Try something new — break out of comfort zone

Sunday , January 14, 2018 - 12:00 AM

By SIERRA CLARK
TX. Correspondent

Your mouth is suddenly bone dry. Your voice constricts and your vision begins to narrow. Your breathing comes fast and shallow.

No, you’re not deathly ill. Just standing in front of the room, auditioning for the school musical. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to do just this. I have never tried out for a musical, and in truth, I’ve never sang on my own, aside from when I’m by myself. Although I spent the entire weekend practicing and researching, when the moment came, I found myself with all those classic symptoms.

It is not an easy spot to be in. And it’s a spot many people fear. Ninety percent of the population has some level of fear regarding public speaking, according to a Forbes article, and although there’s no specific figure for singing in public, the nature of the act (i.e. standing in front of an audience and performing) assures a comparably high percentage of people sharing such fears.

One may be tempted to avoid these situations based on that fear. However, choosing to remain in our comfort zones can hamper our productivity, our ability to bounce back from life changes and our long-term happiness.

Most of us are familiar with the term “comfort zone,” but in essence, it refers to the set of behaviors that are familiar to each of us. It’s our routines, or those activities in which we are least stressed.

• Stress not all bad 

In an age in which we are urged to minimize our stress, it seems like a good idea to confine our activities to things we are comfortable with. However, this can be counterproductive to true progress. While it may be true that an excess of stress can be the culprit or exacerbating factor for health issues like obesity or heart disease, too little stress can cause decreases in productivity. The idea is that if you have no outside drive to complete tasks, it’s likely you will either take much longer than you might have, or you might just not do it at all.

Many of us know the tendency to procrastinate when a deadline seems far off, and the effects are likely to be the same in a no-stress environment. Thus, by trying things that may be a bit off the beaten path, you can introduce stress in order to help you have a heightened ability to grow within those new paths, or to reap the rewards of success on each small risk.

Within these benefits, there is a line. If you swing the pendulum too far and introduce more stress than you can handle, you’re back to the less desirable consequences of stress we often hear about.

It’s also important to note that these benefits can apply directly to your work. For example, if you take a chance and join the new robotics club and start preparing for a competition, that stress could help you progress much faster on how to program and build a robot than if you decided to only work on it at home “when you have time.”

In summary, we are beings that often need a fire lit in order to really move. Taking a chance outside your comfort zone can be a catalyst for growth.

• Tools to tackle life’s challenges

Also, staying in a comfort zone can hamper your ability to deal with unexpected life changes. Whether we like it or not, it’s almost a guarantee that at some point you’ll have to deal with something you weren’t prepared for. And these things can be massively stressful. Since we can’t change that fact, the only option left is to prepare.

In an article in the New York Times by Alina Tugend, she explains that continually stretching yourself can be a way to help you in the chaotic times of life. Simply put, by repeating some act or habit, you can become at least more used to the feeling of it. The less-than-comfortable feeling of stepping beyond the norm is no exception. And that same feeling is much akin to that of a major life change you didn’t want, albeit likely on a significantly larger scale. So when you have become more able to deal with the less-than-comfortable feelings, you have a heightened ability to face the unexpected things in life.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, taking steps outside your routine can actually make you happier. Odd though it may seem, it is common that those who live more exclusively within a comfortable zone are not the happiest. This often stems from that fear that they overcome by stepping beyond and stretching themselves.

Tugend says that joy is generally outside the comfort zone; imagining how strongly joyful you are can be uncomfortable, and you may fear something harming that thing that gave you joy. The result is that you may spend more time worrying about what could happen wrong for each thing and you remain stuck in the fear of the unknown. When that figurative wall is breached, you don’t remove that fear entirely, but you are able to take a lot of its power away, and with it, you live life more fully. And when you make that a habit, in many ways it becomes much easier.

• Choose new adventures 

So let’s say you know that you want to work on taking chances and trying new things. Of course, every person has a different comfort zone, but here is a list of some possible ways you might stretch yourself:

• If you’re learning a foreign language, don’t just try to learn the whole language before you talk to anyone. It’s intimidating, but consider having a conversation with someone fluent in the language with whatever vocabulary you have. Although the first time may be nerve-racking or embarrassing, actually talking to people who know the language is a much faster way to learn.

• Take a class on a topic you think is cool, but have never tried.

• Try joining some performing group. Perhaps it’s the school musical, the local dance company, or your school’s band. Really, the idea is to try some new thing you want to learn, and give it a fair chance.

• Make a point to speak to people who seem lonely. It might be scary for you, but it can end up benefiting both of you, and you could end up with a new friend!

Ultimately, the point of life is to grow and become better people. Most of the time, that can’t be done within our routines, so take a chance, and if you approach it with a growth mindset, you’ll frequently find that you’re better for it, even if it doesn’t go perfectly.

Sierra Clark is a junior at Venture High School. She plays piano and flute and is an avid reader, but most of all she enjoys learning all about new things. Email her at s.siclark@venturelearning.org.

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