When it comes to pushing out of your comfort zone, sports psychologist Evie Serventi explains how to do it

Stretching yourself out of your comfort zone can seem daunting when you first think about doing it. The mere thought of trying a new sport or signing up to a new event or challenge can lead to feelings of anxiety and discomfort. Familiarity can feel reassuring. The benefits of stretching yourself, however, can be limitless, physically, mentally and emotionally, particularly when it comes to sport and tackling a new challenge. So, how do we persuade ourselves to take on a new challenge and start to feel the benefits?

Why step outside your comfort zone?

There’s a great deal of certainty when you stick to a routine or activity you’re familiar with or are naturally good at. It takes courage and vision to focus on and try something new that doesn’t come to you naturally. Champion athletes, for example, share the common behaviour of identifying and working diligently on weaknesses in their game – not just their strengths.

They develop the skill of feeling comfortable with being uncomfortable – and it’s this skill that leads them to achieve much more than their counterparts. They are keen to step beyond their comfort zone because they realise the benefits to self-development, specifically by reaping physical rewards (improving technical/sport-related skills) and emotional rewards (improved confidence and resilience from achieving challenging goals).

The caveat with staying in a comfort zone is that you can often start to feel stuck, or stale, or demotivated. Often, you’ll sense a lack of self-growth and/or passion for your sport, yet you’ll probably rationalise this by reminding yourself that you’re comfortable with where you’re at, and with doing the sport you’re familiar with and can perform well in.

Nurturing self-confidence

The anxiety and stress you may experience, however, at the thought of a new challenge can trigger the release of chemicals like dopamine and glutamate, which prepare your body for dealing with a potentially harmful/threatening situation. Too much adrenaline can make you feel like running for cover and staying well within your happy place! Likewise, staying within your comfort zone can trigger the release of happy chemicals serotonin and dopamine – you’ll feel safe and secure and confident, which is why it’s so tempting to stay in our comfort zone.

The key is to nurture your self-confidence so that you can take that first step into stretching yourself. Start small, be patient with yourself, and manage your expectations. The more you step outside your comfort zone, the more confident you’ll feel. This renewed sense of confidence becomes a cause and effect to keep going; to keep stretching your comfort zone.

Be thankful

Share, don’t compare – we’re all guilty of comparing ourselves and our performance to others. It’s hard not to with sport, which is quantifiable and often very competitive! Turn your energy inwards by sharing a new experience – go water skiing, beach running or mountain trekking with family or a good friend. Appreciate the elements, on spending time together, on experiencing something new. Gratitude, sharing new experiences and thinking positively can all help build confidence.

Taking the first step

Achieving something you haven’t done before can be a massive confidence boost and help you move closer to fulfilling your potential. As the saying goes, if we achieved everything we were capable of, we would astound ourselves. Stretching out of your comfort zone can reignite motivation and energy for life – this can have a
positive impact on relationships, friendships, productivity and passion for your sport. Author Susan Jeffers’ book, Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, talks about facing your fears and not letting them hold you back. This can foster a huge sense of achievement and self-reassurance and is self-fulfilling – the more you step outside your comfort zone (and get comfortable with being uncomfortable) the more confidence you’ll have to continue pushing boundaries.

Maintain your progress

Build a support network – research shows that the more social support you have from your spouse, family, friends, colleagues, sporting clubs, etc, the more likely you’ll be to be motivated to exercise, to try new sports, and to stick with it.

Have heroes or idols – you can never have enough mentors in life; people you admire, learn from and are inspired by. And try power posing – just two minutes of power posing, that is, standing in a posture of confidence, increases testosterone (dominance hormone) and lowers cortisol (stress hormone) – what’s your power pose?