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Stepping out of our comfort zone means navigating outside the cultural world we belong to. We navigate outside the cultures we belong to every day when we try to do old things in new ways, when we collaborate with different industries, and when we interact with someone from another walk of life.
Becoming more aware of the way you do things, look at the world, and relate to other people will make stepping outside your comfort zone easier and more pleasurable. This also leads to more openness, creativity and resilience, which makes life more fun.
Here are two simple yet powerful techniques that I use to enjoy navigating outside my comfort zone, and that you can use too.
Focus on your uneasy feelings
Sociologist Marianella Sclavi suggests paying a good deal of attention to what makes us uncomfortable: feeling uneasy tells us a lot about who we are and how we react to people and situations. In other words, feeling nervous doesn’t mean we are in danger: it just means we are outside our comfort zone.
For example, as an Italian mum, at first I found the level of independence Australian children have a bit scary and confusing. This says a lot about my strong protective instincts – even if I want to raise my son to become very independent. Being aware of where my feelings come from helps me to put things in perspective when I feel anxious, and to act following my values, rather than my fear.
Leaning into discomfort is also suggested by social scientist Brené Brown, and is an essential part of many mindfulness techniques. If we ignore what hurts, we will never be able to overcome it.
Asking ourselves: ‘Why am I feeling uneasy?’ and ‘Where does this feeling come from?’ are two great questions to start from. They help to identify the root of our discomfort, and to understand if this is caused by fear of an unfamiliar situation, or by an actual threat.
Create a mental ‘home away from home’
By identifying, for example, the smells, flavours, images and sensations that make us feel at home, our favourite books, movies and authors, our values and our support network. From a simple dish of spaghetti, to our Grandma's sayings, inspiring people, places and memories and the values we uphold, creating a mental comfort gallery that can follow us whenever we step out of our comfort zone is a great way to keep us going when the path is uncertain.
For example, being a newbie to Australia, I find smelling a certain perfume from Jo Malone comforting. It instantly reminds me of London and, more importantly, of the energy, grit and creativity of the city and of its creator Jo Malone – risen from council estate child to fragrance maker and entrepreneur. I lived in London for four years, I love creating and persevering, and stepping out of my comfort zone. Hence, the perfume makes me feel at home.
Similarly, artist Maya Angelou often used her mother’s sayings to get her through the ups and downs of life – even though her mum had abandoned as a child. We are not perfect, nor are the places we come from. However, identifying who and what makes us feel at home is healing and empowering.
I use these techniques any time I feel outside my comfort zone, may it be working with less resources, make something out of thin air, moving abroad or speaking with my friends and family. Learning to navigate discomfort is like building new muscles. The effects are contagious and spread to all areas of life.
About the Author
Gioia Caminada is a Learning and Development consultant who believes that active listening is disruptive. She creates learning experiences and written material that empower people and communities to work collaboratively, hone their active listening skills and make the impossible happen. Gioia has worked in Learning and Development for about fifteen years. She holds a BA in Languages and Intercultural Communication, an MA in Migration Studies, certificates in participatory planning and language teaching, and speaks five languages. Find out more at gicaminada.wordpress.com.