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Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

August 27th, 2009 by Steve Pavlina

It can be difficult to say yes when someone asks you to step outside your comfort zone. Your comfort zone is familiar and cozy. It's safe and easy. You know what to expect. If you step outside it, who knows what might happen? Anything is possible. Things could go very badly. Do you really want to take that kind of risk? Why bother?

Saying Yes

I remember the first time I did a radio interview. It was about 10 years ago, and I was invited to talk about my computer games business for a small radio station. I didn't know what to expect, so I wasn't sure if I should do it. I said yes because I figured it would at least be a new experience for me. I felt a little anxious though. My mind started picturing all sorts of scenarios of how the interview might turn out. What if he asks me a question I can't answer? What if I give incoherent answers? What if I start rambling, and he has to cut me off? I didn't know what questions would be asked, so I couldn't really prepare for it.

The interview was less than 10 minutes long, so we didn't go into much depth, but it went okay. It felt good to do something I'd never done before.

The next time I was asked to do a radio interview, it was easier to agree to it. I'd already done it once, so how hard could it be to do it again? I said yes, and once again it went okay.

Further down the road, I got invites to do some newspaper and magazine interviews as well. And again I said yes. At one point the New York Times ran an article about successful indie games businesses. They featured me and one of my games in the piece and sent a photographer to my house to do a photo shoot for it. At the time I thought it was pretty cool to have my photo published in a major newspaper. It didn't do anything special for my business, but it was a nice motivational boost.

I kept saying yes to interviews. When I started my personal development blog in 2004, I started getting more interview requests. For the first few years, I probably did 1-2 interviews per month on average.

Then when my book came out in October 2008, I quickly started getting a lot more interview requests, mostly for radio and Internet radio shows. For a while I was doing 5-6 interviews per week, and then it slowly tapered off to about 1-2 per week. I've probably done at least 100 interviews in the past year. That's ironic in a way because my blog is still way more popular than my book (by a few orders of magnitude), but being a published author is seen as more credible in certain circles than having a high traffic website.

Since I write and speak about many different topics, I get interview requests on a wide variety of subjects — personal growth, my book, relationships, health, raw food diet, the Law of Attraction, habit change, career development, financial abundance, spirituality, blogging, Internet marketing, starting and running a business, working from home, time management and productivity, and lots more. I even did an interview a few weeks ago where we talked about shoplifting for 30 minutes. I quite enjoy the variety. I think I'd be pulling my hair out if every interview was about the exact same thing.

This week I did two interviews: a 75-minute phone interview on blogging for a live webinar and a 40-minute in-person video interview on psychic development. Erin and I did the second interview together.

At one point doing interviews was outside my comfort zone. The first time was a stretch. It didn't feel comfortable or safe.

Fast forward 10 years though, and doing interviews is easily within my comfort zone, even if it's for a live audience of millions. It's easy because I've done it so many times before. The unknown has become the known.

Several years ago, I preferred to get the interview questions in advance (for a live or taped interview), since then I could prepare. But now I ask the interviewer not to send me the questions in advance. I prefer to go into it not knowing what to expect, so I can be more present and spontaneous. Having the questions in advance spoils the fun.

Years ago I favored written interviews since then I could take the time to craft intelligent answers. But now I'd much rather do phone or face-to-face interviews. They're a lot faster and a lot more fun.

Looking back, it's hard to imagine that I was once trepidatious about doing interviews, especially since I enjoy them and look forward to them. If I never stepped outside my comfort zone, I'd be missing out a lot of fun. Some part of me would have remained grossly underdeveloped.

Now when I do interviews, I can often tell when the person interviewing me feels a little uncomfortable or nervous. Many times I have more experience doing interviews than they do. If they seem a bit hesitant or robotic, I try to put them at ease and draw them out a little more by prompting them for reactions. Even though I'm the one being interviewed, I've learned how to interact creatively with the show hosts to stimulate more lively and interesting discussion for the listeners. That's quite a shift from where I was 10 years ago, and it all began with making the decision to step outside my comfort zone.

Taking the Plunge

Saying yes to that first step can be very difficult. We have a tendency to fear the unknown. The mysterious seems like it could be dangerous. In most cases, however, there's very little real danger.

Where are the edges of your comfort zone? What areas of potential growth do you think about constantly, but you feel very anxious about taking that first step? If you keep obsessing over it, that's a pretty clear sign that it's important to you. Can you envision a place where the unknown eventually becomes the known, and what was once scary to you eventually becomes fun?

Accept that you may be a bit scared and nervous, and say yes anyway. Once you commit yourself to stepping beyond your comfort zone, you may feel more stressed at first. You may even be freaked out for a while after hearing the word yes escape your lips. But making some kind of commitment is key. When you commit yourself to taking a step beyond your comfort zone, you're giving yourself an incredible gift of growth. Your potential will grow, and your boundaries will expand. Things that were once impossible for you will gradually become possible... then probable... then certain.

One of the best ways to commit yourself is to sign up for a club, group, or activity where you're expected to show up regularly. If you show up for it, you know you'll be pushed beyond your comfort zone, and you will make gains over time.

If you fear public speaking, join Toastmasters International, and start going to club meetings. If you're afraid of looking like a fool and having people laugh at you, join a local improv group. If you feel clumsy and awkward on a dance floor, sign up for a dance class. Make some kind of commitment whereby just showing up will push you to face your fears and grow past them.

Keep It Spicy

When you do something often enough, and it loses most of the mystery, it can become rather boring, even if you were once deathly afraid of it. In those situations it's up to you to keep increasing the challenge to create new growth experiences. Turn it into a game, and have fun with it.

Earlier today I went with Erin to her Toastmasters club to watch her give a speech. She's given many speeches at that club, but this time she was doing a new speech project unlike any she'd done previously. Her assignment was to tell a touching story that would impact the audience emotionally. She picked a story from when she was 12 years old and she discovered that a girl in her school was being physically abused. (The full story can be found on Erin's blog right here.)

Since Erin never gave a speech about such an emotional topic before, it was hard for her to stay emotionally connected to the story without breaking down in tears. This kind of speech was outside her comfort zone, so she was nervous about it.

As Erin gave the speech, she got very emotional at certain points and began to cry, but instead of that being a problem, it only made the speech more impactful. The audience was deeply moved by the story, and many were wiping tears off their cheeks by the time Erin was done. Erin received many compliments from audience members afterwards.

Before the speech, however, Erin was having second thoughts. She asked, "Why did I volunteer to do this? I don't feel good about this." But afterwards, she felt elated. She was glad to have had the experience, and since then she's been basking in that after-speech glow.

Life will occasionally nudge you in certain directions, but most of the time it's up to you to step outside your comfort zone. If you stay inside your comfort zone for too long, you'll begin to feel bored, apathetic, and disconnected. Life will feel like it doesn't have much meaning. But when you push yourself to stretch boldly into the unknown, your senses light up, you become more centered and aware, you discover new talents, and you have a lot more fun in life.

Pick a Fear and Run Straight at It

Occasionally people contact me who are bored with their lives and don't feel passionate about anything, and they ask me what to do. I often tell them to pick a fear and run straight at it. I encourage you to do the same. Pick a fear, and run straight at it — even if your pace looks more like a slow crawl. Move toward something that scares you. Your fears are the keys that unlock tremendous growth experiences.

You didn't come here to hibernate. You came here to soar. But soaring may feel very uncomfortable if you're used to hibernating. Don't mistake that initial feeling of discomfort for something you should avoid. Take it as a signal that you've found something that really matters to you, and then pour your heart and soul into its pursuit.