With a single step
I think I can safely say that on most days, the screeching of the alarm clock is a most unwelcome sound. It is unwelcome because it brings with it the knowledge that we must leave our comfortable, warm bed and take that first step into a day of challenges, stress and to a certain extent, the unknown. This may seem slightly dramatized, and though not every day is like this, these feelings are undoubtedly familiar to us all. But why is this so? Why is the first step always so difficult? Perhaps, It is because the first step is the most important, the most necessary, and with that knowledge there is a degree of responsibility. Once you take that step you are leaving your comfort zone, whether your comfort zone is your bed, an old job, or simply a state of mind, and embarking into something new and uncertain.
Why do we love the comfort zone so? Well an obvious clue is in the name, but the answer runs a little deeper than a simple name. The comfort zone is familiar and free of stressful challenges. In the comfort zone, our fears and anxieties are kept in check. A simple daily routine is relatively free of challenges, making breakfast, commuting to work, doing the usual tasks in your job can all become part of your comfort zone. However, when you encounter something that disrupts your routine, for example your train to work is delayed or there is excessive traffic on your commute, you are forcefully ejected from your comfort zone. This is always unpleasant, so why would you voluntarily leave something that gives you comfort and keeps you free from stress and anxiety? It is human nature to look for the easiest solution, it has contributed to our evolution and in many circumstances it is just common sense, after all, you aren't going to wade your way across a river if there is a bridge right in front of you. But we need to be challenged in order to grow.
How will I benefit from leaving the comfort zone?
There is no great reward without struggle. But with great struggle, comes reward. Leaving the safety and familiarity of your comfort zone will bring a whole host of rewards. Through this strengthening of character, you may find that by taking the first step you not only set yourself on a brand new path, but that this path can lead in any direction you choose.
You will discover new levels of productivity. Nothing sabotages productivity quite like comfort. When you settle into an easy routine, you tend to challenge yourself less and you will do just enough to get by. When you challenge your routine and see the benefits it brings, you will see that it is worth the effort challenging yourself in other areas such as work or fitness.
Dealing with the unexpected will also become easier for you when you leave your comfort zone. The mind can be similar to a muscle in the way that when it overcomes an obstacle, it becomes stronger and more able to deal with the challenge. You will find yourself thinking more creatively and dealing with sudden problems or changes of plan will become less and less of an issue.
Most importantly, you will chip away at self doubt. You will begin to see and take pride in your own potential. And with potential, you can begin to shape the happy future you are brave enough to imagine.
Simple tips that can help
Dont rush! Change is a marathon and not a sprint. You are your only competition. take your time and plan things out. I am a great fan of list making when it comes to dealing with problems, so take time to plan your attack, just like you would map out a new journey. Do your best to guess where your feet will fall on that first step.
Start with small changes. Try a new route to work every day, paint your room a new colour and acquire the taste for making fresh starts. Once you get used to making small steps, you can begin to build up to the bigger ones.
Don't dwell on the past, but refer back to it when you need to. People are fond of saying you need to get rid of the past, but to do so completely is rather unnecessary. Your past has some pretty important lessons. As you are taking your steps out of the comfort zone, think back to each encouraging successful step, and the lessons learned from the unsuccessful ones. Some failure is inevitable, but the same is true for everyone. Failure is not to be feared as it is only permanent if we allow it to be.
Trust your instincts. I mentioned that it is an advantage to know where your feet will fall when taking the first step, but sometimes things do not go according to plan and you have to make a quick decision to steady yourself again. Trust your ability to find solid ground and to carry your momentum forward. Again, if your instincts don't turn out to be 100% accurate its not the end of the world. The more you use them, the sharper they will become.
Have you ever been on a hike or nature trail? You simply follow the trail that has been trodden by hundreds of others before you. But if you pay close attention to the trail, you will see that nothing grows there. There is life growing all around, except for on that trodden trail. It has been worn down and made barren by its repeated use. The same principle applies to life in many ways. Without stepping out into the wild and untrodden, you cannot experience what it is like to grow and flourish.
People need to grow, to discover, and in turn, to be discovered by others. Growth can be found on any number of journeys, whether the journey is literal and you travel to see the wonders of the world, or perhaps a new job, or the journey is metaphorical, one where you create your own wonders. A number of years ago, I set up a small discussion page to spread mental health awareness, and the most difficult part I have encountered was not researching articles or typing, It was getting people to engage in the discussions, whether publicly or privately. Granted mental health has always been a difficult thing for people to discuss. There has been a stigma casting a shadow preventing awareness that has not been easy to shake off. But nothing can grow in the shadows either. A journey must be taken to find a source of light. People can believe that by ignoring a problem, they can keep it at bay. There are many reasons for this. People can be afraid of being branded or stigmatized as "crazy" or "unstable". Men, especially in certain cultures, could worry about being seen as weak and not being able to deal with their duties. In a way, these old fashioned ways of thinking can be seen as part of societies comfort zone. One which hinders the nourishment so many people are in desperate need of.
Though there is still plenty of work to be done, we are witnessing great changes in attitudes towards mental health, and there are more steps taken every day. A journey is a lot less terrifying when you know you wont be the only one traveling. When you are guided by the courage of others, you hold little fear of getting lost. And through discovering your own courage, you may well serve as an inspiration for another to follow suit. This may be something as simple as commenting on a relevant article and either sharing your story or voicing your opinion. People have an amazing ability to bond, especially through common goals. We can form friendships that help each other share burdens, calm fears, instill hope and knowledge, and in some cases, heal wounds. Each of these things help us grow stronger and bolder. Each of these thing is a step we can take to be rid of whatever shadow we may find ourselves under. A simple act or word of kindness is widely underestimated. While you cant be so naive as to think that everyone's problems can be solved with a smile and simply telling them that there are "better days ahead", A serious disorder requires serious and professional help, no doubt about it, but it can be beneficial to see someone smile for a change. It can be beneficial to see that good can still be found in strangers.
This is all very optimistic and perhaps a little bit of a cliche, but in regards to the topic of mental health, being optimistic and hopeful are important aspects towards its acceptance. One foot at a time we can reach whatever goal we set, whether the goal is set for ourselves or society as a whole. Change is hard work, and yes it forces us to leave our comfort zone. it is long and full of challenges and obstacles and moments where we will stumble and doubt ourselves, but the results are worth the effort. So when you hear the familiar screeching of the alarm clock, as unpleasant as it may be, try to start your day with a little hope before you put that first foot on the ground, because as they say, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.
© 2015 Sean Gorman