We all experience comfort zones, whether they are mental, physical, or emotional. But did you know that living in your comfort zone can hurt you?
I’m here to tell you firsthand how staying in my comfort zone came back to haunt me when I was training for the Ironman’s 2.4-mile swim. I’ll also discuss how I left this comfort zone… and how to get out of your comfort zone in 2023.
How My Comfort Zone Hurt Me
When I began training for the Ironman, I knew I had a lot of work to do in the “swimming” department. After joining the YMCA, I jumped in the water and began to swim. Two trips up and down the pool, and I had to get out. I was exhausted, anxious, and could barely breathe.
My coach Shirley gave me some swimming drills, but to be honest, I was confused about what she even meant. So, I just kept swimming laps, which helped me improve some. I thought I was doing great!
About six weeks later, I entered a mini-triathlon to practice for the Ironman. When I got into the water with 300 other participants, I knew I was in big trouble. The current whipped me around like a ragdoll, and the waves were violent – I figured out quickly that being in the ocean was way different from swimming laps in the pool. The half-mile swim felt like five miles, as I became completely overwhelmed with anxiety. I started to really worry about the Ironman.
My problems originated from the “junk miles” I was swimming in the pool. I was merely going through the motions and never once left my comfort zone when training. My junk miles weren’t preparing me for the real race and the harshness of the ocean. I was fooling myself without realizing it, but once I identified these patterns, I had a choice: I could keep doing what I was doing and remain in my comfort zone, or I could push myself outside of my comfort zone and find real success.
I hired a second coach, Ho, who had experience coaching triathletes. He began to assist with my technique, stroke, foot positioning, efficiency, and endurance. Some of the exercises were crazy! I was exhausted, but I refused to give up.
I noticed a difference in my performance within a week, and my next ocean swim was a completely different experience from my first one. Those sprints and techniques got me in swimming shape, so I could deal with the elements without feeling drained and overly anxious. I was able to remain calm and efficient in the water. And I wasn’t even spending additional time training in the pool or extra time swimming laps – I just better utilized my time by pushing myself outside my comfort zone.
This concept of “junk miles” helped me look at other areas where I might not be leaving my comfort zone. I was shocked to realize that this was one reason my career had plateaued. I had never noticed it before, but it was right in front of me! Every year, I set goals, and every year, I fell short of that threshold. I realized I didn’t have to spend more time working: I needed to utilize my time better, change my patterns, alter my habits, and… step outside my comfort zone.
Seven Ways to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Sometimes when we try to step outside of our comfort zone, things become uncomfortable, which makes us want to quit. The process looks and feels hard, so we give up. Let’s look at how to get out of your comfort zone effectively to ensure that doesn’t happen to you.
- Identify Your Patterns and Habits
If you don’t identify how and why you’re in your comfort zone, you can’t take steps to leave those “junk miles” behind. Once I realized the patterns and habits I had formed in the pool, I was able to figure out a way to change them… Addressing that you’re living in a comfort zone is half the battle.
- Create a Plan and Think About the Long-term Benefits
Write down what’s outside your comfort zone and what you can gain long-term by leaving it behind. Here are a few examples:
- I plan to become more efficient at work to make better progress in my career over the next year.
- I plan to step outside my current social limits to create new, lasting relationships.
- I plan to prospect more, even though I fear rejection, to gain more clients.
- I plan to push myself past my physical limitations to enjoy greater health benefits.
- I plan to work on my mental toughness to set myself up for more success.
- Do Breathwork and Meditation
Breathing exercises and meditation not only have significant health benefits but also help to manage and toughen your mind – preparing you for the challenges ahead. Setting aside at least 15 minutes for this daily can make a huge difference in successfully stepping outside of your comfort zone.
- Expect to Be Uncomfortable
Nobody ever said the process would be easy or comfortable. Unfortunately, many “quit in the moment” when they step outside their comfort zone. The drills that Ho assigned me made my body uncomfortable at the time, but they set it up for future success in the ocean.
If you want to step outside of your comfort zone with your workouts, a slow walk or jog isn’t going to cut it. Sprints will feel uncomfortable, but that’s how you make progress in the end. The same is true for social situations, emotional challenges, or wherever your comfort zone lies.
Quick note: While things will feel very uncomfortable initially, the more you challenge yourself outside your comfort zone, the more comfortable you will become! Things will get easier.
- Be Prepared to Take Risks
If you are ready to get out of your comfort zone, you must be prepared to take risks, deciding if the reward of getting what you want is greater than the fear of taking the risk. In my case, the reward of completing the Ironman was worth the risk of swimming in the ocean for the first time.
- Stay Motivated
Ensure you stay motivated throughout the process. Here are a few tips:
- Watch out for personal excuses like, “I will get to this when I have more time.” These excuses can be detrimental to your progress.
- Create motivating self-talk, the language you use with yourself that dictates how much energy you put toward your goal.
- Surround yourself with encouraging people – I could never have accomplished my swimming goals without Ho’s support and guidance.
- Frequently remind yourself of the long-term benefits of staying outside your comfort zone, whether they are mental, physical, or emotional.
- Make a declaration to yourself (and others) about how you’re stepping outside your comfort zone. For me, that meant declaring ahead of time that I am completing the Ironman. Building this accountability helped me to stay on track and not quit in the moment.
- Celebrate Victories
Even if you only take small steps to leave your comfort zone, you are still making progress. Be sure to reward yourself for those victories. No success is too small to celebrate!
Read More About Leaving Your Comfort Zone
Are you struggling with feeling trapped in your comfort zone? If so, write down the above-listed “how to get out of your comfort zone” tips and use them in 2023.
For even more suggestions on overcoming your comfort zone and thriving in life’s storms, grab a copy of my latest book, Thriving in the Storm: Nine Principles to Help You Overcome Any Adversity.