There’s a common saying that life begins where your comfort zone ends. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. There’s a lot of good stuff that’s within our comfort zones. But I would agree that the benefits of getting outside your comfort zone can be life-changing. Otherwise I wouldn’t start the Discomfort Club to help men become better through it.
If you’re living an easy, convenient life, but something is missing, chances are you aren’t challenging yourself enough. A life without taking risks, cultivating a growth mindset, and taking the path of least resistance (as opposed to the path of most resistance) can be depressing. We need new experiences to feel confident, content, and alive.
This is even more important for men. We thrive on challenges. We feel good when we push past our fear and uncertainty. If you’re always apathetic and uninspired, it’s a sign that you lack challenges in your life.
With a fixed mindset, letting fear dictate your life, you’re blind to new possibilities. You don’t learn new skills. You never reach your maximum performance. You also miss out on rewarding growth experiences.
To put it bluntly, by always staying in your comfort zone you rob yourself of success. And there’s nobody else to blame but you.
In this article we’ll explore why you should strive to get out of your comfort zone regularly.
But first, what does it even mean to step outside your comfort zone?
What Is a Comfort Zone?
In simple terms, without going into the weeds of positive psychology and using confusing terms like “promoting positive outcomes,” your comfort zone is a psychological state in which you’re at ease.
Cambridge Dictionary defines the comfort zone as: “a situation in which you feel comfortable and in which your ability and determination are not being tested.”
Being tested is a key word here. When you’re in your comfort zone, there’s no pressure. Everything is familiar and comfortable.
When you’re venturing outside your comfort zone, that changes. You may feel some level of anxiety, fear, or pressure. You may have no idea what to do. If you’re unaccustomed to this feeling, you may have an urge to quit as soon as possible to return to your safe zone.
What Are Some Examples of Leaving Your Comfort Zone?
Here are a few examples of being in your comfort zone vs being outside of it, in varying levels of intensity:
- Having dinner with your friends is being in your comfort zone. Having dinner with an attractive stranger is likely to produce some level of anxiety.
- Creating art for yourself, without ever showing it to anyone, is being in your comfort zone. Sharing the results of your creativity online is leaving your comfort zone.
- Going on an easy walk is being in your comfort zone. Sprinting as fast as you can is venturing outside it.
- Watching your favorite TV show is comfortable. Trying skydiving is (deeply) uncomfortable.
- Hanging out with your best friend doesn’t provoke any anxiety and doesn’t test you. Public speaking, for most people, does that, and to a great degree.
By default, we spend the majority of our lives in our comfort zones. And that’s okay. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to function, overwhelmed by too much stress.
The problem begins when you avoid ever expanding your comfort zone.
How Your Comfort Zone Affects Your Daily Life
So many men these days are addicted to comfort, ease, and convenience. Feeling comfortable isn’t a bad thing as long as we balance it with some level of voluntary discomfort.
Unfortunately, few men these days are willing to expose themselves to unpleasant feelings. After all, it’s much nicer to avoid pain.
As a result, they end up eating too much or eating unhealthy foods (having a healthy diet is too much of a challenge). They don’t exercise enough (because it’s too hard). They don’t pursue personal growth (it’s too much stress, even though it’s a good kind of stress).
In the short term, it feels nice to indulge. The problem is that in the long term, your everyday life begins to worsen. Slowly at first, then rapidly.
Your body breaks down because of a lack of movement and proper nutrition. Your mind suffers, too. You lose self-efficacy (the belief in your own abilities). Your brain gets lazy, always defaulting to the easiest choice. You slip into a vicious cycle whose only outcome is even more frustration and apathy.
Why Is It Important to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone?
Stepping out of your comfort zone is one of the key life skills. If you limit yourself to what’s familiar, you won’t experience much personal growth in life. You’ll be incapable of dealing with the unknown—and the unknown is an inherent part of life.
I’m yet to meet a man who’s happy to be stuck in a rut.
Most people think that a stress-free life without any hardships and discomfort is perfect. In real world, such a life leads to more anxiety and suffering.
Because life always comes with ups and downs, whether we like it or not. It’s not a question of if but when. By expanding our comfort zones we not only improve our lives but also get better at handling unexpected crises.
As the saying goes, it’s better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war. Getting out of your comfort zone is like becoming that warrior. You’re ready to handle whatever life throws at you.
Unfortunately, many men these days prefer to escape into virtual worlds instead of getting better in real life. As fun as video games can be, don’t expect that they’ll bring you the lasting fulfillment of becoming a man of value.
Still unconvinced about the benefits of stepping out of your comfort zone? Then let’s go even deeper into why it’s such a powerful habit.
What Are the Benefits of Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone?
Here are the top five benefits of doing hard things and testing yourself.
1. You’ll Process Your Deep Feelings and Get to Know Yourself Better
Getting to know yourself better means testing yourself in different situations. You can watch inspiring people all you want but you need real life experience to progress and make lasting changes.
Ultra-runner Dean Karnazes once said:
Running an ultramarathon builds character, but it also exposes it. We learn about ourselves, we gain deeper insights into the nature of our character, and we are transformed by these things. To know thyself one must push thyself.
Leaving familiar surroundings and pushing past my limits has given me that self-knowledge, too.
For example, when I started freediving, I learned how susceptible to panic I am. I can easily hold my breath for more than a minute on land. But the moment I’m underwater, suddenly my ability disappears.
