How to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and Try Something New

by Julie Rains on 18 March 2013 8 comments

Do you want to try new things?

Maybe you do, maybe you don't.

New adventures involve risk and uncertainty. And you may be at a phase in your life where you are seeking stability. For example, when my children were young, my time, thoughts, and energy were devoted to maintaining safety and the status quo.

At some point, though, you may feel you are spending too much effort on keeping things "as is" and not enough on striving for what could be. For me, this realization came when I noticed that the most perilous thing I attempted on a regular basis was running the dishwasher at the same time as the microwave (unless impeccably timed, this set-up would cause a breaker to switch off).

Since then, I have tried many new things. My list includes running a 5K and half-marathon, taking graduate-level courses online, doing indoor cycle (spin) classes, growing lettuce in a garden, organizing a group to provide meals for an inner-city outreach program, and participating in the local MS Bike Ride (which involved more new things like riding with a group and showing new cyclists how to use cue sheets).

Your list may be different than mine. But the hows of trying new things are often the same, whether an excursion to a new consignment store, a hike on a new trail, cooking with a new recipe, or the launch of a new career. (See also: How to Do Things That Scare You)

Choose What Inspires You

Intrinsic motivation will get you started and help overcome challenges.

You probably have a bucket list or wanna-try inventory of items awaiting your attention. If not, get a pen and paper, record your dreams, and narrow down to one or two new things you'd like to do soon.

Remember That It's Okay To Be Scared

Trying new things is exhilarating for some, scary for others. Whether you are truly thrilled or massively intimidated, don't let (irrational) fear stop you.

And don't think that you are alone in your dread. Here are a few of the things that I have worried about:

  • Seeming incompetent to others in all areas, not just the new realm that I am exploring
  • Wasting my time and being disappointed
  • Coming in last place
  • Paying too much for stuff (expert advice, gear, etc.) because of inexperience
  • Getting hurt
  • Embarrassing myself in front of other people
  • Getting in trouble because I didn't understand and follow some rules
  • Ruining an experience for companions because of my lack of expertise

You'll likely find that others, who now appear to be comfortable or masterful at whatever you are now attempting, were once uneasy, too. But they found a way to ignore demons and confront their fears; you'll do the same.

Do Your Research

You'll naturally want to do research online. And you should.

Sure, reading how to do X is not the same as doing X. And, no matter how many articles you read or forums you visit, you can't fully grasp the nuances of the new experience.

But you can often get enough information to try something new on your own. Or, if you're still unsure, you can familiarize yourself with the topic, learn the main issues to consider, and form the questions you'll need answered to get started.

Talk to a Friend Who Has Done What You Want To Do

A trusted friend can guide you through the process of learning something new. The right person will explain what's standard practice and what's unproven. She will share tips about what has worked for her and what she has noticed has helped other people.

The best way to tap a friend's expertise is to get general advice when you are getting started. Then, as you take steps to become more proficient, get her insights on specific concerns. This way, your buddy serves as an occasional resource rather than full-time mentor.

Make New Friends Who Can Advise You

If you don't have someone in your life who can help you, make new friends.

Last year, while training for a half-marathon, I realized I needed help. Although I had researched how to handle race-day scenarios, I wasn't really sure how suitable this advice was for me.

So, I struck up a conversation with a woman on a trail where I often ran. Like me, she was a mom who had just a few hours each week to dedicate to training. I approached her as she was stretching, asked her what she was training for (always a great way to get an athlete to start talking; her response was that she was getting ready for a season of half-marathons), and then posed my questions about fueling and hydration during the race.

Not only did she kindly answer my questions, she also offered encouragement. She recalled her first race and told me about the sense of accomplishment that crossing the finish line had given her, and how she has continued to set more aggressive goals.

Talk to an Expert

An expert can be a great resource. Look for those who relate well to beginners, are willing to help you take the next step no matter where you are starting, and enjoy helping those eager to try something new. For me, those have been local merchants and service providers plus friends who happen to have expertise in a certain field.

