Fear.

I haven’t met a person who doesn’t suffer from it.

And I bet you have met two of its wayward cousins – Failure and Regret. Also, I am sure that if you are reading this, then you are within the walls of their family home. The plaque reads – “Welcome to the Comfort Zone”.

Here’s what it looks like:

Comfort Zone

It’s easy to enter, but so hard to leave. The door is always ajar, but the world outside looks like a scary and dark place. A rabbit hole of anxiety and stress. No one can blame you for leaving all that security and sameness and meet your worst fears across the threshold. But you can blame yourself one day, because regret will come calling.

So, Why Don’t We Try New Things?

Actually, we do. We take up new software…we learn a new subject…we try new food…we do adventurous things every day. But we still stay within the zone of “productive discomfort” as Daniel H. Pink calls it in his book — Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

“If you’re too comfortable, you’re not productive. And if you’re too uncomfortable, you’re not productive.”

According to him, we are all searching for our “Goldilocks Zone”. That’s the place where we can manage our fears while trying new adventures in living and learning.

Comfort Zone Question

Even science says that a little anxiety and stress is good for us. The little known Yerkes–Dodson Law says that there is a sweet spot between anxiety that energizes and anxiety that paralyzes.

The good news is that you don’t have to leap out to hit that spot. Just a small step can take you places.

Let’s explore how to find those small steps and bring down the anxiety levels that prevents you from trying new things in life. You have to coil the spring of your own willpower. But technology can push you along. From my own life I learned, the right apps and websites could help you in three simple ways:

  1. They can help you take the first step.
    Take the first step and use that thrust to keep going.
  2. They can put you in a new environment.
    Take to old things in new ways, or start something new from scratch.
  3. They can help you find new challenges.
    Take inspiration from what the world is doing – and get inspired.

Take 7 Steps to Avoid the Easy Street

Do remember that we are all trapped in our own unique bubbles. Even as our limits differ, the choice of the right tool can help push those boundaries further and farther. And there’s enough variety on offer to use the right app or website creatively.

1. Think About Your Comfort Zone

Just closing your eyes is the simplest exercise available to find your comfort zone. Think of your life and the things you avoid. Maybe, you have designed your life around the things we want to avoid. We all do that unknowingly. Yes, escapism is okay for a pain-free existence, but it’s not recommended for personal growth. There are many talents within you, which need to break free from the walls around you.

If closing your eyes doesn’t work, try an experimental tool called What Is My Comfort Zone, built by Marcus Taylor, to measure the comfort zones. Psychologists at Deakin University have validated this free tool.

Analyze your comfort zone.

The four-step survey asks you to give answers on professional and personal achievements, and a few wishes before it arrives at your comfort zone score. The results also recommend some excellent resources for fighting your fears.

2. Can We Make It Easier?

Life is project management on a massive scale. Trello is a wonderful tool for visual thinkers and nitpicky planners alike. I use it as a visual bucket list for all the big ticket goals for my life. A lot of those will take me far outside my comfort zone. Break down your goal into itsy-bitsy pieces when the idea of your big goal is too overpowering. The simplest step is one that does not stop you in your tracks.

Breakdown any challenge with Trello

On Trello, you can add images as visual motivators. Link a Trello card to videos and inspirational voices of people who have already achieved what you plan to. Download the Trello mobile app for iOS or Android and keep your goals in sight.

3. Use Your Education to Beat Fear

“It’s OKAY to be scared. Being scared means you’re about to do something really, really brave.”

~ Mandy Hale, The Single Woman: Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass

Our worst fears are vultures that feed on our unknowns. Use the Internet to educate yourself on the horrors holding you back.

Let’s say, you want to learn swimming, but just can’t muster the courage.

Fear of swimming

Look for tools and resources that help remove the uncertainty. An important maxim is that many have done the same things before you, and treading on their path is the best shortcut you can take.

  • Go through a site like Swimming.org which breaks this problem for you.
  • A Google search will throw up examples of people like Ada Gibson who learnt swimming at 75.
  • It’s easier to follow someone you know, but you can also find a mentor or life coach with social media.
  • Tap into vibrant Q&A sites like Quora and Reddit and bare your fears to like-minded people.
  • Use swimming websites and apps that support your goal.

