The start of the year is defined by change, with new goals to meet, new challenges to overcome, and new experiences to be had. It’s an exciting, inspiring, and, well, downright scary time. After all, the vast majority of us don’t like to move from the familiar into a place of uncertainty, challenge, or discomfort.
Good news: That fear can be your friend. A study published in the Journal of Individual Differences indicates that when people are aware of the anxiety they feel around a new challenge or goal, they actually feel more motivated, are more likely to persist at their task, and find greater satisfaction during the work.
“Without the courage and capacity to step outside your comfort zone, it’s simply hard to stay relevant. It’s how people grow and develop and acquire new skills that are essential for their learning and growth,” says Andy Molinsky, Ph.D., a professor at Brandeis University and author of Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone.
Ready to take the plunge? Here’s how to take a step outside of your comfort zone—and towards success:
- Clarify Your “Why”
“If you are satisfied with average, then there is no need to ever move past your comfort zone,” says LaRae Quy, author of Secrets of a Strong Mind. But when you can identify how your life will improve, Quy explains, you can tap into your motivation and, as a result, become “more willing to take risks and brave the uncertainty.”
Make it happen:
We often equate treating ourselves well with punishment. How often have you told yourself that you need to go to the gym because you overate at lunch, or made a mental note to tighten your budget after an indulgent purchase? Instead of thinking about good habits as a way to make up for “bad” behavior, see them for what they truly are: an investment in yourself. The key is to remember that the effort required to make a change is worth it because you are worth it. For example, if you want to get in shape for the sake of getting in shape, it’ll be harder to pick yourself off the couch than if your goal resonates on a more personal level, such as having more energy.
- Avoid Absolutes
In order to make a change, you must first believe you can change. This requires a growth mindset—the belief that you can evolve, whether it’s by cultivating a personality trait like patience or learning a new skill like cooking. The opposite is a fixed mindset, where you see characteristics as predetermined.
Make it happen:
Your mindset is heavily influenced by your inner dialogue. If you tend to use absolute words like “always” and “never” when facing a problem (“I’m always bad at budgeting,” or “I’ll never get a handle on my finances.”), then there’s a good chance that you’re stuck a fixed mindset. The next time you notice an “always” or “never” getting in your way, reframe the problem to find as many solutions as possible (“I haven’t found a budgeting tool that works for me…yet.”). When you can reframe your challenges as something solvable, you’ll find it easier to explore new ideas, pick up skills, and navigate setbacks.
- Plan What You Can
Often, when we hesitate before facing a challenge or struggle to muster up enough courage before taking a risk, what we’re really afraid of is the unknown. In fact, a study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that the most common stressors shared the factor of unpredictable outcomes.
Make it happen:
Prime yourself for a range of results by asking yourself, “Is there anything I can do to make myself feel more comfortable in this situation?”
- If the answer is “yes,” make a concrete plan to go do it!
Example: If you tend to avoid networking events, plan to go with a friend.
- If the answer is “no,” try challenging your doubts with a positive affirmation. Why? Because when fear drives your decision making, it will consistently keep you from doing what you want to do.
Example: “Rejection does not define me,” or “I will not let my fear of failing stop me from trying.”
“When you do take the leap to move out of your comfort zone, you’ll likely find that it wasn’t as hard as you thought it would be and that you are actually better at it than you expected,” Molinsky says. “This will increase the odds that you’ll try again and that’s how you build resilience—by trying and surviving the experience and learning from it.”
Polly Campbell is Portland-based author and speaker specializing in psychology, resilience, and wellness topics. She is the author of three books: How to Live an Awesome Life: How to Live Well. Do Good. Be Happy; Imperfect Spirituality: Extraordinary Enlightenment for Ordinary People; and How to Reach Enlightenment. Tweet her @PLCampbell.