Have you ever been placed in a room full of strangers and felt like a tiny speck in a sea full of people? Do your knees get weak (arms spaghetti) when you are approaching the cashier at Burger King and haven’t practiced your order yet? That heart-racing, sweaty-palm-inducing phenomenon is your body’s way of telling you that you’ve reached your social limit.
We often refer to these limits as a “comfort zone.” And we all have our own peaceful, little bubbles we rely on for routine, structure and ease. If you’re like me, certain social situations may make you want to burrow into your bubble and hibernate for the season. But being too dependent on these zones, by constantly keeping your head down or being overly cautious, can keep you from branching out.
That little voice in your head that says “no!” can also be denying you potentially beneficial opportunities, such as meeting new and interesting people, trying fun activities that could turn into lifelong hobbies, and crossing things off your bucket list that you never thought were possible.
Stepping outside of your bubble doesn’t have to mean committing to tons of new activities or taking major, spontaneous risks. It’s okay to take baby steps until you build up the confidence to expand your zone or step out of it completely. You may have heard the saying, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” but so does growth and learning.
Here are a few ways to challenge yourself daily to stretch your comfort zones.
1. Set a goal for yourself
When it comes to achieving a new goal in any area of your life, you need practice and time. Especially when it comes to letting your guard down and being able to challenge yourself. By creating a daily goal that you aim to achieve, little by little you can start to expand your comfort zone. You can start by taking a new route home or try cooking a simple meal if you find yourself with some free time in the evening.
You can also take a new class or sign up for a new club on campus that you’ve been too nervous to try. Giving yourself that extra push, no matter how small, can eventually snowball into something bigger and give you the confidence you need to fake it until you make it!
2. Do the opposite
Instead of listening to all your instincts that tell you not to take a risk, you can do the exact opposite. It doesn't have to be extreme, and it can be as simple as choosing to eat sushi rather than a sandwich for lunch. By changing your usual routine, you can allow yourself to have more freedom. If you are someone who usually says no to things that cross the boundaries of your personal comfort it might be fun to say yes. This way, you can start to filter out what works for you and have some awesome experiences along the way. You may not know you like something until you try it!
3. Change your outlook
As a student, I understand the pressure of trying to achieve perfect grades and a good GPA. Though sometimes it comes at an emotional cost, like feeling like you’re not good enough if you make a few mistakes. But, when stepping out of your comfort zone, you are called on to learn to live with the uncomfortable. That means being okay with not getting the grade you wanted, because you know you tried your best, or accepting that you’re not the best public speaker and speaking in front of the class anyway.
Accepting that things may not always go according to plan, and adjusting your perspective accordingly, can significantly impact you and your well-being. This is known as a growth mindset, which includes the understanding that failure is a natural part of success. Going through trial and error, and making mistakes are key to helping us define ourselves as individuals.
Take the initiative by trying your hand at painting, or playing a new sport like volleyball. There is a chance it may turn out not to be your new niche, but there may be more at risk in not trying a new experience now and then.
4. Focus on personal growth
One of the most dangerous things you can do is compare yourself to others. It’s easy to feel intimidated by what your peers are doing around you, and feel like a fraud. This is known as the imposter phenomenon and it can deter you from wanting to try new things, because you are constantly doubting your own achievements.
However, focusing on yourself and how you feel is the most important aspect of personal growth. Acknowledging the little things and feeling happy for what you’ve done will reinforce positivity and make you more excited to try again.
It’s amazing to feel proud of your accomplishments and of how far you’ve come. If you know someone who has taken nine years of dance classes, don’t be afraid to feel ecstatic when you finally nail a few moves. Being able to try and putting in effort for yourself is all you can ever ask for!
When your hands begin to clam up again, remember these steps and remind yourself that pushing past your limit can be great. You never know what great things are in store for you if you never try!