“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” ~Neale Donald Walsch
Lights out. Eyes closed. We biked through an imaginary trail. Our guide shouted the magic word, “switch,” and we knew it was time. We began using our minds to visualize where we wanted to be.
I imagined biking down my favorite street in a city abroad.
I enjoyed feeling the bumpy ride on the uneven pavement, looking at the clothes line-drying from beautiful ancient buildings, smelling delicious aromas from local cafés, and listening to the different languages that people were speaking around me.
My heart felt full. I felt happy.
The instructor told our group to shout the word “switch” whenever we felt the urge, and each person had the choice to either stay where they were or switch their path.
I felt every muscle working, my heart pumping, the energy soaring within and around me. Hearing that powerful word pushed me to courageously continue on the path that felt right to me. I did not want to switch back.
I felt fearless.
Then the class ended. My eyes opened, the lights turned on, and I was still in the same place. I was left with the idea of that path, and I knew I wanted to be riding down it more than anything.
Playing this game in my college spinning class reminded me that we all have the ability to create the life we want, but we must be willing to get uncomfortable and embrace change.
Which Path Would You Choose?
There’s a path we are taught we “should” follow, a path that we learn about early on from our family, friends, and teachers. There is also a path that is true to our heart, a path that feels right to each of us individually.
For a long time, I lived as a people pleaser and had difficulty making my own choices without getting approval from others. I wanted to switch paths, but I was afraid I would disappoint the people I loved the most.
A while back, I realized that I had lost my way to the path that inspired me. I had become too comfortable because I had ignored my heart for so long, and I did not know how to make a change.
I had recently completed my bachelor’s degree and started teaching. I had a loving family, great friends, a perfect puppy, a motivating job, and many materialistic comforts surrounding me. But deep down inside, I felt like something was missing.
I had the urge to explore, to travel, and discover the unknown. But I wouldn’t allow myself to follow these urges because the people I cared about and respected perceived them as irrational.
However, “Switch” reminded me that I am free to choose the path I want to go down, and it ignited the power I have within myself to make it there. So I decided to incorporate “Switch” into my real life.
My switch was leaving everything that felt familiar to participate in a six-month work/study abroad program.
Most people in the program were eighteen, and I was twenty-four. Many people questioned why I wanted to do this at my age. But I knew why, and that was all that mattered.
I was going to live in the Middle East for six months. I would learn a new language, volunteer wherever I was needed, share a room with two eighteen-year-old strangers, and meet ninety people from twenty-six different countries.
I was bursting with excitement but scared out of my mind, because this would push me out of my comfort zone, and I had no idea what other changes in my life would stem from this big switch.
The moment I stepped on the plane, there was no turning back. My life was changed forever.
Incorporating “Switch” into Your Life
Each one of us has the ability to choose the life we want to live, and to change direction throughout the course of our lives.
Opportunities for change may become limited after we take on more commitments and responsibilities, and our families grow. But there are still options available to us. If we are willing to get creative and are open to change, we can follow our interests at any stage in our lives.
Your switch can be minor or more dynamic. Switch is about what you need and what works for you.
If you feel that you are on a path that is not true to your heart, if you have pushed yourself to pedal along but think you are heading in the wrong direction, if you are afraid of change or are ready to make some changes, employ these five strategies to help you switch and begin living the life you want to live.
1. Incorporate minor switches into your life.
Switch the way you drive to work, switch up your schedule, switch your usual restaurant.
Minor switches prepare you to make larger changes in your life, and enable you to get out of your comfort zone and live the life you want to live.
2. Visualize what would make you fulfilled.
Allow yourself to veer off the “should” path, and imagine yourself going on a ride to find what’s true to your heart. Focus. Create a picture in your mind and really try to be there.
What does it look like? Where are you? Who are you with? What are you doing? How are you doing it? How do you feel doing it, and why?
It’s all too easy to go through life trying to please everyone else, without ever identifying what you value and what interests you. But in order to change paths, you first need to visualize one that excites you.
3. Identify small switches you can make to work toward your goals.
There are always possibilities for us to enhance our lives if we are willing to get creative.
You could take a night class to work toward learning something new; search for free workshops or events (in person or online) that intrigue you; begin a book, debate, or art club with your friends; and/or try something that will make you feel good, such as yoga, dancing, or volunteering, independently or with your family.
Don’t stress about making a major switch. Not everyone can drop everything and travel abroad (and not everyone wants to). The goal is to identify tiny steps you can take to work toward that life you envisioned.
4. Don’t attach to your worries.
It's natural to want to please the people we love, but try to let go of any expectations you feel from others, or ones you might have created for yourself.
If you start worrying about what other people might think of you or fearing their judgment, remind yourself that this is just a story in your head, and you don’t have to attach to it.
I have learned that the people who truly care about you will be there to support you wherever your path may take you. You might be surprised when you find out who that is, but they will be the ones that set you free, and you’ll both know that it isn’t goodbye forever.
5. Prepare to be at least a little uncomfortable.
Whenever we try something new, even if it’s something we’ve always wanted to do, it can feel a little scary and uncomfortable. But that feeling fades over time, as we stretch our comfort zone, and we usually end up feeling glad that we pushed ourselves to grow.
For example, taking my first spinning class was uncomfortable for me, but over time, challenging myself felt good. It had a meaningful impact on my mind and body. It also ended up leading me to the game “Switch,” and helped me identify the major switch I wanted to make in my life. You never know what you’ll discover about yourself when you get a little uncomfortable.
It’s never too late to live a life that excites you. Develop a “switch” mindset, and allow yourself to take the first steps toward the life you want to live.
Excited man image via Shutterstock