How to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Estimated Read Time: 4 minutes
This week I came across a quote that read “be brave enough to suck at something new”. It has stuck in my head ever since! So much so that I felt compelled to write a blog post about it.
This is not aimed solely at someone who may be starting out in the gym, but anyone who is taking on something new in their lives.
Your brain doesn’t like ‘new’
Let me first remind you that your brain is fundamentally wired for survival. Remember, as modern humans we have changed our environment beyond recognition. But, up until recently, we lived like most other mammals – roaming the savanna looking for food, breeding and trying to stay safe.
Your brain is the same as your ancestor’s brains were thousands of years ago; with safety being a top priority. On a deep, subconscious level, your brain is constantly on the lookout for potential danger, sending messages around your head to avoid anything that is ‘new’.
And here lies the problem. The primitive, emotional area of your brain hates uncertainty. This is why people find their ‘comfort zones’, well, so comfortable. Their brains know that it’s safe because they have been doing the same things over and over again for such a long time. There is no need to put the body on alert in this scenario – all is calm, all is peaceful.
Your brain and senses (eyes, smell, touch etc) are in constant, cross-communication. If the information taken in through your eyes and ears are already recognised as safe within the memory area of your brain then it has no need to kick off. However, shit hits the fan when the information taken in through your senses isn’t recognised as safe and ‘normal’.
Anything new, in the eyes of your brain, is initially a potential threat to life. It heightens up your fight or flight system, it bounces messages around your head telling you to go back to your comfort zone, where safety is ensured.
As humans, we were not built to live in such a complex world. We are not really designed to ‘work’ or be constantly pushed into new environments, surrounded by new people.
Success, to the primitive part of your brain, is simply about survival. Not about progressing in your career, or improving your body shape, or any other goals outside of staying alive. These are subjective beliefs of the modern world that shape how we now view success.
For us, modern, Western humans, primitive success (being feed, ensuring we are safe etc) is generally a given in this day and age. So that leaves our brains yearning for success elsewhere.
The older, survival part of our brain, and more modern, rational part, start fighting against each other over what actions we should take. The newer, rational area, called the neocortex, tells us to step outside of our comfort zone, to progress in our careers etc. But the older, emotional area, known as the limbic system, tells us to stay in our comfort zones, which is recognised as safe.
You will find these two areas within your brain fighting against each other multiple times a day. This is what self-talk is. Your brain is a neural parliament, weighing up what actions to take – like two political parties going head to head to win. The problem is the older, emotional, survival part usually has the loudest voice. And this is why so many of us get frustrated at ourselves when we want to be brave and try something new, but never end up doing so.
Negative thoughts tell you you can’t, tell you that you’ll fail – this is your survival, protective brain talking to you. Then, it will try and defend your lack of action by making excuses as to why it wouldn’t have worked out anyway – this, again, is a protective strategy of the survival brain. When you retreat back into your comfort zone it can relax, but the frustration of your more modern, rational area of your brain persists.
This incessant, wicked cycle persists in the brain of many modern humans for most of their lives. But to understand ‘why’, and that there are genuine, hardwired reasons within your brain as to why it happens, should offer you some peace.
Understanding the ‘why’ helped me take the pressure off myself. Which, over time, allowed me to be brave enough to accept that I must initially suck at new things. It allowed me to develop a growth mindset, where anything is possible! I hope this will do the same for you.
From now on, I ask you to normalise the feeling of fear and anxiety, whenever you are taking on something new. For me, if you never feel these things, then you are stuck in your comfort zone. This is fine if you are genuinely happy with where your life is up to.
But, if, like me, you are constantly wanting to progress in all aspects of your life, then you have to normalise the feeling of anxiousness, of sucking at something new, of negative, internal voices.
No one is born good at anything, we all start as beginners in everything we do. From the most basic of things like walking and writing, To more complex things like driving a car or running a business. Let your barriers down, let vulnerability in, be willing to seek help and accept advice.
This open mindset and an understanding of the battles fought within your brain, should help you take on new things. Whether that be attending the gym, starting a new career, or anything that you have never done before – from now on, feel the fear and carry on anyway.
All my love,
Sam Jones Fitness