Facing Our Fear and Getting Out of the Comfort Zone

Fear is a powerful human emotion and can keep us from doing the things we want to do or ever finding out what we’re truly capable of. I discovered, well into adulthood, that even successful and seemingly confident people face fear in their everyday experiences. They’ve just managed to keep moving forward in spite of it. But many of us become trapped by fear. I once heard someone say, “We are like prisoners in a cell where the jailer is gone and the door is open.” This conjures up an image of the self-imposed “prison” many of us put ourselves in even though we’re free to move forward at any time. We remain “trapped” or frozen in place. Fear becomes our jailer. Motivational speaker Les Brown said, “Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.”

Part of the problem, as I see it, is that there are two types of fear: the type you experience when walking down a dark alley at night in an unsavory part of town, and then the type we all experience when we are stepping outside of our comfort zone. Both types of fear serve a purpose—the first is to warn us of danger and keep our senses alert to protect us. The second type is a reminder that we are moving into new territory and need to stay alert to learning, which is a good thing. I refer to this type of fear as “growing pains.” The problem is that we sometimes confuse the latter type of fear with the former. For example, I heard a woman who was doing something she had always wanted to do but feeling nervous about it say, “Hopefully being scared isn’t some self-preservation alarm that I’m ignoring!” We’re accustomed to backing off when feeling fear of any type and so have a hard time moving forward in the face of “growing pains” fear.

How can you know the difference? Reflect inward and connect with the source of your unease. If your fear is that you might fail or not be good at something, that is “growing pains” fear. The other type is when “something just doesn’t feel/seem right.” Listen to your inner voices and instincts. The answers you seek are within you if you just take time to listen. This is part of getting to know yourself. Fear is automatically part of the equation when you are challenging yourself. If you don’t feel fear, you’re not stretching yourself. The good news is that fear starts to dissipate after you do something for the first time or begin to master a new skill. You realize that the world will not stop spinning on its axis, or that you will not be vaporized by some cosmic laser gun if you act in spite of the fear. And, of course, as one fear starts to shrink, another will likely take its place as you push yourself even further along beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone.

The comfort zone is like an invisible bubble around each of us where we feel relatively safe and at ease. It’s a place that is familiar to us, where we know how to handle most situations that arise, and feel that we have some mastery over our environment. When we step outside of it to try something new, challenge ourselves, or make a change, we automatically feel nervous and anxious. But once we do something for the first time or master a new skill, we push out the perimeter of that bubble and have a larger space in which to move around more comfortably.

So why push those seemingly safe boundaries at all? Why not just stay put? Because the comfort zone is a danger zone. When you’re in it, you’re not learning. And if you’re not learning, you’re not growing. If you’re not growing, you’re stagnating. Think of what a stagnant pool of water looks and smells like; it’s not a pleasant sight or smell. It’s also not a pleasant place to be in life. When you cease to learn, you cease to live. Personal growth and change are hard and even painful at times … at least at first. On the surface, it seems easier to stay put in whatever comfortable (or uncomfortable) rut you might be in. But “staying put” dulls your senses, slows your life force, and zaps your confidence. Yet every time you step out of your comfort zone, you become a little braver, a little wiser, and a little better equipped to face the world.

Find out about upcoming programs with Donna Cardillo at Kripalu.

Excerpted with permission from Falling Together: How to Find Balance, Joy, and Meaningful Change When your Life Seems to be Falling Apart, © 2016 by Donna Cardillo.

Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, known as “The Inspiration Nurse,” is a healer, teacher, author, and master motivator, dedicated to helping others maximize their potential.

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