Stepping outside of comfort zone versus doing things I don't want to
January 19, 2019 8:41 AM   Subscribe

How do you know whether you're doing something good by stepping out of your comfort zone, or whether you're just forcing yourself into doing things you get no enjoyment out of?
posted by iamsuper to Religion & Philosophy (12 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
To me, I'm stepping out of my comfort zone when there is something that I wish I could do, but I come up with reasons not to do it because of my anxiety. If I'm doing something that I just have no interest in, then that's not the same thing. For me, it comes down to the reason that I'm not doing something.
posted by christinetheslp at 8:50 AM on January 19 [23 favorites]

If you force yourself to do something out of your comfort zone, and it turns out your fears were groundless and you end up enjoying it, that is a good thing. If it turns out as bad as you feared or worse, or is just boring or continues to be uncomfortable, then it was not a good choice. But you do have to try it to find out.
posted by mermayd at 9:13 AM on January 19 [13 favorites]

To me personally there's a huge difference between "doing things I don't want to do" and "doing things I don't get enjoyment from". If I don't want to do something I don't do it. But I won't know if I want to do it or not unless I try it, which might involve stepping out of my comfort zone and usually involves doing things I don't initially enjoy because it's very rare that I can tell if I enjoy something based on one experience.
posted by ToddBurson at 9:29 AM on January 19

I think this is a matter of knowing yourself and your values, and identifying why you're resistant to a particular action. Is it because it's a new or uncomfortable experience, or because it conflicts with your values?
posted by windykites at 9:29 AM on January 19 [2 favorites]

I have this problem. (In fact it's a big factor for me right now as I am going through some sweeping life changes). I often like to take the classic "pros" and "cons" list but with a modified approach:

1. After you write down two separate lists with pros and cons, respectively (I use a separate piece of paper for each list), examine the "cons" list and rank the cons from 1-3 (or however many you may have) in terms of how likely they are to happen- 1 is most likely, and each item is less likely as you go down the list. You could also rank them in order of which one would be worst if it happened, but I find that isn't productive for me personally since what you're ultimately trying to do is cut through your anxiety to a clearer picture of reality. That's why it helps to look at most likely/least likely moreso than worst/less worse. But the latter has its place.

2. Looking at your "pros" list next, list next to each item how each of those pros will benefit you or make you happy in some way. Get into as much detail as you like. I don't normally rank the "pros", but you could do this in addition to outlining their individual benefits. For me, it's more about seeing all of the positive outcomes as a synergistic whole; as well as better understanding how they will come together to improve my life and/or happiness.

3. You can now look back at your ranked "cons" list. After having considered all of the positive outcomes, do these cons feel more real/likely or less? Are those cons based in fear? If so, is that fear coming from a true and valid desire to protect one's health and happiness, or from something more ambiguous- like fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of what others will think?

It's not a simple process but it's a way to begin sorting out your own thoughts on how you really feel about something, versus what may be something unlikely or unrealistic you've imagined that is just holding you back from your truth. It may also help you identify actual dangers that you legitimately need to avoid. As with almost everything I recommend on here, YMMV, but this can be a useful tool for working through personal emotions and rationalizarions. It's a tool and a starting point, nothing more.
posted by nightrecordings at 9:34 AM on January 19 [5 favorites]

A different take: the way your question is phrased makes it seem like you're equating all "good" things to do with "things that bring enjoyment." I would urge you to consider that there are a lot of uncomfortable things that are good to do but are never truly enjoyable. In addition to that there are good things that we do that are not enjoyable while we do them, but the long term rewards that we reap from them will bring us joy.

Let me give you a few examples that I've learned from.

I have long struggled with settings boundaries and cutting toxic people from my life. Putting my foot down when people disrespect me, walk over my, disregard my feelings is something that was out of my comfort zone for a LONG time, so I just never did it. Just the LEARNING aspect of how to respect myself, set boundaries, say no, and drop people out of my life was a long, uncomfortable process. Actually IMPLEMENTING it was even harder and downright painful. But it was 100% the best thing to do. I get no joy out of the process or the result, it's more like I'm removing the negative interactions in my life so that I can focus more on the people that DO bring me joy, and that is definitely worth it.

