How to Break out of Your Social Comfort Zone
Do you remember experiencing a time when you wanted to do something, but somehow you ended up not doing it, and then you found yourself soundly regretting it afterwards? Probably one too many times. Now go back to one of those moments, and try to remember why you did not go forward and get it done. More often than not, the reason you did not do it was because you were afraid, or you were unsure.
Some of us are afraid of failing, that no matter how much effort we put into doing something, we still would not get the results we want. Worse, the results may be the exact opposite of what we wanted. Many times, however, the fear stemmed from the fact that it involves the unfamiliar. You are doing something you have never tried before. You are stepping into unknown territory. You are stepping out of your comfort zone.
This guide provides 1) an introduction to social comfort zones, 2) why you should branch out of your comfort zone, and 3) tips on how to break out of your social comfort zone.
COMFORT ZONES AND THE SOCIAL BEING
A comfort zone is any place or situation where an individual feels safe or at ease, and where he or she can function without stress. It is where he or she feels most comfortable in, because there are no external threats that can unsettle him or her. It has been identified as a psychological or behavioral state where a person “operates in an anxiety-neutral position”.
If we take that into a social context, we are talking about the social comfort zone. If you are a person who divides your time between home and work, your social comfort zone may be limited to your family and co-workers. If you occasionally go out at night with friends, they are also included in your social comfort zone. There are simply some people who have bigger and wider social circles than others.
Man, by nature, is a social being; he is a social animal. No matter how much of an introvert or a “lone wolf” he is, it is ingrained in the human psyche to seek belongingness. However, it is also a reality that many people have difficulties interacting or being social with other people, or with society as a whole. What’s stopping them? Most likely, they have spent way too much time in their comfort zones, they are afraid of stepping out of it.
WHY YOU SHOULD BREAK OUT OF YOUR SOCIAL COMFORT ZONE
Within your comfort zone, you believe that you have everything you need – love, food and sustenance, time, admiration, personal satisfaction. You are in full control. You are the ruler of your own world. So why, then, should you rock that steady boat and go somewhere you will be competing for those things? Why should you even consider stepping out of your social comfort zone?
- It is indicative of growth. Whether you want to grow personally or professionally, you should accept the reality that you have to break out of your social comfort zone. Deciding to break out of your social comfort zone, and actually taking steps to actively do it, is a sign of maturity. You are accepting the challenge, knowing that it will make you grow.
- It will break the monotony of your daily grind. You cannot get to the other side of town to do your shopping unless you step out of your door. You will not be able to experience new things if you avoid them for the simple reason that they are out of your comfort zone. If you do not experience new things, life tends to become dull and boring, and surely you do not want that. Or do you?
- It increases your knowledge. Some of the most valuable lessons are learned outside the four walls of a classroom or an educational institution. We can only learn so much from books and from the Internet. Sometimes, the best lessons are learned when you step out and experience them firsthand. So you haven’t travelled with friends before? Do so today, and you will be surprised at the amount of knowledge that you will acquire if only you step out of your comfort zone.
- It will improve performance. You may not realize this, but you may actually perform better if you are under a certain degree of stress or pressure. If there is a deadline coming up, you tend to become more focused on your task. If there are other people depending on you to provide some output at a certain time or date, you tend to up your performance more than usual. When you step out of your comfort zone, you are subjected to an environment where you will feel anxious and faced with stress, and that will help your performance reach its optimum level.
- It will make you more versatile and flexible. Change is another thing that most people dread, since it requires some adjustment on their part. By breaking out of your comfort zone, you will be exposed to various scenarios and experiences where you will be trained to handle changes like a boss. You will then learn how to adapt to changing environments easily.
SIGNS THAT YOU SHOULD BREAK OUT OF YOUR SOCIAL COMFORT ZONE
You might not know it, but you may actually be one of those people who prefer staying within the confines of their social comfort zones. I request that you take a long, hard look at yourself, and assess whether you, too, have these tendencies. Identifying these signs within yourself will help motivate you to face the challenge of stepping out of your comfort zone.
- You are too shy or too much of an introvert. Being shy is a natural response. There are some people who take longer than most to warm up to other people and new or strange situations. But if your level of shyness is too much that it is starting to become an obstacle in interacting with other people on a personal or professional level, you should start becoming concerned.
- You feel burnt out most of the time, and the reason for this is because you feel like you are in a rut. Basically, you are getting bored with your daily routine, even with the people that you regularly come into contact with. When you are getting tired of seeing and talking to the same handful of friends and acquaintances day in and day out, you might want to consider expanding your social network.
- The very idea of doing something unfamiliar scares the daylights out of you. For some reason, you feel freaked out even at the thought of speaking in front of a room full of people, something you’ve never done before. If this scares you, and you think your reaction is a bit over the top, you may have problems with your comfort zone having taken over you.
TIPS ON BREAKING OUT OF YOUR SOCIAL COMFORT ZONE
#1 Decide to leave your comfort zone
This is, for many, the most difficult part: making that decision. Recognizing that you are stuck in your comfort zone and that it is starting to become a liability is already hard enough. Deciding that you should break out of it and face the unknown makes it that much harder. That is because making the decision means that you have to acknowledge that you are afraid and uncertain about a lot of things.
Make that conscious decision to start stepping out of your social comfort zone, even if it is with baby steps. You can start by making a list of the things that you will do to gradually achieve that.
