Long Reads

“Why it’s time to leave your comfort zone and embrace positive discomfort”

From solo travel to giving a presentation at work, we’re all scared of something. But now it’s time to leave our comfort zones and, in the words of professor Brene Brown, choose courage over comfort…

A ripple of excitement runs through the crowd as the first guitar chord bursts from the stage. Our headline act has arrived and suddenly thousands of festival-goers are moving and singing as one.

I’m in the midst of them, riding the wave of elation, and feeling more energetic than I ever imagined possible while attending a festival at five months pregnant. It’s hard to believe that, less than 24 hours ago, I was trying to think of a credible excuse to skip Latitude. I was daunted by the prospect of attending with a group of people I barely knew and no socially-lubricating booze, not to mention the thought of camping for two nights with my growing bump.

Thankfully I didn’t bail. Flaking would’ve been rude, but it would also have gone completely against my new policy of embracing ‘positive discomfort’. The concept, identified by trend forecasting agency The Future Laboratory, involves reframing uncomfortable feelings as “good for us”. It’s been championed by the likes of Brene Brown, the research professor whose TED Talks are an internet sensation. In her Netflix special, The Call to Courage, Brown advocates a braver attitude to life, announcing: “These are the words I say to myself every single day: today, I choose courage over comfort”.

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The idea that you should embrace seemingly scary situations as a route to personal growth struck a chord with me. I tend to verge on the nervous side, particularly in social situations with people I don’t know well, or career moves that involve ‘putting myself out there’. I’ve frequently regretted my lack of confidence, and looking back I can see that I’ve missed opportunities because I simply couldn’t face stepping too far into ‘risky’ territory.

be brave

This year, however, has been a wake-up call. Perhaps it’s entering my 30s or becoming pregnant, but suddenly I feel braver, and more importantly, I realise that I have less time to mess around being scared of situations that could ultimately be beneficial. 

Since deciding to embrace and push through fear, I’ve become more vulnerable, yes, but I’ve also reaped the rewards. As well as having the best time at Latitude, I’ve also taken on intimidating situations, from having uncomfortable conversations with loved ones about mental health, to introducing myself unprompted to a journalist whose work I admire at a book launch. 

It might sound minor to some, but for me these interactions have been groundbreaking, and I’ve realised that by pushing beyond what feels ‘safe’, I can ultimately forge a deeper connection with those around me.

“I broke up with my fiancé and went on our pre-planned holiday alone”

Hannah Randall solo trip
Getting out of your comfort zone: Hannah went on a solo trip after breaking off her engagement

Hannah Randall is a 25-year-old teacher from Huddersfield

“At 24, I split up with my fiancé, after seven years together. Although the thought of being alone terrified me, I knew the relationship wasn’t right. Within a month I went from wedding planning to living by myself. My ex and I had already booked a three-and-a-half week Interrailing trip, and despite my fear of going it alone, I decided to embrace the challenge. I knew it would prove that I could be happy on my own.

“I remember wondering what the hell I was doing when I boarded the plane to Berlin, but walking past the Brandenburg Gate all lit up at night on the way to my hotel, I suddenly thought, “this is going to be amazing, I can do this”. The trip took me through Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Luxembourg and Belgium, and despite the odd wobble, I had an amazing time.

“Highlights included standing on a mountainside viewing platform in Hallstatt (a big deal for me as I have a fear of heights) and dancing in the rain with lots of lovely people at Stuttgart Pride. I even had a holiday romance! The trip was liberating and empowering, I met brilliant friends and now that I’m back home, I feel more confident talking to new people. I’ve challenged myself to try something that scares me every month – next month it’s a 5k run, even though I was left scarred for life by P.E.!”

“I went to Coachella with a stranger I met in a bar”

Efia Sulter is a 25-year-old blogger (effytalkslife.com) from Glasgow

“I used to find eating out alone very uncomfortable – I felt so awkward and paranoid that people would be watching, thinking I was a loner. However, after travelling solo through Asia and Australia my confidence increased, and, when I found myself having a nightmare day in L.A. recently (my bag went missing at the airport), I decided to head out alone for dinner.

“I was sitting at the bar when I heard someone asking what I had ordered, and that’s how I met Erika. We chatted and ended up exchanging Instagram details. The next day she commented on one of my pictures, asking if I wanted to go to Coachella. I was intrigued and messaged her – it turned out she unexpectedly had a spare ticket, and had already rented a car and booked an Airbnb in Palm Springs, so I wouldn’t have to pay for anything. I was nervous (some of my friends warned that I was about to get kidnapped), but I decided to go with my gut feeling and ended up having an amazing experience. From arriving at the huge Airbnb property (complete with a pool), to attending an exclusive Coachella after-party, I kept thinking, ‘how is this happening?!’

“I’ve learnt that if you spend your precious time waiting for feelings of discomfort to pass, your life will pass you by, and that’s not a risk I’m willing to take. By having the courage to do things that scare you, you unconsciously give others around you the strength to do the same.”

“I gave a speech at my friend’s wedding, even though I hate public speaking”

wedding

Kirsten Parnell is a 29-year-old copywriter from Brighton

“I’ve never been someone who pushes themselves out of their comfort zone. I struggled with anxiety in my teens and was never happy trying new things. I hated public speaking – presentations at school and university would fill me with dread for weeks. But I’ve always loved writing so, when my friend Hannah asked me to do a bridesmaid’s speech at her wedding, I said yes immediately, before I could get The Fear and decide against it. Hannah and I lived together at university so I knew I’d have brilliant material for an entertaining speech, and I wrote the bulk of it quickly, although I was still tweaking it right up until the morning of the wedding. 

Kirsten gave a speech at her friend's wedding - and now she wants to try stand-up comedy
Getting out of your comfort zone: Kirsten gave a speech at her friend's wedding - and now she wants to try stand-up comedy

“At Hannah’s wedding, my speech was the only thing I could think about. Every so often I’d get lost in the joy of the day, but then another wave of nerves would hit me. I was shaking as the Master of Ceremonies handed me the microphone, but I can vividly remember when I got the first laugh. It was a genuine lightbulb moment – people were listening to my words and finding them entertaining. I was elated afterwards, especially when Hannah’s grandmother threw her arms around me and said ‘You said all the right things about my granddaughter!’

“The speech has given me the confidence to try stand-up comedy, and I’m aiming to do an open-mic night by the end of September. I’ve learnt that stepping out of your comfort zone can give you an incomparable high, and put a spring in your step for weeks afterwards.”

Ultimately, embracing positive discomfort will mean different things for everyone. For some of us, it’s summoning the courage to board that plane alone for the first time, while for others, it’s having the guts to do a presentation at work

Personally, I’ve found the rewards more than make up for the momentary jitters, and I’ve realised that old adage is true: “If you want to achieve something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done”.

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Images: Getty, Unsplash, courtesy of author

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