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How to Stop Limiting Yourself and Feel Fully Alive

Woman jumping

“You can only grow if you’re willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” ~Brian Tracy

I like my comfort zone and I hate it. It’s safe, but if I stay there too long it starts to feel like a cage. No wild creature is happy in a cage, and we’re all wild creatures at heart.

Sure, we like the reliability of being well fed, clothed, safe, and loved. It’s my theory though (formed just this second) that we are meant to hunt, to seek, to struggle, to engage with a world that offers no guarantees.

Like a caged animal, we become depressed when we play it too safe. “Safe” offers no challenge, no growth, and no newness. Without those things we wither and die inside; we watch too much TV, we eat junk food, we numb out.

Could it be that the prevalence of depression in First World countries is because our lives don’t challenge us as much as we need them to?

We all need exercise to be healthy. Muscles need to break to become strong. Do our hearts and minds also need challenge to thrive?

About eighteen months ago I got sick. It was a weird benign tumor that caused a lot of pain, enough pain that I took myself to hospital at three one morning.

Eventually, the tumor healed and the pain stopped. It didn’t go away; it just stopped hurting me. In the meantime, though, I became very careful, controlled, and I dropped out of my life. I felt afraid and limited. I lost faith in myself.

My world got very small and I became too dependent on those close to me. I was not much fun. I lost friendships.

Now I am rebuilding. It’s not always easy, but I’m on the way back.

I can now see that my comfort zone isn’t comfortable. My fears and limitations have drawn the boundaries of my life, and that’s a small cage to live in.

That’s not how I want to live. I remember more lively times and I want that power and flow back. I want to break through the darkness into the bright light, where life is colorful again.

I want my life back.

If you also need to expand your comfort zone, you may benefit from applying these lessons that are helping me:

1. Get honest.

Ask questions. Get really clear on what is true for you. What do you think? What do you feel? What do you want? What is useful? What’s the truth?

Truth can be hard to take, but it puts you on solid ground. You can walk forward on solid ground.

For me, right now I am “calling myself out” on the lie that I lack the power to make changes.

2. Change is possible.

We can make changes. You may have had a vibrant life before and you can make one again. Know you can change and try new things.

When I decide I’m a victim, it’s a lie. It is just not true. Granted, while I was sick change may have been too hard, but that’s not true anymore.

3. Change is uncomfortable, and that’s okay.

It doesn’t come without risk. We can’t stay in our comfort zones and expand at the same time. Growing is going to be uncomfortable. It’s even going to feel wrong. Do it anyway.

The only way to get a bigger comfort zone is to do things outside it until they don’t scare you anymore. Then repeat.

4. Change happens step by step.

Changes seem big when you start out, but they’re just a series of small steps. They’re just a tiny set of actions. They’re the sum of the things you do, day by day.

A slight change in trajectory is a huge change over time. It doesn’t happen all at once.

5. Explore possibility.

Every day, write a list of things that may take you in the direction you want to go. Write a list of ways to expand your life. Write a list of solutions. Write a list of “could do’s”.

You don’t even need to keep the lists. The good ones will stick. They’ll pop up again and again like your favourite muppet.

6. Take one tiny risk a day.

Set yourself one tiny risk. Commit to doing it. That means you have to do it. No second-guessing. You said you would do it; you’re doing it! It may not be the “right” action, but that’s irrelevant. It’s the thing you chose to try.

7. Every action is an experiment.

Not every little risk will pay off, but that’s life, that’s learning. Every action will teach you something.

I did well in school; it’s taken me a long time to get comfortable with failing and actually “learning to learn.” The school of life is a better teacher and a tougher one. That’s my school right now.

8. Courage is more important than success.

I heard Brené Brown say, “Being courageous is more important than being successful.” I have that on my wall. I think it’s true. Taking small risks makes me feel alive. The other name for “fear” is “thrill.”

9. Risk develops resilience.

We gain resilience with practice by striving, failing, and getting up again. It’s how we build emotional muscle. Sure, have a cry, share your humiliations with a trusted someone, then get back up and take the next step. Being courageous feels scary and good.

And so, right now, I extend invitations knowing I may be rejected. I commit to writing projects that may not be published. I open up more to those closest to me and really let them in.

I open up my world one step at a time, and it’s scary and it’s thrilling. The colors are brighter at the edge of my comfort zone.

I am learning that my fears are false dragons guarding the gold. The dragons look real, but really, only the gold is.

Photo by Paul McCoubrie

About Tania Yardley

Tania is a writer and a truthseeker who tends to question everything. Her past lives probably included a scholar monk and a dancing gypsy. You can follow her “ideas to play with” at missyardley.com.

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  • Fear can never be gotten rid of, but when we can acknowledge it’s there, we can then choose to make the decison as to whether or not we want to take that step towards punching fear in the face.

    I like to think I step out of my comfort zone a lot, but in
    reality, I’m no daredevil. Although I’m not exactly first in line to go
    skydiving into the unknown, I myself make an effort to take baby steps. This
    year my goal is to say “yes” to what I would usually say “no” to and just do
    it. “Just do it… even if you suck” is what I tell myself. No one ever learns
    and grows by never failing. Thank you for sharing this and I wish you the best
    on your journey towards taking more risks with life.

  • It really is that way. Nothing is safe now, every second is a challenge and making every second safe is boring, and even worse when we are stuck there. Get the f**k out and do stuff to grasp your survival ..

