Have you ever thought about what represents your comfort zone? Most of the time, we don't walk around talking about what makes us comfortable. As long as we remain in our comfort zone, life continues as usual. To understand what is inside your comfort zone, draw a circle on a piece of paper. Everything you are experiencing in your life right now is inside your comfort zone (your circle): your current state of health, your style of parenting, the friendships you have, your current job, your financial state, and so much more.
Everything you desire in your life, but do not currently have is just outside the circle, or your comfort zone. For some, your comfort zone represents everything you desire, but for others, you may feel a tugging on your heart that tells you there is something more you'd like to have. It could be losing 20 pounds, being in a better place financially, finding a job you love, greater intimacy with your husband or being able to say no to volunteer activities that you never really wanted to do in the first place.
Think about who you were 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago? Have you changed? Hopefully, you answered yes. Most of us grow and change, sometimes voluntarily, other times kicking and screaming. Each time you grow, your comfort zone expands. Now, as you know, it's not always pleasant stretching out of your comfort zone. That's why it's called a comfort zone. But each time we grow and create a new and larger comfort zone, our confidence increases.
Mary came to me about 6 months ago. She had been living the same, comfortable existence for many years. Until her husband declared a separation and moved out. Now Mary is working on expanding her comfort zone by growing in ways that she never imagined she would. Where she once relied on her husband, she is now learning to rely on herself. Now she is open to hearing her husband's needs, which in some cases means she has to look at who she is, and how she needs to grow personally in order to grow her marriage. Has it been an easy journey for Mary? Not always, but Mary's willingness to stretch outside her comfort zone is what afforded her a second chance at her marriage.
So think about something you deeply desire. What is in the way of you manifesting that desire? Is it fear or self-doubt? A connection to the familiar, or an avoidance of the unfamiliar? Who would you be if that desire came true? Would it change you, and are you ready for that change? Sometimes an unhappy or mediocre existence is less scary than the unknown. If thinking about this deep desire stirs up emotions you don't feel like wrestling with, you can choose to stay in your comfort zone. But even if there is a tiny piece of you that thinks you might be ready to expand, here are some tips to help you stretch your comfort zone.
Take Baby Steps
I recently spoke to a woman who was exploring life coaching as a new career choice. As we talked, she expressed her fear of leaving her comfortable and well paying job to explore entrepreneurship in a field she was unfamiliar with. Instead of ignoring her desire, she was taking baby steps to explore this field. She was talking with people in the field and learning what she could. She had plans to enroll in coaching school, but still keep her current job. And eventually she will probably start coaching part-time before making the decision to completely quit her job. We crawl before we walk, and we walk before we run. We ride a tricycle before we get training wheels, and once that becomes comfortable, we advance to a "real" bicycle. Choose baby steps over no steps at all.
Don't Wait for Uncomfortable Feelings to Disappear
Stretching your comfort zone is going to feel uncomfortable. Think back to when you were last pregnant. Did it at times feel uncomfortable as your belly stretched? Stretching physically is no different than stretching emotionally, mentally or spiritually. It's part of the process, but it should not stop you from moving forward. It's normal to feel fear, anger and many other emotions. I recently read a review from a mom that reluctantly read my new book. Because my book was not the type of book she normally would choose to read (even though she chose to participate in a free giveaway of my book), she had to stretch her comfort zone. These were her exact words. "I flipped through it briefly. I complained about having to read it (because do I look like I have time to read?). I ignored it, I avoided it, I hid it from myself and others. But...my someone-took-the-time-to-send-you-this-you-have-to-give-it-a-chance guilt ultimately kicked in (like it always does, damnation), and I read it. And, honestly, the book didn't suck. Go figure."
Sometimes we imagine change to be so much worse than it really is, and when we finally decide to stretch that comfort zone, we are relieved to see we are much stronger (smarter, more skilled, more disciplined...) than we thought. And guess what? When you stretch and you're successful, your confidence increases.
Celebrate Your Efforts
You don't have to create a perfect circle when you stretch your comfort zone. As a matter of fact, it's okay if it's lopsided. In other words, it is okay to make mistakes as you grow. It's even okay if you fall flat on your face. It's not okay if you allow those mistakes to keep you stuck in your current comfort zone. So celebrate all your efforts. If you decide to start exercising and you work out one time in the week, celebrate! Next week you will work out twice. If you're trying to be more outgoing and sociable in a group setting, and you make an effort to smile at someone and say hi, that's reason to celebrate. The next time you will introduce yourself. We don't realize our deep desires overnight, and we certainly won't experience success if we can't even acknowledge the steps we are taking.
What do you want to experience in your lifetime? How confident do you want to feel? Do you want all your dreams to come true? How big are you willing to stretch your comfort zone?