Stepping Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Think back on your life for just a second.

 Think about all of the things in your past that have provided you with the most growth.

 I guarantee it wasn't those times that you just went along with your normal day. And, listen, I know we need some normal days in life in order to stay sane but, if you're looking for growth, that is not where you'll find it.

You'll find growth in the trips you take. That time you went to Turkey and were faced, for really the first time ever, with people who went about life drastically differently than you did.

You'll find growth in the obvious places, like school and courses you take to further your education.

You'll find growth learning new skills, reading new books, and meeting new people.

You'll even find growth where it's not comfortable, like the unexpected loss of a loved one or an illness. 

It's the uncomfortable part of growth that I want to talk about, and I don't necessarily mean that it always comes out of unfortunate situations. Even the positive growth scenarios force you to step outside of yourself, outside of that zone where you just exist without effort.

Growth requires effort.

It's never the easy way out.

It's the only way out.

Out of where you are right now.

Last night I forced myself out of my comfort zone. I finally attended my first Toastmasters meeting. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Toastmasters, they are a nonprofit organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. Scary, right? It comes highly recommended by coaches, managers, and CEOs alike.

Public speaking is not something that I have a lot of experience doing. Even when I take a class or am in a large group of any kind, the thought of speaking up immediately produces involuntary and uncomfortable physical reactions. My heart starts beating out of my chest, I feel my breath get shorter. I start to lose focus. Then, when I finally do get the courage to speak up, I often do this strange hiccup thing halfway through because my breathing is so screwed up!  It's ridiculous!

After the third person recommended Toastmasters to me, I decided I might want to give this some real thought. I researched the local chapters, found a bunch of convenient options, and then immediately decided against it. After all, I’m perfectly comfortable living with a strange hiccup here and there. 

After some time had passed I decided to check it out again. This time I went one step further and emailed a couple of the local chapters to see if I could attend one of their meetings as a guest. After all, it’s all on Zoom right now making it even that much easier to attend. I got immediate responses and warm welcomes to attend. Again, nothing happened.

The third time's a charm. I finally decided that if I want to grow, if I want to walk the walk and become the person in my future vision of myself...well, she doesn’t hiccup. I emailed two local groups and again received immediate responses. The first meeting came and went. The second group sent a reminder right before the meeting. There it was. All I had to do was log onto the computer. I can’t pass this up. 

I set everything up and waited in the waiting room. I paid close attention to my body’s reaction. RIght on cue. My heart starts pounding and I am short of breath. 

Geez, really? 

I don’t even have my camera on yet! 

It’s ok, I can do this. 

Deep breaths. “Notice the feeling, notice the fear, and turn it into excitement,” I tell myself. “I’m excited to be a dynamic speaker.” “I’m excited to be a leader.” Because fear and excitement are physically the same thing in our bodies. You really can turn fear into excitement by telling yourself that is what it is. It’s one of my all time favorite hacks. So I convince myself of this, and then they let me into the meeting. There are only two or three other people there so far, and they are in comfortable friendly dialogue about something that happened the night before. I immediately wanted to leave the meeting. This is private, this part isn’t for newbies. I’ll log off and then log back in. Or maybe I’ll just log off.

NO!!!!!!

Stay! Just stay. Turn your camera on. 

More people start to pop in.

They start saying hello to each other.

They say hello to me.

“Hello” I say while still muted.

“Hello, everyone” I repeated again while unmuted.

I can do this.

The room starts to fill up and finally the meeting begins. They start to go over what will happen over the course of the meeting, and I start to feel relaxed. 

Until...the head of the meeting mentions that at some point the guests will introduce themselves. 

Heart.

Breath.

Focus, Mary. Focus.

The meeting goes on like that. I relax and enjoy members giving speeches, receiving feedback, answering questions, and explaining rules. My body switches quickly into overdrive anytime they mention that guests may have to speak. I just noted what was happening in my body. I concentrated on deep breathing in those moments when my body rejected it. I continued to tell myself how excited I was for this opportunity for growth.

It turned out that the introduction was super easy. They just asked us to say our name and gave us the option to answer one of two questions. I, of course, chose the easy question which was how many Toastmasters meetings we had attended. I even managed to get through it without hiccuping, and I think given the chance again I might even tackle the harder question.

I even almost volunteered to answer something else later on in the meeting but (luckily) somebody beat me to it. I feel momentum and know that I will volunteer next time. 

When I left the meeting I felt absolutely exhilarated. I finally accomplished something that had been in the back of my mind for so long. And I survived it! I know I can do this! I’m actually pretty sure I’ll be good at it. Which is really cool!

Yes, my body will continue with the quirky reactions for a while. Or maybe forever. On the flip side, I will become a better speaker. I will become a better leader. I will become more confident. I will grow as a person because I had the strength to walk through this uncomfortableness. 

An easy way to grasp this growth through discomfort concept is to imagine working out.

After all, it’s easier to measure biceps than it is to measure confidence.

You have a scale from 1-10. A one is hardly working out, not breaking a sweat - comfortable activity. A ten is throwing up from exerting yourself or walking away limping because you pushed too hard.

Most of the time, as far as exercise is concerned, we live in the 1-5 range. That’s maintenance. That means that we keep our bodies moving enough to not get out of shape; to not gain weight.

Now, if we really want to see a difference in our fitness level, we have to do more. If the goal is to get stronger, or lose weight, we have to push beyond the 5. We have to go to 6 or 7. It’s not comfortable, but it’s the only way to actually make a change. If you want a stronger arm, at some point you have to lift more weight, or do more reps. 

If you want to really get serious, like train for a marathon, triathlon, or fitness competition, then we’re headed to the 8 or 9 range. This is dedication. This means that you are all in. You are a machine. You push hard every day, for hours each day with your eyes on the prize. Your body is affected significantly. Your form changes. You get stronger, or leaner, or faster, or all of the above. Your body gets tired; you ache at the end of the day.

Personal growth is the same, just a bit harder to measure. You can’t as easily time your mile or measure your waistline, but you CAN push yourself in much the same way.

Think about your life and your day to day routine. Do you live most of the time in the 1-5 range in terms of comfort level? You go about your routine: work, take care of the kids, workout, read, watch tv, etc. 

Do you ever make it to a 6 or 7? How often do you throw new activities into your life that put you just past your comfort level? You know, I’m talking about that moment in the workout where you don’t think you can go anymore but you commit to doing ten more reps. That is the moment that makes you stronger. Maybe that is going to a Toastmasters meeting, or calling somebody that you want to connect with, or flushing out that new business idea, or scheduling a meeting with your boss to discuss a new idea or that promotion you want. It’s something that makes your palms sweat, or your heart beat faster.

How about an 8 or 9? How often do you live in the triathlon zone? Host a seminar or a retreat, apply to your dream job, or eat a sea urchin! Whatever it is that you are afraid to do, do that!

Make it a regular thing. Get to a 6 or 7 on a weekly basis. Sprinkle in an 8 or 9 every now and then. You will find that slowly, over time, your comfort zone gets bigger and bigger. 

There will be fewer things that scare you or intimidate you.

Your confidence will grow alongside that comfort zone. 

One day you will look back and laugh about the hiccups as you celebrate how far you’ve come. 

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