Another example, I had a soul-sucking job for over half a decade where I was just coasting by, not challenging myself, just collecting a paycheck then going home. Even though I knew I wanted something better for a long time, I avoided looking for something better because the whole job-search, resume building, and interview process is very much outside my comfort zone and something that I hate doing. But when I finally put my mind to it and challenged myself to go through the job hunt rigamarole (which was almost a year of effort) I finally landed a job that I LOVE and where I don't dread coming into work. It wasn't putting myself outside my comfort zone in this situation that brought me enjoyment, but the end result of it.

I'm pretty sure I will never be 100% comfortable with or enjoy doing either of these things. But they are unequivocally the good thing to do. The good news is that the more you step outside your comfort zone, the better you will get at it, even when it's not enjoyable.
posted by smurfzambo at 11:44 AM on January 19 [9 favorites]

I struggle with this too, my way of thinking about it is that I only have to do something once. The goodness comes from having tried many things and then evaluating them fairly. Like once I made myself go to a certain fan convention, where I knew my social anxiety would be going haywire but I had heard that you can make a lot of friends at this place and it's a fun and friendly environment. Well, none of those things happened and I hated every second of it. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and I didn't enjoy it, but that's fine. The important thing is I tried it, because I had no way of knowing in advance what was going to happen. It's a way of breaking yourself out of the fallacy of thinking that your anxiety can predict the future. It can't.
posted by bleep at 11:46 AM on January 19 [5 favorites]

This is something I ponder too, and a timely question - I'm in Stockholm this weekend and so today tried cross country skiing and ice skating for the first time. It was hard and I sucked and it was only really enjoyable for the beautiful scenery. So I'm pleased with myself for doing something I've avoided in my life so far but also willing to accept it isn't for me and I don't need to do it again.

So to conclude, it's good to try new things but as long as you've given it a decent go then you can also allow yourself not to waste future time on it.
posted by JonB at 1:28 PM on January 19 [4 favorites]

Always worth asking if you, yourself, are curious or interested in the thing, or if it's a thing someone else wants you to do.

No direct correlation, but useful info.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:50 PM on January 19 [8 favorites]

I love to swim laps in a pool. I’ve been swimming quite a bit over the last ten years. I don’t race or do triathlons but for awhile I swam with a Masters Swim team (a lot of Triathlon folks). I got it into my head that I’d do the cross Columbia mile swim that happens once a year. I wanted to push myself with a goal, and I thought it sounded like a great, out-of-my-comfort-zone goal. But first, I needed to do some open water swimming because it’s a pretty different thing. So I went out with a group who do a training swim every week. It did not go well. I have never liked open water swimming. And while I am comfortable paddling about in the occasional lake, something about putting my head down and just going for it just sends me into a panic. I have decided that this is not a thing I must do. I am a confident swimmer, if my life depending on it, I could swim from a sinking boat to...somewhere. But this? Not doing it. I could continue to pursue it and people have tried to get me to push my limits on this but...nah.

I do think we occasionally need to shake things up, do a thing and fail at it or do a thing so you can go, ‘huh, not my thing.’ I think it was good for me to try. Sometimes it’s good to go out of your zone on a journey into someone else’s zone. I do think you can get bullied into a thing and that’s never fun. “Good for you” is relative.
posted by amanda at 5:45 PM on January 19 [3 favorites]

My therapist gave me the best advice for dealing with this situation: as hard as it may feel, just get out and do it and try it, even if just for five minutes, and give yourself permission to go home. You'll frequently end up staying for more than five minutes. If it's uncomfortable and you don't want to do it again, you've got solid evidence that goes towards that decision.
posted by avocet at 9:59 AM on January 20 [1 favorite]

You know if you get benefits from doing it. I think in most places it's fairly clear. Like, if you have to ask the question, it probably doesn't make sense for you to keep doing it if you don't have some longer-term goal in mind.

(There are some people who think it's good for people to constantly push themselves towards new things. I'm glad that works for them, but there is nothing inherently good about it unless you are unhappily stuck in some way.)
posted by metasarah at 2:49 PM on January 21

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