Feeling out of your comfort zone? How to gently stretch yourself

Moving to a foreign country inevitably throws you into situations you’ve never experienced before – whether it’s a new language, unfamiliar social etiquette, or the loss of your favourite home comforts. Yet every time we move beyond our comfort zone, we grow, build our confidence, strengthen our resilience. Often we surprise ourselves with what we can achieve! Psychologist Katie Reindl shares five tips that’ll help you become more comfortable with the uncomfortable…

When you’re on the edge of your comfort zone…

Do you remember the first time you felt butterflies in your stomach? Maybe it was right before you had to give a speech – or was it before your first job interview? I still remember my first experience… I was six years old and my dad was driving me to my first piano recital. I remember feeling confused: I was excited to get to my destination, but I also wanted the car to slow down because I felt anxious. How could a negative and a positive emotion collide like that?

Fortunately my dad put words to my emotions by asking, “Do you have butterflies?” Being so young, I took him literally. “What is he talking about?!” I thought. Seeing the confusion on my face, he explained the flurry of sensations – like butterflies unfolding and fluttering their wings – when we feel uncomfortable. Little did I know that this mix of feelings was something I’d experience many more times in my life.

Have you ever heard the saying “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone?”

As expats, in a “foreign” environment and ripped from our everyday comforts, we are brought back to these feelings over and over again. A wise friend warned me prior to my voyage from North America to Europe that I’d experience this a lot – and often! – in my new environment. I didn’t believe him until I stepped onto the cobblestones of the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, where I was about to set up my new home.

At first, when you feel the butterflies, your immediate reaction is to run away or resist (the classic “flight or fight” survival mechanism). As easy as it would be to seal the lid on the jar holding those butterflies, and to run away from the discomfort that a foreign experience creates, is this what we really want? No, we want to grow… and to learn how to work through these uncomfortable times. For it’s true that when we are placed in new situations, our body and mind start to flourish and ignite.

So the next time you come face-to-face with the uncomfortable, remember these 5 tips:

1. AWARENESS: Get in touch with what you are feeling – physically too! Your body provides essential information about your inner world. Acknowledge your body’s responses – like those butterflies – for they are a resource to help you trust yourself through this new experience.

2. FEELING: Understand your emotions and what is driving them. Step back and think about why you are feeling the specific emotions you’re experiencing.

3. MEANING: Think about the value of working through this stressor and what meaning you may eventually gain from this experience.

4. MINDSET: Turn your fear response into courage. Trust that you have the strength and confidence you need to execute this task.

5. REFLECT: Take time for reflection, either via a journal or telling a friend about your experience.

Remember that some days will be better than others, so don’t get down on yourself if you just want to run away. Return to the pointers above and you’ll be taking the first step towards turning these stressful situations into opportunities to grow your own wings.

“Let’s set the butterflies free today… try something to make your butterflies come alive. You don’t have anything to lose.”
“What if I fall?”
“Oh but my darling what if you fly…”
~Erin Hanson

Get in touch with Katie, or learn more about her work, via her website

When did you last move beyond your comfort zone? What was the result? We’d love to hear your story!

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