Why is it so difficult to do the things we really want in life?
We crave maverick status – to be that daring person who takes risks and turns the world upside down – but in reality, most of us simply go about our daily routines, barely putting our head above the parapet.
As a result, major dreams like going freelance or travelling the world stay peripheral. We’re aware of them in an abstract way, but we’re never quite in touching distance.
So, how to take that leap and make things HAPPEN? Here’s your five-step guide to smashing that comfort zone:
Step one: break your fear bias
Many of us find comfort in the familiar; but it can be hard to grasp how much clout this instinct carries. The powerful “status quo bias” explains why we find change so difficult. We’re conditioned to stick to what we know – even when there is little benefit in doing so.
“We prefer the way things are over the frightening unknown,” explains psychology writer Oliver Burkeman. “So when you consult your gut about whether to seek a divorce, abandon your PhD, or move to Iceland, the answer you receive will be biased toward inertia.”
Read more: Why taking risks is the key to success
All things being equal, then, it’s usually better to go with the “scarier” option of a major life decision; knowing that fear is the only thing holding you back.
Decisions like leaving your job or moving to a new country will never feel comfortable. But just by making the leap off that fence, you’ll feel empowered – no matter how your choice plays out.
As self-help author Susan Jeffers says in her seminal book, “The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it.”
Step two: move away from stability
When facing down your fears, the question of stability will likely come up. You might say to yourself, “I don’t want to rock the boat” or “I would, but now’s not the time”.
But this mentality tends to be off-kilter. Take going freelance, a decision that is frequently portrayed as risky.
“In today’s reality, complete job security is an increasing illusion,” says Clara Armand-Delille, the founder of tech PR agency ThirdEyeMedia.
“Losing the security of a salary seems daunting when it’s all we have known and a ‘secure’ job is the definition of success. But more than ever, we need to demonstrate adaptability to keep up with a job market in flux. Freelancing has actually become one of most secure forms of work.”
Stability often dresses itself to be something it’s not. And the more we cling to it, the more it holds us back.
“Stability is a b***h,” says Shadia Al Hili, the founder of foodie start-up Cuzena. “We work simply to secure our lives but then we’re stuck in situations because we can’t afford to lose our stability; even if there’s no real growth for us financially or otherwise.”
Step three: forget about control
When coming up against your the boundaries of your comfort zone, you may well encounter another obstacle: control.
We like to know what’s coming up in life. But studies show that this predictability is another thing that appears comforting, when in fact, it’s stifling.
In research published last year, neuroscientist Daeyeol Lee and his colleagues found that stability “shuts down” the brain’s capacity to learn.
“The function of the brain as well as the nature of learning is not ‘fixed’ but adapts according to the stability of the environment,” explains Lee. “When you enter a more novel and volatile environment, this might enhance the tendency for the brain to absorb more information.”
Being “stuck in a rut”, then, is more than just a feeling: it’s a neurological fact.
Fear will hold you back, yes, and stability is an illusion. But more than that, the entire concept of being in a comfort zone means you are frozen in time. You cannot move forwards.
Step four: start free-falling
So, you’ve got to the point of taking action. What follows next may well feel precarious; but given what we now know about stability, that’s a good thing.
Adventurist Ed Stafford decided to walk the entire length of the Amazon River – a dangerous, record-breaking venture that launched his career – not out of some carefully planned strategy, but because he was bored and “glibly playing around with a self-destruct button”.
“Did I do it for personal development? Did I f**k,” he says, in his monthly Flash Pack column. “This was my two-fingered salute at the world: ‘Sod you with your boring lives, I’m going to do something bloody dangerous and I don’t give a sh*t what you say.'”
Breaking your comfort zone doesn’t often happen in the calculated, noble way that we expect. Instead, it’s more of a free-fall – born out of an urge just to change things (without knowing why).
Reckless, haphazard, out of control: these can all be signs you’re heading somewhere; somewhere new and exciting. Roll with it.
“So many of us walk around with this burden of needing to conform, to fit in, to tow the bloody line,” says Stafford. Instead, he says, you should “cut these cords” and “allow yourself to fall apart” in order to begin a fresh chapter.
Step five: make the most of your time
Congratulations! You’ve successfully scrambled free of your comfort zone. Now the trick is to carry on doing so.
As journalist and author Edie Weinstein points out, “life gets lifey”. Stuff gets in the way.
“My life seems pretty predictable, even as open as I am to new adventures,” she says. “Having crossed that threshold into the seventh decade of my life, I witness the future spread before me like a banquet table. Do I dare partake? Will I stick to the familiar or stretch comfort zones and try new foods, new adventures?”
Read more: 8 unexpected places to visit this year
We can always earn more money, or get a promotion, but time is finite. The question is, how will you fill yours?
You can’t avoid the minutiae of life entirely. There will always be routines and obligations. But you can focus on doing less stuff in a more meaningful way.
World champion surfer Mick Fanning puts it like this: you need to “fill your tank”. Line up those memorable experiences, push the limits of your horizons. Take the scary option. By doing so, your world will only get bigger.
This story is part of Flash Pack’s No More Not Yets campaign. Our mission is to eradicate two powerful words that can stop you achieving your dreams: “not yet”. The not yet seen, not yet swum, not yet sat in the suns. Not yet met, not yet tried, not yet climbed, braved or conquered. What’s your Not Yet? Find out more here.
Live big with these three brilliant adventures
Smash your bucket list in South Africa
Take Cape Town in style, with a one-day trip that sees you hiking Table Mountain before abseiling your way back down, heading off on a safari of a lifetime, and rambling through the Stellenbosch vineyards.
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Explore the wilds and wonders of Costa Rica, with an 11-day trip that includes kayaking alongside turtles, tubing down turquoise rivers, hiking across lava fields and trekking up volcanoes.
Let Sri Lanka be your solace
Get your nature on with an exotic trip through Sri Lanka, as you search for elephants, sloth bears and leopards on safari, cycle through UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and release baby turtles into the Indian Ocean as the sun sets. Dreamy.
Images: Flash Pack, Shutterstock