Updated: Oct 14
One of the most common 'obstacles' my clients present themselves with in my coaching practice is the fear they feel when thinking about pursuing a goal that they hold dear. It's a paralysing fear of stepping out of one's comfort zone. It's a fear that holds so many of us back from realising our dreams. But what if I told you that that fear can be conquered and by doing so it will change the way you look at it and the discomfort it brings forever?
The Comfort Zone Conundrum
Many years ago, when living in Hong Kong, my boyfriend (now husband), took me out on a boat trip. I had recently learned how to swim so this was a great opportunity to enjoy the freedom I now felt without the fear holding me back. But there was one challenge that stopped me in my tracks and that was leaping off the boat and into the open water. My partner, who was already in the water, kept encouraging me to just close my eyes and jump. I would run up to the edge of the boat and then just stop, paralysed by the fear of that motion and what could happen.
After at least a dozen tries I finally decided I needed to make it happen because the thought of going home without even trying was enough of a motivator for me, it was a big enough push for me to feel that fear and do it anyway. So I ran to the edge, held my breath, and jumped. I would end up doing it over and over again, that fear I had had was firmly and completely squashed. It would be an event that helped to completely change the wiring in my brain on fear and the actions I could take to be in control of my life. And when I look back on my life leading up to that event I was primed for change having taken leaps of faith before and trusting that all would be well.
We often hear the phrase, "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone," and for good reason. Our comfort zone is a safe and familiar space where we feel secure, competent, and in control. However, it's also the place where dreams and personal growth can stagnate. To pursue a cherished goal, to reach for something beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone, is to invite fear into your life.
Understanding the Fear
The fear of stepping out of your comfort zone is a natural response to the unknown. It's your mind's way of protecting you from potential risks and dangers. This fear can manifest as self-doubt, anxiety, or a host of negative emotions. I recently watched an interview with the neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart who explained it in a way that literally blew my mind. She said,
"The way our brains work we will naturally default to focusing on the negatives than the positives. We have to stop ourselves. The reason our brain works like that is called loss aversion or loss avoidance. We are two to two and half times more likely geared towards avoiding loss than to gain reward.
So going out and taking risks, changing careers, meeting new people, dating or finding love after divorce or a bad breakup, our brains will do everything it can to stop us. The brain will bring up memories (and thus feelings) that are the most negative ones about the risks you are wishing to take to try and stop you. This is your brain (in particular the hippocampus and the amygdala) providing you with the evidence for you to see so that you don’t do something that is a risk to your survival. " Why does our brain operate this way? Well as much as we have evolved from the days of living in caves, our brains still operate on a fight or flight basis. Our brains are still wired to be on alert for predators and other potential dangers. Our brains can't tell the difference between a predator and a habit change because of one crucial factor--our stress hormone known as cortisol. When we feel that fear of when thinking about a goal our cortisol levels rise signalling to our body of a potential threat.
The brain translates this as a potential threat because the neurons that have been travelling in well-trodden pathways since the dawn of humanity are now being forced to find new pathways and that is not something they want to do, hence the discomfort, reluctance, and fear we physically, mentally, and emotionally feel.
When it comes to the pursuit of our happiness, evolution doesn't take anything into consideration other than what we are physiologically designed to do. It is our job to keep overriding those pathways in order to get comfortable with that discomfort. And there are a few ways for us to start doing that.
Exploring the Roots of Fear
Understanding the roots of your fear also helps to make sense of your feelings. Your fear might be tied to various factors, such as:
Fear of Failure: The worry that you might not succeed, which can stem from past experiences or societal pressures.
Fear of Change: Humans are creatures of habit, and change can be unsettling. The fear of the unknown can keep you anchored in the familiar.
Fear of Judgment: The concern that others will criticize or disapprove of your choices, which can lead to a fear of stepping out of line.
Fear of the Unforeseen: A natural aversion to uncertainty and unpredictability, which can accompany pursuing new goals.
Overcoming and Overriding the Fear
Mindful Self-awareness: Begin by acknowledging your fear. Mindfulness practices can help you observe your thoughts and emotions without judgment.
Set Realistic Goals: Break down your cherished goal into smaller, manageable steps. Achieving these smaller milestones can boost your confidence and alleviate some of the fear.
Visualize Success: Imagine the outcome you desire. Visualizing your success can be a powerful motivator and diminish your fear.
Redefine Failure: Shift your perspective on failure. Instead of seeing it as a negative outcome, view it as a learning opportunity. Every setback brings wisdom and growth.
Build a Support System: Seek the support of friends, family, or a coach who can provide encouragement and guidance during your journey.
Seek out Examples: Find others who may have similar goals and have achieved them. They show us what is possible. When we can see what is possible, things can change.
The fear of stepping out of your comfort zone is a formidable challenge, but it's a challenge worth facing to achieve those goals and dreams that have always lurked in the back of your mind waiting for the right time to be seen. By acknowledging your fear, understanding its roots, and adopting strategies to overcome it, you can transform fear into a powerful motivator. Remember, the path to success is isn't about a smooth ride (although that is also possible too), but it's the journey through fear that can ultimately lead to the most significant personal growth and the realization of your goals.
So, take a deep breath, know that the feelings of fear are there to protect you from danger. If the only danger you're facing is you changing the way you have always done things and have always thought then that fear is literally your neurons screaming at you to stop forcing them to take a new path. Plus, some fear is always good as it forces us to make sure we've done our own due diligence (which is basically the work that goes into making sure any risk we take is a calculated one).
Finally, remember this is part of your evolution of who you are to who you want to be. Your goals await, just beyond your comfort zone. We can either grow or stay stagnant. While growth can be painful, if we approach our vision with faith, hope, trust--all emotions that are aligned with an abundance mindset, that journey will feel more exciting and empowering. Plus that's when the oxytocin, the feel-good hormone is flowing helping our brain work at its optimal level.
So, my friend, your goals await, just beyond your comfort zone. Trust in who you already are. You've got yourself this far.