the life others expected of me.”
  • “I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.” 
  • “I wish I had let myself be happier.” 

Ware goes on to explain that people who didn’t honor their dreams and settled for a mediocre life came to regret the choices they made or didn’t make. Also, those stuck in old habits and feared change lied to themselves that they were content when they wished they were happier in reality.

Living in your comfort zone means taking the path of least resistance. While playing it safe has its advantages, it can also be unfulfilling. You’ll never regret leaving the comfort zone to pursue your dreams and live the life you want.

Steps to getting out of your comfort zone

Here are six actionable steps that will make it easier to step out of your comfort zone. 

1. Measure what’s inside and outside your comfort zone

Take a moment to reflect and ask yourself what it feels like to live within your comfort zone. Write down all the positive and negative aspects of your current situation and how they make you feel.

Then, write down all the things that are outside your comfort bubble. These can be your aspirations, goals, or all the things you’d like to experience. Write down what it would feel like if you lived outside your comfort zone and pursued these desires.

Writing can help you gain insight into your emotions and find the motivation you need to leave your comfort zone. 

2. Set personal goals 

Set S.M.A.R.T. personal goals that will help you expand your comfort zone.

For example, getting your master’s degree within five years is an example of a career goal that will help your personal and professional growth

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Get clear on your specific goals, write them down, and identify how each goal will benefit you. Setting goals gives you a sense of direction and helps you create a personal vision of what your life can look like. 

3. Take action — one step at a time

Leaving your comfort zone can seem like a difficult task. Overthinking it and looking too far ahead can feel overwhelming, causing you to procrastinate. 

That’s why it’s crucial to take the first step and put one foot in front of the other. There will never be a “right time” to start. As the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Each step you take to expand beyond your comfort zone is progress. 

4. Find your sweet spot 

Like the mice in the Yerkes-Dodson experiment, determine your optimal risk tolerance.

If your risk tolerance is very low, start small. 

For example, if your goal is to grow your professional network, attending a networking event may be too intimidating at first. Instead, you can begin networking in a way that’s more comfortable for you. 

For instance, start by reaching out to someone you’d like to network with on LinkedIn and ask them for a virtual coffee chat. 

Finding the sweet spot of challenging yourself without pushing too far can make all the difference. Taking gradual baby steps will build up your risk tolerance and confidence. 

5. Cultivate a positive mental attitude 

When it comes to leaving your comfort zone, having the right attitude is crucial.

A positive mental attitude means approaching every situation and challenge in life with optimism. Here’s how to have a positive mental attitude when you’re faced with uncertainty:

6. Hang out with like-minded people

Identify the people in your life with a growth mindset that regularly take risks. 

They can be friends, mentors, or co-workers who are continuously learning, embracing challenges, and moving forward in spite of failure. Spend time with them, ask for their advice, and emulate the qualities you admire in them. 

Having a support system makes stepping outside your comfort zone a lot easier than doing it on your own. 

Key tips when getting out of your comfort zone 

Leaving your comfort zone will feel uncomfortable and intimidating at first. Let’s explore a few important tips that will make your transition easier. 

  • Reframe your outlook. Instead of imagining the worst possible outcome, how about you start imagining the best? Practice visualization techniques and feel the joy of achieving your goals. 
  • Celebrate each win. Acknowledge your progress, and celebrate your successes — big and small.
  • Reduce overthinking. Overthinking stops you from taking action and turns everything into a worst-case scenario. Practices like mindful breathing can help reduce negative thinking and anxiety.

How to get out of your comfort zone and start living 

Living life inside the comfort zone has its benefits: it’s safe, familiar, and less stressful. But as 

Nelson Mandela famously said, “There is no passion to be found playing small — in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Learning how to get out of your comfort zone leads you to the life you’re capable of living. Find what motivates you, and challenge yourself one step at a time. 

Getting out of your comfort zone leads to your professional and personal development and transformation. BetterUp can help you discover growth opportunities in all areas of your life.

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Published March 11, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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