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How to Expand Your Comfort Zone

Let’s talk about how to expand your comfort zone. This is a fundamental topic in personal growth: if you understand the concept of the comfort zone and start to deliberately expand it, you’re in for remarkable change.

Before we discuss how to expand the comfort zone, it’s best we define clearly what the comfort zone is.

What is the Comfort Zone?

This definition is based on a blend of life experience and theory, and I hope it elucidates the concept. The beauty of this concept is that it’s extremely practical: your comfort zone is right before your eyes, if you’re willing to acknowledge it. Make sure you look at your own life and psychology to make this theory real.

The comfort zone is all the activities, people, places and projects that we feel comfortable with and that don’t provoke fear for us. Usually they’re part of our daily life and have been for some time. We’ve already incorporated them into our identity, and so they no longer appear threatening to us.

By contrast, items outside our comfort zone provoke feelings of fear, worry and inferiority. They appear exalted, beyond us, outwith our reach. We feel inferior, untalented, incompetent when comparing our current skills to those required to be successful in that area. We may desire them, but they seem impossible to obtain.

The comfort zone negatively impacts our self-image by having us inflate the difficulty of items outside it, and deflating our own capabilities. I call this the inflation effect.

The Inflation Effect

All of your goals and dreams lie outside of your comfort zone. If you had already attained them, they’d be firmly inside it. They’re unfamiliar and don’t reflect your current life or character, and often seem impossible to reach.

Unfortunately, this inflates our perception of the difficulty of attaining the goal, while deflating our estimation of our own capabilities. Look for it when you think about items that are outside your comfort zone. You can feel this inflation effect in your body and mind. It makes you feel small and inferior. It’s almost as though, on the other side of your comfort zone, there is a giant monster waiting to eat you up.

Often the unfamiliarity of these items is what makes them appear so exalted. They aren’t inherently more difficult than the items inside our comfort zone: it’s simply that we’re inexperienced with them.

It’s similar to when we think of a country we’ve never visited. It seems desirable, yet mysterious and ungraspable. We have all sorts of fantasies about it, even some fear. It’s only when we visit the country that we realise its true essence. It loses the shroud of mystery, and we no longer fear it. We wondered why we ever held those fantasies or were scared of visiting it.

Beware of this inflation effect, because it’ll prevent you from expanding as a person. Many things aren’t as scary or unattainable as you believe they are. Be brave enough to face the scary monster: when you do, it will suddenly disappear.

When to Expand It

Let’s talk about when to expand the comfort zone. Doing so requires energy, so it’s important that you wisely choose the areas that you’d like to expand. My suggestion is to focus on the areas that inspire you and the ones you most wish to develop most. It might be that you feel deficient in an area because you haven’t engaged in enough comfort-zone-expanding activities.

Don’t expand it neurotically or beat yourself into becoming a new person with a new life, new self-confidence, a new job and hobbies, all within six months.

The comfort zone naturally expands at all stages in life. Life doesn’t leave us alone. Even if we don’t want to grow, life inevitably asks us to. Yet it usually asks us to grow steadily, and we can align ourselves with that rhythm. I’m not saying you go at a snail’s pace, but engage in comfort-zone expansion gradually. Don’t try to transform this area of your life overnight. Think on the timeline of months and years, and watch the change accumulate into a remarkable result.

How to Expand Your Comfort Zone

Let’s talk about how to expand your comfort zone. This really isn’t difficult, and you probably intuit the method. But having a clear method will help you trust in the process and not get hijacked by fear.

  1. Identify an item that is outside your realm of familiarity and that you desire to attain or obtain;
  2. Make a plan for how to attain or obtain it;
  3. Follow through on your plan until you reach your target.

This is so obvious that it seems silly to write down. But how often do we actually go through those steps? I bet that most of us rarely do, if ever. Usually we reach step one – we think of a new language we want to learn, or start a business we want to start – then are immediately overcome with fear. We think of the million reasons that it won’t work, and don’t even get to the planning phase.