#2 Do not be afraid to make a fool of yourself
Be silly. So what if others laugh at you? If you do it voluntarily and intentionally, you can look at it as making them laugh. It is ok to not be perfect all the time, and to look like a fool every once in a while.
One of the fears of individuals who are considered to be “socially inept” is what other people think of them. They become too afraid that others will laugh at them, to the extent that they end up not doing anything at all. What they do not know is that this actually has a negative impact on their social interactions.
#3 Look at the worst case scenario
Sometimes, the fear of many people keeps them from contemplating the “worst thing that could happen”. They think that, by not thinking about it, it won’t happen. That’s not how the world works.
When you are about to attempt something you haven’t done before, you should consider the worst thing that can happen. You also have to accept the fact that you might fail. Set your expectations high, but you should also open yourself to the possibility of feeling disappointment in the event that it will not work out as planned.
Condition your mind to think that, even if you failed, at least you tried. You took that leap of faith and made an attempt of it. Next time, you know better, and you will definitely do better.
#4 Face your fears. Acknowledge them and look for ways to work around them
How many things or experiences have you missed out on because of your fears? Maybe you’ve always wanted to go on a cruise, but your fear of being seasick held you back. Maybe you’ve always dreamed of climbing a mountain, but you had a fear of falling down and getting injured.
Take an objective look at your fears. List down as many as you can, and try to identify the things that you would have wanted to do, if not for these fears holding you back.
Next, think of ways that can help you address those fears. You may not be able to eliminate them completely, but there may be some ways to alleviate them to a tolerable degree. Maybe you can consult with a physician and ask for something to manage your dizziness or seasickness. As for your fear of getting hurt while on a climb, maybe you can look for hiking or climbing trails that are beginner-friendly. Or stock up on climbing gear that will protect you from injuries.
If you look hard enough, you will no doubt find that solutions are actually there, waiting to be discovered by you.
#5 Take risks
Try saying yes to everything. Or, if you’re not comfortable to do it all at once, try saying yes to something. In the past, you may have noticed always saying “no” when you are invited to social gatherings or if some other social plans come up. For a change, try saying “yes” instead. If your friends ask you to go for a night of karaoke with them, say yes. If they want you to try an exotic dish or delicacy from another country whose name you can’t even spell, say yes, and do it.
Be spontaneous. There is nothing wrong with planning everything down to the smallest detail. If it is in your nature to be meticulous, and you refuse to go anywhere without a whole notebook filled with plans from A to Z, consider throwing caution to the wind once in a while. Spontaneity will do you good.
This is true even if it is done in small measures. You can start small. Say, for example, that you are vacationing with a group of friends in another country. You can plan everything else, but try to be spontaneous in some aspects, such as leaving an entire day unplanned, or deciding to eat meals in the first open place that you see when you arrive.
Small steps they may be, but they mean that you are taking risks, so that is a good start.
Don’t get too attached with the outcome or the result. You may start doing something because of the end result. You become too fixated on achieving that result that, when you do take the risk and things go the other way, you’re likely to curl in on yourself and go crawling back to your comfort zone. Don’t.
Climb a mountain because you want to climb it, not because you want to reach the summit. Go to a karaoke with co-workers because you want to go to one, not because you want to impress them and make them your instant best friends. Go on a trip with friends because you want to spend time with them in a new place, not because you want them to think that you are the most fun person around to be with.
If you handle your level of attachment to a specific outcome, you will be able to enjoy being more sociable.
Take risks, but do not be reckless. You have to be smart about the risks that you take, however. Being spontaneous and being a risk-taker do not translate to being reckless. You should still exercise caution at every turn. If it is going to potentially harm others, or even yourself, then you should rethink it and look for other opportunities instead.
#6 Actively seek out opportunities
Do not leave the adventure-seeking to your social circles. You should also take an active part in finding new opportunities, because you will be creating an environment where you are in control.
The moment you stepped out of your social comfort zone, you may have felt that you are losing control. Taking an active role will help you take back some of the control that has seemingly slipped out of your grasp.
#7 Do not expect overnight miracles
Even the experts will tell you that, the first time they tried moving out of their comfort zones, it didn’t feel so good, or the initial results weren’t as satisfying as they thought. Well, guess what? That is a normal reaction. After all, moving out of your social comfort zone is a process, a transition that will definitely take some time and quite a lot of work.
Be patient. Do not rush things. You may not know it, but others around you may also be going through the same phase, so they, too, need some time.
#8 Choose to be around sociable individuals
So you want to break out of your shell? Be around people who will help draw you out of it. Maybe you have a co-worker who is naturally outgoing and easily talks to people. Spend time with that person.
Maybe you have a friend who is spontaneous and even a daredevil. Hang out with that friend more often. You never know, some of their enthusiasm and passion may rub off on you.
#9 Do not pretend to be someone you are not
This is the danger of breaking out of one’s social comfort zone: in order to be socially accepted, some people tend to pretend or act like someone else. They think that other people may like them more if they act a certain way, especially in ways that are completely opposite to who they truly are. It is one thing to adapt in order to be socially capable, but it is another thing to lose your identity altogether.
Be yourself. So what if others will not like you for who you are? There are bound to be others who will. It is easier to have fun in your expanded social circles if you remain true to who you really are.
It is perfectly all right to feel uncomfortable or out of sorts, especially in the beginning. That is all part of the learning process, and you will definitely learn a lot when you take courage and break out of your social comfort zone.