Health and wellness

To improve your body, mind and soul, step outside your comfort zone and try something new

Doing something that is challenging or intimidating can have positive health benefits. Activities such as starting a new job, taking up a new hobby, and even visiting a new restaurant can boost your memory and creative thinking skills

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 7:15pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 August, 2018, 5:53pm

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Everything you’ve ever wanted is just a step outside your comfort zone”. While there’s nothing wrong with staying where we are, we can’t deny that, to grow improve, and move forward, we sometimes have to do things that challenge, intimidate or scare us.

Florence Teo-Fauls has been there. In 2015, the 43-year-old took on a job as a network marketer, which required her to talk to total strangers and build professional relationships with them – something she found nerve-racking.

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“I’m shy and introverted, so when I first started contacting potential clients, I was terrified,” she says. “My hands would actually tremble whenever I had to text them because I feared rejection. However, I found that the more I put myself out there, the easier it became. Reading about, and listening to sales and marketing pros like Ray Higdon and John Maxwell also inspired me to conquer my fears so that I could connect with new people.”

For Leong Lye Yin, running a 5km race in 2014 was a big step outside her comfort zone, but her success gave her the confidence to take part in longer races, and now the 43-year-old project manager races regularly.

“I wasn’t just someone who didn’t run; I wasn’t even physically active, but I decided to do that first race because my husband and his siblings were all taking part, and I thought it would be a good way for us to bond as a family,” she explains. “For someone who disliked running, I surprised myself by making it to the finish line. About a year later, my husband convinced me to run a 10km race with him. I completed that one in an hour and 45 minutes. Even though I walked part of the way, I was proud of myself.”

It’s important to strike a balance when it comes to taking risks and trying new things. It’s probably not a good idea to do anything you’ll regret later or that has long-term negative consequences. I’d advise taking calculated risks
Dr Amos Cheung, clinical psychologist

By 2017, Leong and her husband Eddie were competing in one or sometimes two races a month, mostly 10km. Later that year, when Eddie suggested she do an 18.45km event, she told him he was crazy. But she entered it anyway and completed it. And this year, Leong challenged herself further by taking part in two half-marathons (21km each). She finished the first one in three hours and 13 minutes, and the second in less than three hours – both well within the times she had set for herself.

From a developmental perspective, it’s good to get outside your comfort zone every once in a while. According to Dr Amos Cheung, a clinical psychologist at Dimensions Centre in Central, exposing yourself to new or different experiences generates feelings that you aren’t used to or have never felt before, and this can help you learn and grow.

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Some people choose to break out of their comfort zone because they enjoy taking risks and challenging themselves, but others don’t have that choice – they find themselves in situations where they are forced to take a risk, no matter how anxious or fearful it makes them feel.

Indeed, pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone is a different level of stress – human beings are, after all, wired to seek out comfort – but science says that this kind of stress can be healthy and even useful.

It can help boost creative thinking. For example, a study published in 2012 in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology found that undergraduate students who studied abroad in Spain and Senegal scored higher on two tests of creativity than students who did not study abroad.

Another study from 2013, published in the journal Psychological Science, revealed that learning new and demanding life skills while maintaining a strong social network keeps us mentally sharp as we age. The researchers found that elderly subjects who were challenged to master a new, cognitively demanding skill, such as digital photography or quilting or both, showed greater improvements in memory than subjects who performed more “familiar” tasks, such as doing crossword puzzles and listening to classical music.

If you’re keen to experience the unfamiliar but have no idea where to start, Cheung says to think small. “Look for little ways to venture out of your comfort zone. Maybe try a new restaurant the next time you dine out, or, if you always order the same meal, order something else for a change. These are just a couple of ideas to help you get used to the feeling of doing something new or different. You can build up your experiences from there.”

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Starting small and working up to longer races certainly helped Leong build her confidence and courage. “When I ran my first race I thought 5km was the best I could do,” she says. “Then I ran 10km, and 5km seemed like a walk in the park. Now that I’ve done a couple of half-marathons, 10km doesn’t feel difficult at all.”

A word of warning: you can push yourself too far out of your comfort zone to the point of endangering yourself, says Cheung. “It’s important to strike a balance when it comes to taking risks and trying new things. It’s probably not a good idea to do anything you’ll regret later or that has long-term negative consequences. I’d advise taking calculated risks.”

And if you feel satisfied with where you are, that’s fine too, he adds. “Nobody’s saying that you should or shouldn’t step out of your comfort zone. Some people choose to remain in their comfort zones their entire lives because it makes them feel safe, physically and psychologically, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Leong says that challenging herself to compete in races over the past four years has made her a better runner and given her a tremendous sense of pride about what she has accomplished. “It feels good knowing that I can run long distances – something I never believed I could do – but I’ve also uncovered a strength I never knew I had.”

And, as competitive as the network marketing industry is, Teo-Fauls continues to enjoy the challenge of connecting with new people. “It’s got so much easier that it actually feels fun now. I used to struggle with self-confidence, but I have overcome that hurdle and am no longer afraid to share my ideas with others and assert myself.”