Make sure to create a plan. This is too specific to your own undertakings for me to offer specific advice for it. Chances are, this thing has already been done before, many times, and the route to it is well-documented. If it’s not, you need to do some research and trial-and-error to find a way to make it real.

Then you must follow through on the plan. If you don’t, you’ll never make this item familiar, and so your comfort zone will never expand. What’s more, you’ll never truly understand how the comfort zone works. It’ll remain a pretty, abstract idea.

The Effects

Let’s discuss the effects you experience when you expand your comfort zone.

For one thing, when you routinely expand your comfort zone, you start to see change as normal. New projects and opportunities will excite you, because you trust your ability to grow and adapt. Rather than cower in fear, you relish the opportunity. The vast majority of people remain stuck in the same place forever, even if they don’t want to, because they’re unable and unwilling to push their limits.

What’s more, you’ll notice a big shift in your sense of identity, of which the comfort zone is a central part. Realities that once seemed distant and unattainable become a natural part of you, and you feel the expansion that achieving them brings. You feel more confident, content and at ease in your life. You look back at your old identity, with all its fears and insecurities and comfortable activities, and marvel at the growth you’ve experienced. You’re not the same person any more. You’re different down to the subconscious level.

And finally, since you begin to relish change, inevitably your horizons expand. The new fear-inducing activities are much more grand and ambitious than the previous ones, and you become capable of achieving them.

Expand the Comfort Zone: My Recent Experiences

To put this all into a real-life context, let me share my recent experiences with expanding the comfort zone.

In recent years, I’ve engaged in a tonne of comfort-zone expansion, and looking through my journal I find many reflections that accurately capture the essence of the comfort zone and the tough work required to expand it.

YouTube and Podcast

Related to my YouTube and podcast episodes, which I started recording two years ago, I wrote “my current limitations are relevant so long I work to overcome them.” At the time, I knew I could improve my channel and podcast, and I intuited that if I just kept persisting, I’d eventually break through the plateau I was experiencing. I was right: my stats have never been better.

Meditation Classes

Another example: after running my first public meditation class in September last year, I wrote “I’m scared of what is unfamiliar to me… when I think of myself in new situations, I tend to imagine negative outcomes, like failure, embarrassment and fear… I tend to underestimate my capacity to learn and adapt, in other words my capacity to measure up in new situations.”

This is the inflation effect at work: I dramatically inflated the difficulty of doing meditation classes. Sure, there have been unanticipated challenges, but overall it has been much easier than I imagined. Now when I run my classes, I feel calm and composed. They’ve become a familiar activity: my comfort zone has expanded to include them.

Language Learning

I’ve also experienced comfort-zone expansion with foreign languages, particularly with Spanish. When I started learning Spanish back in 2018, I remember feeling terrified at the journey that awaited me. I badly wanted and needed to reach a respectable level, and fairly quickly. The problem was that I’d never done so with another language: the only experiences I had were with French and German in school, which by then I’d long forgotten. I felt that inferiority.

Luckily, I’d had enough positive learning experiences to realise that this feeling was inevitable, and I pushed through the initial stages despite my doubts. Once I reached intermediate level, it was plain sailing. Now when I use Spanish, it feels second nature. It doesn’t produce fear or anxiety. It’s well within my comfort zone.

And this positive experience led me to begin learning Chinese in 2020. Again, I felt fear at the outset, but by then I consciously knew that this fear was simply a result of unfamiliarity. I told myself that I should persist, and that one day it would all come together. I’m now at intermediate level, and I can feel that enormous comfort-zone expansion.

Now it’s over to you. What do you love but fear undertaking? What new projects are you procrastinating out of fear? Follow the three steps above, push through your fear, and eventually this new pursuit will be a part of your comfort zone. You’ll look back and marvel at your growth, and may even wonder why you ever feared it to begin with. The monster vanishes, and you savour your success.