When I was 14, I got certified to scuba dive, but I never went.
At 28, I took a refresher course, bought the gear and decided it was time to try again. Never happened.
Eventually at 29, four days in the Florida Keys presented me the chance to finally take the plunge. I should've been excited, but I only felt unsettled. What if I'm attacked by a shark? What if I panic underwater and drown? What if I forget what to do?
On the surface, I didn’t want to seem fearful. Mike sensed my anxiety and knew that if I didn’t prepare myself early, I would panic at go-time. He brought my gear to the pool and went over the entire BC, air tank, gauges, setup, hand signals, and a few practice runs. He even pulled my mask off without warning just to be sure I could recover properly. (Although, I’m sure he secretly enjoyed it).
With all seriousness, I asked him, “What is our shark attack plan?”
He answered simply, “That’s not going to happen, BUT, we would get on the boat, bandage it up and go to the emergency room.”
Spoken like a true paramedic.
As simple as it sounded, his response was clear, uncomplicated and an actual plan. Even though the idea of a shark attack was frightening (and highly unlikely), understanding how to handle the worst case scenario minimized the size of the fear in my mind and allowed me to focus on my excitement.
Fears Schmears: A Dirty Little Word
Phobias. Mental barriers. Worries. Excuses. Anxieties. These bad words are the Keepers of the Comfort Zones. They want us to live small, measly lives absent of joy, personal growth and fulfillment.
Maybe your comfort zone is barricaded by fear of change, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of being judged. At the root of it all, we share the same enemy. Fear.
Lifehacker.com defines the comfort zone as a behavioral space where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk. It provides a state of mental security. You benefit in obvious ways: regular happiness, low anxiety, and reduced stress.
Sounds like living within your zone of comfort is blissful and stable, but I would argue that without taking some risks, you are leaving a hell of a lot of reward on the proverbial table of life.
I'm willing to bet that the greatest moments in your life involved some level of discomfort and fear. Giving birth, starting a business, going on that date, scuba diving in the ocean.
Well, my friends... This Is Your Wake Up Call. Whatever little (or big) thing you've been wanting to do, but haven't had the confidence, courage or push to take the first step - allow me to lift you up and throw you in the deep end!
Here are some tips to help you break free from your comfort zone.
Pick One Thing and Own It
You don’t have to go skydiving to get outside your comfort zone. Pick one small feat, set your goal and make it happen. It could be trying a new food, saying hi to a stranger or attempting that Pinterest project you’ve been eyeing.
Once you decide, tell your spouse, your best friend, your mom, your dog. Those you love and trust will be happy to support you in your endeavor and hold you accountable.
Take Massive Action
What are the steps you must take to make it happen? Write them down and attack them one by one. Each accomplishment will create the momentum you need to keep you going.
When you slow down, the fears start creeping in, setting up shop and sticking their fearful little heads where they don’t belong. Even if you don't have the "how" figured out, dive in and start splashing around. FMA: Forward Movement Always.
Get Comfortable With Feeling Uncomfortable
You know the feeling. Somewhat anxious, questioning yourself and flutters in your gut. That awkward feeling of not knowing what you're doing or learning something new in front of others. This is the point where most people turn back. Don't.
Learn to recognize the discomfort, get outside your head, tip your snapback to it and carry on with your bad self. Run the worst case scenario through your mind and make a plan for it. When you are prepared for the possibilities, you disarm the "What If's" because you've already weighed them out.
Disclaimer: I’m not saying you should ignore your gut instinct when it comes to danger. There is a difference between false fears and knowing when something is the downright wrong decision. Only you know which one it is.
Use Your Fear To Your Advantage
Easier said than done. This one takes practice and mindfulness (and by no means have I mastered it).
Everyone has an outlet. A way to harness your emotions and channel them into actions that create a positive and productive outcome. Relieving stress with a solid workout. Eliminating frustrations through an enjoyable hobby. Expressing your feelings by writing, listening to music, creating art or taking photographs.
When fear takes hold, our instinctive reaction is to stop, turn back and run to our comfort zone. It takes a conscious and willing effort to resist the easy way out, decide to press forward and take actions that lead to your goal.
Accept That Failure Is Inevitable
This doesn't mean you should succumb to it. We've all been there. And we hate hearing that it builds character and writes our story of overcoming adversity. But it's true. Fail good and hard. Learn from it. Move on.
If you've never failed, you've never tried anything new.
Celebrate Your Victories
There's no shame in being proud of yourself for achieving something! Stay in the moment and be present. Don't rush on to the next thing. Enjoy how you are feeling, reflect on your journey and capture the moment to look back on. You might need it one day to remind yourself how capable and amazing you are.
I did end up completing my first real dive without incident. It took some assistance from my trusted 'coach,' but I knew that if I didn't push through my fears, another year (or 14) would pass with another excuse.
I could have just shared a smiling, post-dive picture for hurrahs and validation, but that is only one small part of the story. The part we most often see onscreen: the reward. It's important for you to know the backstory. I was scared. Things didn't go smoothly in my mind. It actually took me 15 years to accomplish.
I write all this to say have courage to try something new. You might surprise yourself.
Decide what you want, wrestle your fears to the ground and use them to propel you toward your goal... somewhere far away from that comfort zone of yours.
Write your backstory - dramatic or subtle, messy or immaculate, it's yours and it's the one you'll tell forever.
Don't stop until you reap the reward. It's the reason you're doing all of this, after all.
If you need encouragement, you know where to find me!
What are your tips for breaking outside your comfort zone? Or your story of overcoming fear? Please comment below, I'd love to hear!