How often do you push yourself to do something new? We know people lead busy lives and most of us have just about figured out that balance which allows for both work and play. The thought of incorporating yet another element can also seem daunting and simply unmanageable.
But what if we told you that there are longer term benefits you can reap by venturing out of your comfort zone and into the unknown?
A number of sources and studies suggest that abandoning your daily routine and taking part in activities that push and challenge you is a good thing and can lead to increased productivity, better mental health and even success.
Our comfort zone is essentially a behavioral space where as a lifehacker.com article explains, ‘your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk. It provides a state of mental security and you benefit in obvious ways: regular happiness, low anxiety, and reduced stress.’
Optimal anxiety is key
Even though this is good for our overall well being, staying in our comfort zone actually limits our progression and can be detrimental when it comes to attaining success. It has even been suggested that a relative state of anxiety is needed in order to maximize our performance potential.
Writer Alan Henry for Lifehacker said: ‘The idea of optimal anxiety isn't anything new. Anyone who's ever pushed themselves to get to the next level or accomplish something knows that when you really challenge yourself, you can turn up amazing results.’
If you look at any successful entrepreneur, their achievements have not come about merely by playing it safe and asserting what they already know and what they’re comfortable with.
Look at Richard Branson. Talking about the situation where he had to strike a balance when it came to launching Virgin Atlantic, he said: ‘We didn’t really have the funds to start an airline, and none of my fellow directors agreed with me that we should do it. Although I believed we could transform the aviation industry by making flying an exciting experience… it was a tough call whether to take the risk or not.’
Of course this paid off. However it is worth remembering that while risks can both pan out or fail, it’s so important to remember that failing doesn’t mean failure.
Dr Elizabeth Lombardo, therapist and author of Better than Perfect, spoke to Lisa Evans, a contributor for entrepreneur.com, where she explained that people who regularly seek out fresh experiences tend to be more creative and emotionally resilient than those who remain stuck in routine.
‘Breaking your own mould can only make you stronger and more confident to reach higher levels in your professional and personal life.’
According to Lombardo, innovation happens when we step outside of our comfort zone. In order to be creative or to even know if an idea will work, you need to try –and more importantly, learn – new things.
So why don’t we take the plunge more often?
Uncertainty is a big factor. People feel a certain level of anxiety when it comes to new ventures and the unfamiliar in general. Researcher Brene Brown said that uncertain social, political and economic conditions can actually make our comfort zone smaller. This makes sense, at times we’re unsure how wider developments can impact us. By default it’s like we’re programmed to associate uncertainty with negativity.
However if we look at the other side of that coin, we’ll find that embracing new learning endeavors, whether it is in a class setting or through your own curiosity, can help us easily adapt to new situations and develop us as inspiring individuals who can then have a positive effect on others.
Education shouldn’t just mean being stuck in a classroom with our heads stuck in a textbook. Expanding our knowledge can do wonders for our wellbeing, making us more confident and productive.
Comfort actually kills productivity. Henry writes, ‘without the sense of unease that comes from having deadlines and expectations, we tend to phone it in and do the minimum required to get by.’
Unlocking your potential
If we push our own personal boundaries not only at work but in the information we absorb and open ourselves up to learning, we’ll find that we can not only think more innovatively but success in doing that will subconsciously encourage us to take more chances to learn and acquire more knowledge and experience.
This has a domino effect where the novelty of succeeding when it comes to learning new things increases our levels of dopamine in the brain, which forms part of the brain’s reward centre. According to Belle Beth Cooper, a writer at crew.co, ‘Novelty has also been shown to improve memory and increase the possibilities for learning by making our brains more malleable.’
As you break barriers and see that it is possible learn new skills and acquire new information, you’ll find it easier to push your boundaries in the future, which naturally leads to both professional and personal growth.
Do take the time to step back though. Even though it’s important to break free from your comfort zone once in a while, it’s equally important to step back and take the time to reflect on your experiences and work out how both failures and successes can contribute to your end goals.
Safeera is Editor of Hotcourses and a journalist from Kingston University. Always the inquisitive, her writing spans across a number of areas such as sustainability, fashion, lifestyle and now education. Her belief that you never stop learning and passionate nature has taken her to New York City as part of her degree and across the airwaves on national radio talking about the issues that matter to her.