I was in the middle of the mosh pit at the Village People concert at Riot Fest in Chicago. Someone shouted, “DEATH WALL!” The crowd divided down the middle and then surged toward each other full-force ahead in an adult, Viking-like rendition of Red Rover. A crowd surfer flailed by overhead, leaving a bruise as he kicked my right breast. 5,000 people simultaneously danced the YMCA.
It was exhilarating…and a little scary. That’s the power of stepping outside of your comfort zone.
If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not learning.
Your comfort zone is subjective. For me it was trying new music at an outdoor punk and alt-rock music festival seemingly geared to a much younger crowd.
For others it may be going to a movie alone. In the intercultural space, boundaries expand when exploring new cultures or engaging in conversations around race. Non-digital natives’ palms may get sweaty when trying new technology.
Whatever pushes you out of your comfort zone, the science says…it’s a good place to be.
“Not knowing what’s going to happen next is generally stressful. Uncertainty signals that you’re unsure of your environment, your skills, or both. But uncertainty also signals the brain to kickstart learning, new Yale research published in the journal Neuron has found.
That means crazy, unstable situations might be uncomfortable, but they’re also essential if you want to make the most of your brain.”
Getting out of your comfort zone gets you learning and growing.
It can lead to trying new ideas and approaches in other areas of your life as well, including in business.
But it doesn’t always come easy. We like the familiar. We like the known. But there’s magic in the unknown. So how can you make it easier?
Here are three tips to prepare for your next adventure.
1. Carefully plan for spontaneity.
Just because it’s a new experience doesn’t mean you can’t plan and anticipate every eventuality you can think of. For Riot Fest I had a carefully packed (albeit light and easy to carry) bag with toilet paper, a first aid kit, rain poncho, jacket and water bottle…everything advised on the Riot Fest Facebook group, the website and online searches for “what to expect at Riot Fest.”
No one needs to know what you did behind the scenes. Just let them admire how calm and collected you are on the spot. If this works for you, play the “what’s the worst thing that could happen” game and plan accordingly. (Don’t play this game if you have a really good imagination that goes dark quickly…that would be me.)
2. Admit you’re a novice and ask questions.
Sometimes we feel embarrassed walking into a new environment, like we’re supposed to know how everything works. But how can you know if it’s your first time?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Make a friend in the process. “You look like you’ve done this before, what’s your best advice?” Or, “I’m new to this, tell me more.”
3. Once you’re in…own it.
Once all your planning is done, don’t second guess yourself. Stick with the plan and see it through.
Boldly or Not, Just Get up and Go.
Someone asked me on my birthday once, “Oh, are you into linear age?” At the time I didn’t know there was another option. But there is. You don’t have to boldly go where no one’s gone before, although there absolutely is a time and place for that. But you do have to get up and go. It is about continuing to try new things, go new places, do things that scare you.
Getting out of your comfort zone is a practice that gets easier the more you do it. And the more you do it, the further you’ll go on the road to lifelong learning and growing, whatever your age.