You will feel less afraid. Chilled to the bone by Jaws and its sequels, I can relate. But I did manage to dip my toes and conquer the swimming pool, though not the sea yet.

4. Set Deadlines with “Goals” in Google Calendar

You can plan an entire year with Google Calendar, but now you need to bring our horizon closer. Reminders and Goals are two excellent additions to Google Calendar.

Goals works wonderfully with the idea of taking small steps outside your comfort zone.

Let’s say you want to “Build a skill” or have some “Me time” to do something offbeat. Set it up and Goals will find the time in your schedule for you after you tell the app how long you want to go at it. A few time bound sessions just might be the push you need to work towards those long-term desires. Use Smart Notifications before and after your sessions to prepare and track progress.

Google Calendar is available on Android and iOS.

5. Do Simple Things First

The best tip I have ever read on how to set simple challenges? Do the exact opposite of what you always prefer to do. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Ask something that you are almost sure will result in a rejection. Watch a movie alone.

Remember, the Ice Bucket Challenge? There’s something to be said about two minutes of courage and healing the world!

Ice Bucket Challenge

The purpose of these simple exercises is to tease your uneasiness in new situations without throwing yourself off the boat.

When things seem too big, try breaking it down to the level of a 30-Day challenge. Even a weekly or a daily challenge works for shaking the inertia.

I became a big fan of micro-adventures after reading Rob Nightingale’s positive experiences with it.

“They’re accessible by us all, in order to take some time away, to disconnect, and to help us experience something entirely beyond our own norms.”

Have you tried one on your own?

6. Get Unstuck with Some Inspired Help

We come back to the idea of using the web to find inspiration and learn from the community of doers who are pushing past their comfort zones every day. Think of what scares you and I wager you will find a community around it. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Day Zero Project is an online community of people all over the world who love creating lists, setting challenges, and making positive changes in their lives.

Free Mind Today is a brilliant two-player game for friends that lets you master your fears with private challenges for each other according to selected skill areas.

Comfort Zone Crusher is a life-coaching site that uses evidence based therapies to instruct and motivate. You need to pay for the full-course, but the free 7 Day Comfort Zone Challenge is a good starter.

The Daily Challenge is a free iOS app that gives you one easy challenge each day that helps you try new positive behaviors.

Daily Challenge iOS app

Parlay is a free iOS and Android app that allows you and your friends to set challenges for each other.

Habit Loop is a free iOS app that helps you select good habit ideas and build them with tiny steps.

My Challenge Tribe is a community site searching for shared experiences and inspiring goals.

7. Track Your Thoughts

A journal or a diary gives you space to think and introspect. You can be your most courageous self on paper. The mere act of writing can rewire your thoughts and help convert your best thoughts into action. It doesn’t matter if you hate writing – there are online micro-journaling tools, which just ask for a few words.

Journaling to confront your fears.

  • Current just takes 140 characters.
  • Moment Diary records 140 characters with photos, voice files, and movies.
  • 280Daily is a secure and encrypted micro-journaling web app we have reviewed before.
  • Journey is a beautiful Chrome extension for capturing your thoughts.
  • DayJot costs $3 a month, but assures longevity.

I have a particular weakness for going analog with my jottings. The Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You journal has a year’s worth of fear-facing prompts and quotes of encouragement.

Or, you can go big and start your own blog to track your comfort zone challenges. Michelle Poler did and took it to another level.

What’s Life Like on the Other Side?

There’s nothing unsmart about avoiding things that scare you. But life on the other side might just be wonderful.

I was inspired when I came across Michelle Poler who took on her worst fears by facing 100 of her personal fears in 100 days. It turned into a project called 100 Days Without Fear.

As she goes on to say, going out of your comfort zone teaches you a lot about yourself. She learned 22 things about herself. She is still going at it.

So, if you are still doubting yourself…if you are still not crashing against the walls of your bubble…adopt this wisdom from Virgil Thomson.

“Try a thing you haven’t done three times. Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it. And a third time to figure out whether you like it or not.”

Have you benefited from going outside your comfort zone? What are the few uncomfortable and embarrassing things you have done to go outside it? Let’s share our best ideas of comfort zone challenges!

Image Credit: Illustration of businessman by biocberry, Hand with marker by Gustavo Frazao, Deep sea shark attack by Kobsoft, ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by Dashikka (all via Shutterstock.com)