  • Shanasmiles

    This was great! I have always told my daughter that fear is useful. We feel fear when we are unprepared. When trying something new, feel the fear but do it anyway.

  • JR

    Thank you for sharing your story and encouragement. This is a time when I really need to hear it. I hope you will keep writing and slaying dragons.

  • Krystle

    This is such an amazing article! Thank you so much for sharing it! I really connected with your statement, “No wild creature is happy in a cage, and we are all wild creatures at heart.”
    I totally agree that when people aren’t challenged enough they can fall into a state of depression. It really makes perfect sense.

  • Tania Yardley

    Thanks Krystle. I appreciate your comments and I’m really glad you got something out of it. It’s a new thought for me that we’re not really made for a comfortable safe life. It doesn’t really work somehow 🙂

  • Tania Yardley

    You’re very welcome JR. I’m happy to be able to share this and glad if it helps you somehow. I will certainly keep writing and continue asking my imaginary dragons to kindly step aside:) Wishing you whatever you need to do the things that matter to you.

  • Tania Yardley

    You sound like a wise person if you have always told your daughter about the usefulness of fear. I am just getting it now in middle age. You just reminded me of a quote I found (don’t know where it’s from) “things become easy after we’ve done them”. At that point you know how to do them! Damn! 🙂

  • Tania Yardley

    “Nothing is safe” – very true! The attempt to make things safe is surprisingly hard work too – it’s like clinging to the cliff-face when there isn’t even a cliff 🙂

  • Tania Yardley

    I like that, Mariel – “just do it …even if you suck”. Well summarised! 🙂

  • Shanasmiles

    Thank you for the kind compliment, but I’m probably not all that wise, I’m just a mom with a sense of adventure. My kids are teenagers now but they were born while their dad and I were in the Army. We were very young but learned how to manage fear and we passed it on. 🙂

  • Correct 100% 🙂

  • lv2terp

    Great post, and wisdom to share! I love the line at the end…. ” I am learning that my fears are false dragons guarding the gold. The dragons look real, but really, only the gold is.” AWESOME!!!! 🙂

  • sarah

    Thanks Tania for sharing your story! I will definitely use these tips for creating the life I want. Love this!

  • Tania Yardley

    You’re welcome, Sarah. I’m glad you like it. Best wishes for creating the life you want 🙂

  • Tania Yardley

    Thanks! I love your enthusiasm:) I can just see you throwing that out there and getting plenty of what you want in life. We could add that to the tip list – it’s an unstoppable energy that turns fear into thrill! Go for it! 🙂

  • Tania Yardley

    It’s a great lesson to learn young. Your kids are very lucky.

  • Mindfulness

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us, really enjoyed it and felt happy toward the end of it 🙂 im off for a walk/run, I have bin cooped up in here for SO long haha 🙂 thanks Tania 😀

  • Tania Yardley

    I’m glad you enjoyed it. I think you’ve just inspired me to go and do a walk/run too 🙂

  • SKL

    I’m probably not the first to marvel at how a particular post seems to come at just the right time. I always seem to struggle with trying to get out of my comfort zone. I don’t like what’s involved with traveling – although I like being in new places once I’m there – so I often find myself staying comfortably at home. Currently, I have the chance to adopt the cutest dog. But even that I’m finding to be too much of a journey outside my comfort zone. My routine will change! Will I know what to do if the dog gets sick? I almost burst into tears today after unofficially adopting the dog due to the (perceived) stress. I hate myself for seeming to be paralyzed by decisions that other people make every day, all in the name of wanting to maintain my comfortable routine.

  • Tania Yardley

    Hey there, SKL. Maybe it’s really not the day to push the comfort zone? Sometimes it’s not. Maybe you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. That’s a day to go easy. You can take more steps soon. Maybe the biggest step today is just looking into adopting a dog in a few months. You might decide you don’t want to after looking into it. I know someone who walks dogs for older people. I think it’s actually a reasonably big decision. Not quite like having a child but it’s up there. Go easy on yourself! 🙂

  • Allison Rogers

    This article hit so close to home with me. Instead of having a physical illness I developed a mental one (the dreaded anxiety monster) and it has been limiting my life in the same way as described above. Realizing that I have been keeping myself locked in my ‘comfort zone’ has prevented me from really getting better and back to the life that I had before.

    This really opened my eyes towards how I have been living my life the past year and I look forward to employing some of the lessons above to get me back into the vibrant life I once enjoyed (and took for granted) so much.

  • Tania Yardley

    Thanks for telling me your story, Allison. Go gently, with small steps. I know that feeling. Wishing you a wonderful path opening up your life.

  • Harmony

    “A slight change in trajectory is a huge change over time. It doesn’t happen all at once” –Great insight!

  • Tania Yardley

    Thanks, Harmony 🙂

  • mash

    I am a very shy and reserved person. I am a writer as well. I want to grow as a person,get out of my comfort zone.but social anxiety is stopping me to do so.i feel very self conscious when talking with fellow humans.so i am always quiet and not “lively” but i wanna change that about myself. This article was a big kick i needed.i am gonnA try my best even if i fail

  • Miko

    You just made my life with this post thank you

  • marc

    Hi Tania,
    I just came across this post And I really needed it:-)). I’ve been in the food sales biz for a long time feeling caged as you put it ,now I’m 55 and need to make a change, problem is what to do???