There’s nothing about the water in itself that changes my physical performance. It’s all about the mental challenge (my instructor would say “too much thinking, too little relaxation”).
Going past the feeling of discomfort when freediving taught me how often my brain fools me. If it weren’t for exploring the edges of my comfort zone, I would have never learned that the brain can be so deceptive and fool me into thinking I don’t have enough oxygen.
2. People With Wider Comfort Zones Have More Peace of Mind
As I mentioned before, a true stress-free life isn’t the one without any challenges.
The smaller your comfort zone is, the less peace of mind you’ll have. It will limit the number of situations in which you feel at ease and in control.
For example, let’s imagine that John and David are two good friends, albeit with a different view on life.
John is addicted to his comfortable routine. He doesn’t like learning new things because it implies effort. He avoids anything that would test his abilities, such as a hard workout or an opportunity to go beyond what’s required of him at work.
If he could, he would never leave his home. He’s always happy to throw a BBQ party in his backyard but apart from that, he doesn’t feel comfortable in many situations.
David is always thinking how to break his routine and do something that will test him. His brain has learned to associate discomfort with an approaching sense of accomplishment.
He loves improving his performance through pushing his limits. David understands that learning happens alongside some discomfort. And since he’s addicted to becoming a better person, he doesn’t mind that.
Because he’s put himself in a wide variety of challenging situations, he’s equally happy to hang out with John as he is when hiking in the mountains, learning a foreign language, taking a woodworking course, or chatting up an attractive stranger.
David is freer than John and enjoys more peace of mind and confidence. He’s at ease in an ever-growing number of situations. Meanwhile, John’s world is limited to his backyard. That’s the difference one’s comfort zone can make to the person’s life quality.
3. Trying New Things Will Stimulate Your Brain, Broaden Your Horizons and Make You More Creative
Challenging yourself through new experiences will boost your creativity and broaden your horizons.
Exploring the unfamiliar is highly-stimulating. Whether it’s trying to do one more pull-up or climbing big mountains, the process reinvigorates the brain.
You can’t help but feel more creative when you make cool things happen for yourself and the world around you. As a writer myself, I find deep inspiration in the things I do to expand my comfort zone.
4. You’ll Regain Control Over Your Life and Develop a Healthy Growth Mindset
Stepping outside your comfort zone builds a healthier mindset. Each time you reach a little bit further away and come back with new abilities, you build more self-efficacy. The increased belief in your abilities boosts your performance. It creates a virtuous cycle that leads to even more success.
The problem with men who are stuck in a fixed mindset is that they lack the belief that they can initiate a change. They believe that if they were born insecure, they’ll be insecure for their entire lives. For example, if they can’t establish healthy personal boundaries but others can, they assume that they lack a “talent” for assertiveness.
When we pursue and achieve difficult things, we learn that we’re more capable than we think. This belief is the first step toward developing a more positive view of our abilities and getting out of the fixed mindset trap.
5. Consistent Personal Growth Will Make You a Happier and More Fulfilled Person
This one doesn’t need much explanation: as humans, we feel best when we progress in life. A boring routine where things stay the same will kill our spirit.
As Tony Robbins says, growth is one of the most essential human needs. If you’re not growing, you’re dying.
Are There Any Dangers of Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone?
As wonderful as stretching your limits is, it’s not all roses. There are dangers of participating in challenging activities. This article wouldn’t be complete without some warnings.
The Greatest Danger of Stretching Your Comfort Zone Comes From Doing Too Much, Too Fast
The point of personal growth is to sustainably expand your limits.
You may be tempted to go from one extreme (living in constant comfort) to another (going way too far beyond your usual limits). But it’s rarely a good idea.
Imagine that you want to start running. If you’ve never run before, even a brief run will be a step out of your comfort zone—both physically and mentally.
If you go too hard during your first run, you’ll likely give up your new running habit before you even develop it. It’ll happen due to immense soreness, an injury, or sheer unpleasantness of pushing your body well beyond its current limits.
Some mental toughness gurus would say in response “don’t complain, deal with it.” I find this approach too simplistic. If you’re new to challenging yourself, aim to build your habit in a sustainable way. Consistent growth is more important than flashy, irresponsible accomplishments.
Using running as a tool to expand your comfort zone is a good thing. But any new physical habits require an adaptation period. Otherwise you’ll break your body and instead of improving your life, make it worse.
Who’s going to improve more in the long term? Is it a guy who slowly increases his running distance every week? Or is it a guy who tries running a marathon in his first week of training and ends up in the hospital? No improvement is going to happen for the latter, whether he likes it or not.
Risk-Taking Always Comes With Dangers
We can’t ever eliminate all risks. Men who aim to consistently get better accept that sometimes we need to pay a “tax” for rebuilding ourselves into stronger human beings.
Doing new things means making mistakes and experiencing pain and failure. Trying new sports may lead to an injury or short-term, painful soreness. Testing yourself in social situations may lead to embarrassing situations. It’s all part of the game.
In the End, If You’re Smart About the Dangers, They Don’t Matter
Don’t let these dangers stop you, though. If you aren’t happy with where you are now, taking a different route can only help you.
Introduce some discomfort into your world today and see where it takes you (hint: it’ll most likely lead to more success and a greater enjoyment of life).
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