“You need to move outside of your comfort zone!” is advice practically every guru and personal-development trainer has ever given me. Hands up if you’ve heard this before, probably not once, but multiple times?
Of course there is a lot of merit to this concept. In athletics, for example, progress can only be made if you move a little beyond your capability. By definition, growth happens in the place just beyond what feels comfortable.
But always pushing and moving beyond your comfort zone can actually be counterproductive. People ignore their body’s signals, get injured, or simply burn out mentally. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a situation where you should keep pushing, and one where you should honour your own comfort.
Would you like a few guidelines that’ll help you honour your inner voice, whilst still growing and improving? Let’s dive in.
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Pushing isn’t always wise
Professional athletes deal with this all the time. They get trained to ignore pain and push past their limits in order to achieve maximum performance. The problem is that things like pain and exhaustion are the body’s warning signs. If they’re ignored for too long, injury can and does happen.
The same goes for our minds and souls. If something makes you deeply uncomfortable, it might be a sign that it goes against your principles. Maybe it’s simply not your thing! For example, I once learned a piece of marketing that allegedly works like a charm to attract clients. I wasn’t at all comfortable with it, but implemented it because the experts know better, right? Well, the experts know but only I know me. That piece of marketing wasn’t working for me at all, so I ended up scrapping it.
What makes you uncomfortable might just not be for you. The most important thing is to stay true to what makes sense to you, what feels right, and your intuition is a great guide in that respect. Rather than forcing yourself out of your comfort zone, listen to the inner voice’s nudges, and trust that it won’t lead you wrong.
How to tell the difference
This doesn’t mean you should always stay within the limits of what’s already familiar and never venture beyond. Of course you need to try new things in order to grow, and what’s new always feels uncomfortable at first. The trick is to know what’s worth being uncomfortable for.
This is why I recommend that you first listen to your intuition. If you give yourself permission to be authentic, and allow all your feelings including the “bad” ones such as fear and anger, you’ll learn to tell whether something is worth pursuing.
If you sense fear around a step which makes you uncomfortable, drill into that fear. See where it comes from, and whether it’s rational or tied to something old, like a childhood experience or something your parents used to tell you. Fears are worth overcoming, and definitely worth facing discomfort for!
Incidentally, this particular type of discomfort never lasts: It’s like that time when you were a child and didn’t dare jump into the swimming pool or go down the giant slide. When you finally overcame your fear and just did it, the fear was gone and you could easily do it again and again.
Expanding the comfort zone
The trick to all this is to stay within your comfort zone – honour your own limits and move at a pace which feels right – whilst gently expanding it. You may need to venture beyond its edges occasionally, but only in ways you can face without having to forcefully silence any warning voices from your intuition.
That way, you achieve two things. You’ll learn that you can do things you didn’t think you could do, and you’ll grow in a gentle way which builds your confidence. An interesting thing will happen next: Your growth accelerates, because you’ve built trust in yourself and your own ability to move beyond what you thought was comfortable. Your comfort zone grows, and so do you.
To sum it up:
- Authentically allow all your feelings without judgment.
- Gently probe your feelings when something seems beyond your comfort zone. Determine whether your intuition has a point or it’s only an old fear holding you back.
- Once you’ve determined that it makes sense to leave your comfort zone, venture beyond its borders. This happens in the confident knowledge that you can fully trust yourself.
- Feel your comfort zone expanding.