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Stretch your comfort zone: Anxiety Tip #2

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Stretch your comfort zone: Anxiety Tip #2

Fear and anxiety can restrict and constrict your life if they hold you back from doing things outside your comfort zone. This post can help you learn how to stretch your comfort zone and expand your life.

We each have a comfort zone made up of those things we are used to.

I actually prefer the term familiar zone rather than comfort zone because there may be lots of situations inside the zone that are familiar but at the same time uncomfortable. Those things that we are used to may be comfortable for their familiarity and yet uncomfortable for their destructiveness.

A person who grew up emotionally abused and is now in an emotionally abusive relationship may fear leaving it because abusive experiences are familiar and somehow “comfortable” at the same time that they are uncomfortable for obvious reasons.

It is natural to experience fear whenever you consider doing something outside your familiar zone.

The fear that comes with thinking about doing something outside your familiar zone often grows into anxiety. Anxiety is heightened fear. You may become anxious just at the thought of doing something new. 

You may think “I’m too scared to do that new thing now. I’ll do it when I’m not afraid of it.” But the only way to not be afraid of it—is to do it.

If you wait for the fear to subside before doing something you’re not used to, you’ll never do it. The fear can only go away when experience makes the object of the fear part of your familiar zone.

You have to decide to go ahead and do it while feeling fear. In that way, you stretch your familiar zone to include the thing you previously feared. Then you can do it with more and more confidence.

Dr. Susan Jeffers talks about this in her book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway . It’s a great book that I read many years ago. My copy is full of highlighting and notes. In returning to the book to write about comfort zones, I found index cards I had created to remind me of the Dr. Jeffers’ “Fear Truths.” The concepts they represent helped me push through fears. You may find them helpful to boost your ability to push through fear too.

Dr. Jeffers offers 5 “Fear Truths”:

Fear Truth #1: The fear will never go away as long as I continue to grow.”

Fear Truth #2: The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out . . . and do it.”

Fear Truth #3: The only way to feel better about myself is to go out . . . and do it.”

Fear Truth #4 : Not only am I going to experience fear whenever I’m on unfamiliar territory, but so is everyone else,”

Fear Truth #5 : Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.”

Here are a couple of points to remember:

  • It’s important to assess that the feared thing is not truly dangerous to yourself or others before deciding to go ahead and do it while feeling the fear.

For example, fear is supposed to stop you from running out in front of a truck--don’t feel the fear and do it anyway. But speaking in front of your office mates at a meeting may be scary but not dangerous and you would do well to go ahead while you experience the fear so that you can stretch your familiar zone and become more comfortable with speaking to the group.

  • To slowly stretch your familiar zone, break the scary thing down into more doable steps.

Something that is overwhelming can be made less scary by focusing on one step at a time. Figure out what the first step is in a sequence that will eventually lead to the accomplishment of a goal. Focus on the first step. Then move on to the next and the next.

Exercise

What is fear stopping you from doing?

  • You might have a whole list of things that fear is getting in the way of you doing.
  • Some of the things might be big, some small.
  • It’s probably useful to start with a relatively small familiar-zone-stretching goal.

Pick one familiar-zone-stretching goal to work on.

  • What are you afraid could happen if you do this thing?
  • Is this something that you would do well to feel the fear and do it anyway?
  • What would help you do this scary thing?
  • Would any of Dr. Jeffers’ fear truths help inspire you?

Break the goal down into doable steps.

  • Keep breaking down the steps toward reaching the goal until you get to a doable first step.
  • What would help you do that step?
  • Set a time goal for achieving this first step.
  • After achieving the first step – take a minute to acknowledge your success. Yeah You!
  • Then tackle the next step. (What would help you do that step? Set a time goal for achieving the step. After achieving it, acknowledge your success.) And then take the next step. . . .

After you've taken the steps to achieve your goal -- Yeah You! You did it! You stretched your comfort zone.

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  • Ann Silvers
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