We all want to be different: happier, calmer, nicer, but often we don’t want to actually change something about ourselves that’s blocking these aspirations.It’s a bit of a dilemma. Creating a successful, fulfilling life requires juggling self-acceptance and change. The truth is that all change is uncomfortable—even change that enriches our lives and that we long for. For example, getting married or having a baby will force us to change ourselves and our lives in ways that may be difficult at times. But the rewards are immense. And actually, that’s one of the powerful spiritual benefits of these relationships. Change is stressful because of our ingrained habits—our habitual ways of behaving, our attitudes, likes and dislikes. The brain likes repetition because it can easily just slide down the same old neural pathways without using a lot of energy. If we do something different, our brain is forced to create new cells, chemicals, and connections. This feels uncomfortable and stressful. But this growth is actually healthy—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—as long as it’s the right kind and amount. The right kind of challenge makes us stronger and increases our resilience to life’s ups and downs. The wrong kind burns us out. Think of someone who wants to run a marathon. You can’t just get up from the couch and start running 26 miles. You have to carefully train, stretch your capacity enough to grow, but not so much that you break.
We Don’t Really Have a ChoiceWe can, of course, resist, complain, and delay as long as we want. But what happens? Spiritually, we can’t stand still. We’re either moving forward and upward or we’re sliding backward and downward. That’s OK. It’s even good to take some time out nowt and then. But why not get on with it? Have you ever noticed that when you’ve been comfortable for a long time, you get a little stale? You start to feel in a rut, doing the same old things over and over. You’ve lost some enthusiasm, joy and passion in your life. It’s time to stretch yourself and try new things. Be creative. What would be the most fun? You don’t have to commit to a life-long practice. Just try it for a month or even a week or day. For example, imagine joining Toastmasters and conquering your fear of public speaking. Although this would be uncomfortable for many people, it’s hardly dangerous. How would you feel about giving a speech every week? Consider how much something like this could change your life. You would be exposed to new people and ideas and learn a new skill. You could get over a fear of public speaking. That surely has the potential to impact your future more than repeating the same routine you’ve been doing for the last six months. This is only an example. I’m sure you can think of many more things you’d like to do if only the thought of stepping out of your comfort zone didn’t stop you. Frankly, the more you push yourself to step out of your comfort zone, the more you gain, and the easier it becomes. The more you gain, the more likely it is that you’ll be willing to push yourself again in the future.
Suggestions for managing the stress of stepping out of your comfort zone:1. Do something new once a week.
- Don’t get stuck in a rut. Instead, open your mind to original ideas and experiences. Engage in a new activity every 7 days or so.
- If you’re stuck for time and who isn’t these days, try trading one routine for another. Instead of watching TV every night, go to a yoga class or join a book club and meet new people.
- Maybe you’ll try reading a biography instead of a mystery. Jogging every so often on your daily walk brings variety. Perhaps you’ve been curious to try a new recipe or food. Go for it!
- Do you watch only situation comedies on television? Instead, why not try watching one show on the Public Broadcasting System to expand your mind? It won’t cost you anything and you might even open up a whole new world of intellectual stimulation.
- Or, instead of going back to school full-time, try just taking one class. Ease into change and you might realize it’s not really as challenging as you thought.
- Realize that your feelings are normal. Almost everyone feels a bit unsettled when they do something for the first time. After you identify those fears, it actually becomes easier to try something new.
- Jot down what scares you when it comes to engaging in the experience.
- Recognize that thousands of others have likely done what you want to embark on and they made it through.
- You may feel a bit fearful, but plan to dive in to the experience anyway.
- What has the last year of television done for you?
- What would going to an exercise class every day do for you?
- What could reading books and meeting new people do for your social life?