Life Outside The Comfort Zone: 10 Lessons In 12 Months

"The breakthrough you’ve been waiting for is hidden somewhere you’ve never been."
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Chances are, if you’ve ever come within 50 feet of a Pinterest board, you’ve seen Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous quote, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Inspired by her chutzpah, and curious what the implications would be, I decided to try it out for myself. I adapted the quote to what I felt was doable in my own life, setting up only two rules: 1) that the activities I choose be outside my comfort zone, and 2) that I pick at least one thing I had never done before every single month. (While I admired her spirit of choosing something every single day, given that I struggle to come up with a new idea for dinner on a daily basis, I decided that a monthly cadence would be more realistic as a starting point.)

Since then, I’ve scaled rock walls. I’ve bungee-jumped over a rushing river in the mountains. I’ve downward-dogged at a Bikram yoga class, dyed my naturally light locks a deep dark brown, and entered a sprint triathlon without having swam a single lap since high school. And over the course of a year, I learned 10 powerful lessons about life, adventure and taking chances. They just might inspire you to make your own fear-defying list, too.

1. There is power in saying yes before you are ready.

In improv, there is a classic rule-of-thumb called, “Yes, and…” which suggests that participants accept whatever another participant states, then willingly build off of it. Comedian Hugh Laurie elaborates:

It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now.

While taking chances, I ultimately learned to just. say. yes. If you’ve been waiting to sign up for that marathon, to accept that audition, or to ask that love interest on a date… go for it. Now is the time. And if you’re having a hard time getting over that first hurdle…

2. Take the smallest step.

The first step may be the hardest, but fortunately, we live in an era where technology is actually an incredible ally. If you’re having a hard time committing yourself to the whole encounter, just focus on the first thing you can do to get moving. Close your eyes and click register on that website. Take a deep breath and press send on that email. If you just entered a marathon, first focus solely on making it to the starting line. And when you hear the starting gunshot, aim to take one stride, then another. Before you know it, you’ll have rounded the mile marker and be on your way to several more.

3. No matter the outcome, chalk it up to a good story.

In the height of my dating days, I adopted a philosophy that helped psych me out of first-date jitters. I began to realize that, no matter how my dates went, they always ended up being just a good story when all was said and done. If the date was a total catch, it was a good story. If the date bombed on epic levels, it was still a good story ― and perhaps an even more amusing one ― to look back on. I transferred this approach to all of the firsts in my life; if I could just get through the adventure, I’d have a story to either relish or laugh about (or both) afterward.

4. No one is thinking about you ― and that’s a good thing.

When I first started venturing to new outings, I couldn’t escape feeling like all eyes were on me. Then on one particularly ill-fated attempt at Bikram yoga, when the instructor literally had to stop class to prevent me from passing out in a New York City heatwave, I realized: Even if people notice you, no one really cares. And I mean this in the best way. Everyone is either so preoccupied worrying about their own performance, or wishing you well regardless of yours, that it should free you to enjoy the moment without worrying about other people’s perceptions of you.

5. Failure breeds bravery.

Speaking of royally embarrassing yourself, nothing will help you overcome your fears more. In fact, embrace embarrassment and failure when they come your way. When I entered a sprint triathlon, at the outset of the race I gulped down so much lake water that I had to roll over onto my back before I could resume swimming again. Not exactly the start I was hoping for, but you know what? Once your fear comes true, you realize that you survive regardless. And each time you do, the fear of failure loses its grip, freeing you to be even more fearless the next time around.

6. Make friends with your nerves.

WIth your newfound fearlessness, you’ll start to recognize how anxiety surfaces for you, and which tricks work to overcome it. According to neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D, it takes 90 seconds for a wave of emotion to pass through people, so anticipate that and let the emotion run its course. In observing your own cyclical patterns, you’ll start to realize that nerves are just part of the process, and you’ll start to see them as just that: fleeting emotions that surface, retreat and are wholly worthwhile in exchange for new life experiences.

7. Begin with the end in mind.

Whatever it is that’s outside of your comfort zone — consider how long it will last at most. Five minutes? Three hours? One day? Then picture what you’ll be doing afterward. Maybe you’ll be grabbing yourself a celebratory treat, calling your significant other to share what happened, or taking a bath at the end of the long day. When I can’t get over how terrified I am, I remind myself that in just a matter of time the moment will be only a memory, and I will be back in the comfort of my own home having lived to tell about it.

While you’re at it, why not picture how you want things to turn out? Visualization is a powerful force that the world’s best athletes and leaders tap into to guide their circumstances. Set your sights on the best outcome possible, because who knows ― you just might get it.

8. Enlist your A-team.

No one said you had to go it alone. Enlist your fiercest, most fun-loving friends to turn the endeavor into a team event. You’ll not only still be checking something major off your bucket list, but you’ll have someone to share the memory with later on.

9. The breakthrough you’ve been waiting for is hidden somewhere you’ve never been.

The first time I found a solution to a problem I had been mulling over for quite some time while embarking on a new adventure, I considered it coincidence. Then it happened again. And again. And again. Now, I look forward to trying new things for the experience itself, as much as for the breakthrough that accompanies it. Getting outside your comfort zone is like hitting the reset button for your brain. When you travel outside of your routine channels of thinking, you often run into solutions you wouldn’t have arrived at otherwise.

10. One leap at a time adds up to a richer, more fulfilling life.

In addition to the sense of strength and confidence you’ll gain from all of the breakthroughs above, you’ll start to relish the rush of new activities. Your life will become richer, your circle wider, and your energy boundless. You’ll uncover passions you didn’t realize you had. You’ll meet people you never would have otherwise met. And you’ll start to look forward to enriching your life with new memories that shake up the ordinary and add color to your life.

What life outside the comfort zone looks like for you

If you’re seeking more passion, inspiration, courage or life experiences, I urge you to make your own list of new things to try out each month (or even each day, if you’re up for the challenge). Your ideas can be as small as saying hello to a stranger at a coffee shop, or as big as traveling to a foreign country. If you do take the leap, I’d love to hear what it’s like for you below in the comments. After all, good or bad, half the fun is in sharing the story with someone afterward.

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