It’s Febuary and social media is awash with mantras to get out there, carpe diem and step out of your comfort zone. “Blah, blah, blah,” you say to yourself on a morning when all you want to do is wear a duvet to work or better still, roll back under the covers.
It’s the sort of rousing rhetoric that doesn’t always sit so comfortably with a cynical Brit sensibility and yet, and yet….until I tried it for myself I had no idea how empowering or alive, straying outside my comfort zone would make me feel.
I should add this newfound derring-do did not involve scaling Everest or learning to bungee jump. These were small, out of my comfort zone steps – baby at first, bigger later on’ -which have taught me so much about myself and given me such a different perspective that I now can’t imagine life any other way. As much as I’m an obsessive convert to NIOD – and Gill will kill me for saying this –I’ve discovered that stepping out of your comfort zone is the best anti-ageing weapon in my beauty arsenal. Trying something new gives you the best glow; the sort that really can’t be bought.
The comfort zone which once upon a time seemed such a nice and cosy existence, now just feels very dull. I also realised how many excuses I made for doing things I was scared to do.
We’ve come to see stress as a dirty word but a little bit of healthy stress can actually be a great catalyst for growth. Being slightly uncomfortable, whether or not by choice, can push us to achieve goals we never thought we could.
As children, we’re natural risk-takers. But as we get older and learn to fear failure, we start holding ourselves back and attempting fewer new things.
A friend recently told me that she used to avoid situations where she might be regarded as feeling stupid. Then she noticed that anyone who was doing anything interesting or living a very full life didn’t really give a fig about how that ‘perceived failure’ made them feel.
Recently the Evening Standard ran a story about a staggering 60% of Londoners who look for new jobs at this time of year. Sadly most lack the confidence to actually make the switch. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised. How many times have I heard men and women in their 40s and 50s tell me they are too old to do something. Tell me, are they too old to take up Italian or the cello or just too old to live?
More often than not, those naysayers are voicing their own insecurities. Stepping out of your comfort zone even once makes it easier and more likely that you’ll do it again.
The more you practice it, the more confident you become, developing all the tools and life skills you need to cope with the unexpected. It’s like having access to the box of tricks required to tackle life’s hurdles. You become better at coping with adversity and the unexpected chapters that are thrown your way.
And anyhow, what’s the proof you can’t do something before even attempting it? You won’t know until you try it. It might not work out exactly how you anticipated but you will be better equipped to know how to make whatever it is work better next time round.
So how do you do it?
Every day, try doing something that feels out of your comfort zone; put yourself up for a work task you’ve previously shied away from owing to a lack of confidence. Or take up a hobby you‘ve always fancied but talked yourself out of before. Being out of your comfort zone – and it doesn’t have to be very far out of it at the beginning – will make you feel more alive, more stimulated.
If nothing else, you’ll know you’ve tried. If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we’ve always got. But if we want to achieve something different, we need to do something different.
Last year I interviewed a French fashion designer. I’d been warned his English wasn’t great and would I mind terribly doing the interview in French? Stupidly, I had let slip to the PR that I had read French at university. While I have always prided myself on my ability to more than get by, would I be able to sustain an hour-long interview in French?
Okay, so it wasn’t by any means perfect. I was – to put it mildly – very nervous. I realised half way through that my French (learnt as a uni student) was better equipped to answering questions than it was to being probing and interrogative. It was also, despite frequent trips to France, quite rusty. But the experience proved a revelation. Rather than simply cringing at my very basic grammatical errors, it has bolstered my resolve to brush up on my language skills and try it again.
I’ve found that stepping out your comfort zone has also helped me become more productive. New challenges and learning a new skill set opens new doors and makes us reflect on old ideas so that they might be improved.
It’s also worth nothing that different things are different challenges to different people. Perhaps you’re an adventurous adrenaline junkie and bungee jumping is second nature, conversely, you’ve stuck around in the same job for the last decade and are dreading giving the best man/woman speech. Most of us are more daring in some areas than others. The secret is to spot which area is underdeveloped (truthfully!!!) and fix it.
Deep breaths and have a long hard look around you. Look at the people you really admire. Chances are they not the couch potatoes stuck in a life rut. They are the ones who are daring themselves well into later life, trying new things, always learning, always having fun and best of all laughing.