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Mental Health

Ready To Step Out of Your Comfort Zone? Experts Share 5 Ways To Reach New Heights

Plus, the simple bracelet trick that'll help you tackle challenges with grace, grit and confidence

You’ve heard that stepping out of your comfort zone helps you grow. But challenging yourself to try new things can be downright scary. Here, experts share easy ways to outsmart fears, take a few smart risks and embrace your true potential. After all, recent research shows ditching same-old routines won’t just make you happier — it’ll make your brain sharper.

Why step out your comfort zone?

“Our research and follow-up studies, highlight the importance of challenging ourselves to step out of our comfort zone for our personal growth and wellbeing,” confirms researcher Pninit Russo-Netzer, Ph.D. She explains that studies suggest individuals with higher levels of openness — a trait characterized by curiosity and a willingness to explore unfamiliar ideas and situations — also tend to have stronger cognitive reserves. “Engaging with novelty and complexity stimulates the brain, promoting the formation of new neural pathways.” (learn how curiosity melts stress, too)

What’s more? When you challenge yourself, you often gain valuable insights into your strengths, weaknesses, fears and motivations. Says Russo-Netzer, “This increased self-awareness can help you make more informed decisions and align your life with your goals and values.” Keep reading for five surprising ways to gently push yourself out of familiar territory and broaden your horizons even further.

1. Pinpoint (and overcome!) common roadblocks

The key question to ask yourself is, “What’s holding me back?” says psychologist Andy Molinsky, Ph.D., author of Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, and Build Confidence. He has identified three common reasons we often get stuck in our comfort zone:

  • Authenticity: “You might avoid something you’ve never done before, like travel abroad, because it doesn’t feel like you,” Molinsky explains.
  • Likeability: We often worry that if we step out of our comfort zone and act or behave differently, people won’t like this new version of us.
  • Competence: “If you don’t feel like you’re good at something, like public speaking, for example, you tend to want to stay in your comfort zone,” he says.

Whichever roadblock you’re facing, there is one simple way to nudge yourself forward: “Remind yourself that when you avoid something, you never learn — and learning is a very powerful motivator, triggering a positive spiral,” says Molinksy. “The things we avoid are typically not as scary as we thought and we’re better at them than we thought.”

Happy woman in her 50s confidently does a little dance because she is leaving her comfort zone

2. Picture what you want to feel

Envisioning the outcome of your efforts as specifically as possible will help spark momentum, says psychologist Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D. “If you want to join a book club or an auxiliary group at your church, for example, but it feels a bit beyond what you’re normally comfortable with, just take a moment to imagine the concrete benefits,” she encourages. “So, by being part of a certain committee, you’ll have a larger say in how the organization is run, or you’ll have an opportunity to get to know the members better. Just picture enjoying yourself and try to feel it your body: How will this change make your life better?” This deceptively simple question, she promises, is key to embracing new challenges.

3. Find your ‘custom fit’

One of the biggest takeaways Molinsky discovered in his research on people who successfully venture outside their comfort zone is that they all tend customize their approach to a new activity. “They tweak it to make it just a little bit more comfortable,” he says. “That could mean bringing a good luck charm or ‘prop’ with you when you have to give a presentation at work.” He recalls an example of a woman who wears what she calls a “fierce bracelet” to boost her confidence when she tries new things. “Timing” is another easy way to customize your approach, he adds. “If you’re uncomfortable walking into a loud event or party, for example, you might arrive early to familiarize yourself with the surroundings.” These little tweaks, “puts power back in your hands,” and helps you feel more in control.

African American woman gingerly strokes her good-luck bracelet, as it boosts her confidence to try new things and leave her comfort zone

4. Embark on a local adventure

“We can train our ‘growth muscle’ to expand our comfort zone by regularly exposing ourselves to new experiences in familiar places,” says Russo-Netzer. “That may mean smiling or giving a compliment to a stranger on the street or even behaving like a ‘tourist’ in your own neighborhood by, say, visiting a new coffee shop.” Taking small steps like this somewhere we feel safe and confident, helps defuse what she calls uncertainty aversion or fear of the unknown.

5. Reward yourself each step of the way

“Acknowledging our progress is instrumental in sustaining motivation,” declares Russo-Netzer. “When you successfully complete a ‘stretch activity,’ or move outside your perceived limits, celebrate the achievement, no matter how small it may seem. This reinforces the positive feelings associated with stepping out of your comfort zone and encourages you to continue the process.” She adds that varying the types and timing of your rewards helps prevent them from losing their motivational impact. “Build in an element of surprise or unexpectedness to the way you treat yourself — the key is to find rewards that are meaningful to you.”

For more confidence-boosting tips:

How to Stop Taking Things Personally: 6 Expert Tips to Build Resilience

Tired of Feeling Underestimated? Here Are 6 Tips for Restoring Confidence

These Dolly Parton Quotes on Joy and Perseverance Will Inspire You (Like Only Dolly Can)

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