“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” – Brian Tracy
Have you ever come to a crossroad in your life?
You know something needs to change, but you have more than one option—and it feels like there’s a lot of pressure on you to make the right choice.
That was me a few months ago.
I was stressed, overworked, and in what you would probably call a rut. Fatigued and struggling to get things done, I initially thought that all I needed was a break. But I soon realized that that wasn’t the case.
What had happened was that being tired had driven me to get stuck in a messy cycle of negative thoughts, and every time I tried to untangle little problems, things seemed to get worse.
Everyone around me was telling me to take a rest. But intuitively, I didn’t think a rest was what I needed. I’m generally a confident guy, but if you spend enough time in your own head, doubt will always begin to plant its seeds.
What I needed wasn’t a break—it was a confidence boost.
So what was my cure for the escalating stress?
What was my grand plan to beat this anxiety?
I thought I’d try stand-up comedy.
Yep. I thought I would do one of the most stressful things most people can imagine. I would get up in front of a crowd and try to make them laugh. So I did.
In the lead up to the night of my set, all the anxiety that I had been feeling was amplified.
As I sat behind the curtain waiting to go on stage, my palms sweaty, leg tapping furiously, I tried to breathe slowly to calm myself down, but my thoughts raced so quickly I couldn’t even make them out. Why was I doing this? Should I just get up and leave right now? Who would knowingly put themselves through something like this?
It was too late. My name was called, I stood up, opened the curtain, and….
It actually went really well.
Don’t get me wrong. It was every bit as scary as I expected, but as I predicted, it shook my brain up enough to break free of the mental rut I was in.
And while it didn’t solve everything overnight, it did set off a chain reaction of renewed attitudes and choices, which left me with more energy, vitality, and positivity than I had had for months.
So without further ado, here are five ways pushing your comfort zone can pull you out of a mental rut.
1. It gives you a reference experience for future challenges.
When it’s been a long time since you really pushed yourself, a new challenge can seem incredibly daunting. Your first response is usually “How on earth am I going to do that?”
If, on the other hand, you’ve done something difficult relatively recently, your brain will immediately look to that reference experience as an example.
Since the night of the comedy, I’ve been fortunate to achieve quite a lot in a short amount of time. That’s because every time I face a difficult task, I try to think, “Well, could be hard, but if I could do stand-up comedy, I can definitely do this.”
2. It makes you feel alive again.
A mental rut will depress your emotions and that means you will feel less of the good stuff. The longer this goes on, the easier it is for your body to forget what vitality feels like.
By having a huge rush of neurochemicals like adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin, you immediately remember just how great it can feel to be alive.
3. It can redefine your self-image.
After having spent some time in a mental rut, I started to lose confidence. When I thought about who I was and what I was capable of, I started to constantly reflect on what I hadn’t been able to achieve.
However, when I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, I started to again think of myself as the person who could do difficult things.
Our self-image is such a vague and always changing idea in our minds, but it is one that unavoidably has a big impact on our lives. By doing things that allow you to have a positive self-image, you gather the momentum to pull yourself out of tough times.
4. It will inspire others.
Inspiring other people around you, by pushing your comfort zone, has a number of benefits.
For one, it will change how they perceive you and how they act toward you, and in doing so alter the perception that you have of yourself.
But maybe even more importantly, inspiring people around you can encourage them to push their own comfort zones, and their actions will in turn inspire you. When you spend more and more time around people who are helping each other grow, you’ll all benefit from each other’s positivity, and the boundaries of what you believe is possible will expand.
5. It reminds you that emotions will come and go.
For the last few years, I’ve made a big effort to try and embrace one of the fundamental truths in both eastern spirituality and western psychology: that emotions will come and go; they are just experiences and do not define you.
But I’m only human. So like everyone else I’m constantly forgetting and re-remembering of this truth. Sometimes it’s as simple as noticing the differences in your mood change between morning and evening, and sometimes it’s more profound, such as doing something you never thought possible.
So what does this mean about you?
If you’re going through a mental rut or even a period of depression, and you don’t think it’s simply a matter of needing a rest, try doing something that takes you out of your comfort zone.
I’ve heard of countless experiences of someone doing something new, whether it be surfing, jumping out of a plane, or even traveling to a new place, and it’s completely changed their situation. If you decide to do so, at the very least you’ll have a wonderful new experience to refer to.
Remember that if you’re in a mental rut, you’re not alone. Everyone goes through it at one stage or another, and reaching out to others is important.
How have you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone, and how did it help you?
About Benjamin Fishel
Ben Fishel is a transpersonal psychotherapist. He has a background in neuroscience, counseling and existential psychotherapy and is on a mission to help people improve their mental health with cognitive science and spirituality. Ben offers online therapy worldwide (with the exception of Canada & the U.S.). You can book a FREE 15-minute call to see if you’d like to work with him—and don’t forget to follow him on Facebook for more of his essays.