When I first started blogging, Bexa from Hello Bexa was one of the first people who actively encouraged me and made me feel less intimidated by the whole putting-your-life-on-the-internet thing. We’ve connected over a lot of things: from our adventures abroad and our journalling processes, to studying with the Open University, just to name a few. Bexa writes with a lot of passion about travel and creativity and always takes perfectly arranged photos for her posts. I honestly don’t know how she does it.
This is why, when I started looking for bloggers to collab with, I directly emailed Bexa. I knew there would be many areas we’d both be able to write about and that I’d be interested to hear her perspective on, whatever topic we chose. We decided to talk about comfort zones today, or more specifically, challenge ourselves to do something outside our comfort zones and writing about what we learnt from the experience.
As you’ll know if you’ve read my last few posts, May went a little skew-whiff for me. I was ill, finishing university assignments and generally very busy. This didn’t leave a lot of time for creating an environment and situation in which I had the opportunity to push myself outside my comfort zone. However, don’t fret. That doesn’t mean this post is contentless. I did manage to do the challenge, to an extent anyway.
Sometimes the scariest comfort zone barriers are the ones imposed on us, rather than the ones we actively try to stretch out in our own time. Things like giving an obligatory presentation in front of lots of people as part of your coursework. Or asking for a clean knife in a restaurant because you dropped yours on the floor. Or, as was the case for me in May, having to attend medical appointments.
I’m not sure many people feel comfortable going to see a doctor: for most of us, it is an out of the ordinary event and can involve talking about personal or embarrassing things to a stranger. Not really the greatest recipe for ease. Nevertheless, it’s a comfort zone barrier that has to be broken sometimes, and one I think I’ve made progress with in the last month. Over a number of appointments, I’ve learnt several things about comfort zones and progress: here are my top five.
Don’t avoid it
What’s easier than facing a fear? Anything really, but mainly avoidance. But does that make things better? Not really. In fact, it’s likely to make matters worse as you anticipate having to do the thing you fear and imagine all of the worst outcomes possible. Catastrophising is exhausting: by the end of one day mulling over the difficult thing you’ve so far avoided having to do, your mind has written the narrative for a whole Harry-Potter-length book series, full of explosions and ending in certain disaster or death. I’d been putting off going to the doctor for quite a while, letting my brain run with an abundant collection of ‘what ifs’, each idea scarier and more convoluted than the last. This wasn’t helping me at all; avoidance is not the answer.
Remind yourself you’re not alone
Whatever comfort zone barrier you’re trying to break or stretch, it is extremely likely that you’re not the first person to face this challenge. All humans have things they’re scared to do; the thing you’re afraid of, no matter how silly it seems, is probably something many people have avoided for a while themselves. Sitting in the waiting room and glancing around at the other people waiting, was enough to know that a lot of them were not as comfortable there as they’d like to feel. Only one guy looked like he was relaxing on his sofa at home, almost nodding off to sleep. Other people fidgeted, kept looking around and were sat bolt upright. You’re not the only one feeling discomfort in your situation, take comfort in that.
If you have a bit of knowledge before you attempt to push yourself, you’re not going to feel like you’re going into it all blindly. Preparation builds confidence. Do some research so you know what it is you’re walking into. Before going to see the doctor, I looked up my symptoms and talked to my family to see what kind of plausible explanations we could think of, instead of starting from scratch with a doctor who had never met me before and had ten minutes to arrive closer to an answer. Of course, this didn’t mean I knew what was wrong before going to the doctor, but it did mean I had context and a framework of basic knowledge.
…But not too prepared
If you’re anything like me then having a list of questions too detailed and too long is overwhelming. Trying to remember all the facts is stressful, and trying to have every base covered sets you up to face things too rigidly. Allowing yourself to not know everything, or every possible outcome, gives you flexibility. You’re open to learning more during the experience, rather than having to go in knowing it all beforehand and shutting yourself off to the possibility to learn something. This attitude helped me to explore multiple options with the doctor and has helped me to keep an open mind throughout this whole experience.
Reflect and accept
You’re back at school and you’ve just got an assignment back: what went well? What could’ve been done better? We learn this skills so early on because they’re important to carry through our whole lives. Pushing yourself outside your comfort zone is going to bring with it experiences and feelings that feel foreign to you: some will feel helpful, others less so. But the important thing is that you tried and you’ve learnt new ways for tackling the same thing, or other things, with more ease and knowledge next time. When I left the doctor after one of my appointments in May, I felt like there were a couple of things I’d missed out because the whole thing felt rushed and I got quite stressed. But then I had a phone appointment a few days later and I pushed myself to ask more questions. Each time you face the same thing is a new opportunity to build on what you did before; accept what happens each time you challenge yourself in a certain way, and aim to do it a bit better next time.
None of this means I’m now equipped to push myself out of my comfort zone in every way possible. But it does mean I’ve strengthened the mental muscles needed to face things I find difficult. Hopefully the next time I really push myself will be towards something fun and exciting, rather than a necessity. Either way, I’m proud of myself for the things I achieved in May. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone isn’t a one time occasion, it’s something you have to keep exercising, building up, maintaining. We all have the capacity to train this part of ourselves; we can all expand our comfort zones little by little.
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