Just as you might approach a friend, try to learn the basics on your own and then ask for insights on specific concerns.

Take a Class

Outside instruction can help you get the skills needed to try something new and provide a great foundation for further learning.

Look in these places to find classes:

  • Community college
  • Local merchants or service providers
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Online sources

Classes may be offered over several weeks or presented in shorter time frames. I have taken quarter-long classes in bread baking, CPR, personal taxation, and more at the community college. Plus I have participated in half-day sessions to quickly get the basics on things like how to start a garden or the finer points of riding in a double paceline. So, even if you don't have much time, you may still be able to squeeze in a short but valuable lesson.

Learn the Big Mistakes

Get the lowdown on big mistakes to avoid when planning a new adventure.

This insight comes from my brother-in-law based on a conversation he had soon after becoming a program manager for a North Carolina television station. New people are hired largely to bring fresh approaches to programming. A wisened manager there gave him just one tip in the "whatever you do, don't do 'X'" format. At the time, "The Andy Griffith Show" was a mainstay. The advice was (and here, I will keep this advice family friendly): "Whatever you do, don't mess with Andy."

In many new experiences, whether it's going to a new restaurant (don't order the "Y") or taking a backpacking trip to a new area (remember to bring "ABC") there's a never-do-this-one-thing or be-sure-to-do-this-other-thing caveat. Pay attention, and don't think you'll be the exception on your first try.

Start Early

If you are attempting something new, it's likely that one element will not go as anticipated or planned.

There might be instructions you misunderstood or a map that you misread or a piece of equipment that needs repair. An early start means you have time to fix problems without compromising your success.

Take Small Steps

Taking small steps works for many new things with exceptions such as skydiving or rappelling.

Be patient with yourself. Just keep moving forward. Eventually, you'll notice that small movements have pushed you to the point that a big leap would have taken you.

Trying new things is its own reward, freeing you to have the experiences that you long to enjoy. But, along the way, you may learn to navigate new situations, overcome fears, cultivate patience, show humility, become more interesting, and deepen friendships.

What new things have you tried recently? What helped you have a great new experience?

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Guest's picture

This post was very reassuring and comforting because trying new things is scary at times. It is easy to just stick to your ordinary routine and do what you are comfortable doing but sometimes, stepping outside of your comfort zone will take you places you would've never imagined. This summer I am traveling to Italy where I will be studying abroad and this is definitely a new adventure waiting for me. I am nervous and this will take me outside of my comfort zone by experiencing life in another country for 3 months. I will find my inspiration and take it day by day and see where it takes me! :-)

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks for reading and telling us how you feel about trying something new. The study abroad in Italy sounds fantastic -- have fun!

Guest's picture
Shafi

As humans, of course, we all should try newer things in life. It can give us a better perspective in life.

Julie Rains's picture

To me, those new perspectives are nearly as valuable (or sometimes more) than actually trying or mastering something new.

Guest's picture

Great advice. Recently, I started a radio talk show at a local station. I was so nervous initially, but once you get over that initial hump, it's amazing. I love being on the air. There are other things that scare me immensely, but I love your advice and will use it to conquer those things as well.

Julie Rains's picture

Talking on air is an amazing feat! Glad to hear about conquering that fear, and you can definitely use that success to try and master new things.

Guest's picture
Guest

When i try new recipes, i make them just for myself. Once i feel good about the results, I'll make it for others. If I'm just a little nervous about trying something or taking a class in something new, it's nice to have a friend who is new to it too. If it's something i find scary, like jumping out of a boat into 70+ feet of water, i find it helpful to have someone experienced, like someone who knows rescue swimming along.

there's also a balance between not taking on two much before you are ready for it and letting fear or anything else hold you back. Both extremes are bad.

Julie Rains's picture

Thanks for your insights. I agree that extremes are not good, especially in truly risky situations. Most people I know tend to let fear stop them but a little fear can temper poor decisions.