This is surreal.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you experienced life in a way you never imagined possible? A period of unexpected bliss when you wanted to pinch yourself to see if what you were feeling was real or a dream?
It happened to me recently. I was on a farm in rural Argentina eating homemade cheese, salami and flan with a lovely family. We warmed ourselves with the fire from the wood-burning stove as we played with the kids and traded stories about life in our respective countries.
It was a magical afternoon that I will cherish forever. And it was made possible by a decision I made a few years earlier: to embrace discomfort.
I spent much of the first three decades of my life doing whatever I could to stay comfortable. I was careful not to rock the boat, not to do things that made me look silly and check everything off of the “supposed to do” list.
So I started intentionally making myself uncomfortable. It started with small things, like learning to swim and taking surfing lessons. Over the years it grew into bigger adventures, like traveling solo through South America by bus.
Here are five transformational benefits I discovered from intentionally making myself uncomfortable. And if you start stepping outside your comfort zone, you’ll begin to experience them, too.
1. Closed doors begin to open.
I knew something special was happening when I helped teach a tango class in an iconic location in Buenos Aires, the mecca of tango. It was on my third trip to South America when I recognized the payoff of meeting new people in a foreign land, learning a new dance and a new language.
Those new connections and abilities prepared me to capitalize on opportunities when they presented themselves. Such opportunities would never have come my way had I not immersed myself in the culture. Opportunities I wouldn’t have been equipped to handle had I not pushed myself to dig deeper.
Each experience outside your comfort zone builds upon the other. And although you might not know where the journey into unfamiliar territory will take you, know that previously shut doors will start to open.
2. You sharpen unused skills.
I attended many tango classes while in Buenos Aires. All of them were in Spanish and spoken at a speed too fast for me to understand anything more than a few words here and there. Attending classes in English would have eased my burden, but the experience wouldn’t have been as rich.
Because of the language barrier, I discovered a new way to learn. Instead of getting instruction by listening to the commentary, I adjusted to relying on visual and tactile cues to get what I needed.
When you live within your comfort zone, it is easy to rely on the way you’ve always done things as a means to get things done. But what you’re used to might not always be available to you. So you learn to adapt and develop new skills to accomplish your goals.
In the end you’ll evolve. You’ll grow. And once you can tap into your strong suits again, you’ll have a more sharpened arsenal with which to tackle new challenges.
3. You can laugh in fear’s face.
While in a small town in Ecuador, I had trouble getting money from the ATM. That meant I didn’t have enough cash on hand to pay for my room. And they didn’t accept credit cards. In the past, I would have been shy about talking so much in a language I barely knew. The conversation with the property manager wasn’t smooth. But in time we found a solution.
That day taught me that worrying about “failure” was the least of my concerns. I had a problem that needed to be solved. And if I had to look silly, mispronounce words and use a lot of gestures to solve it, no problem.
People often stay within their comfort zone due to fear of failure. They don’t want to leave a place where they know how to perform and risk falling flat on their face. But in the world beyond your comfort zone, there’s no time to worry about failing. It’s about survival. It’s about getting where you want to go with as few scars as possible.
Every time you successfully make it through a situation, you recognize the magnitude of what you’re able to accomplish when fear doesn’t rule your life.
4. You’ll have no regrets.
There were many times when being in another country wasn’t easy—especially when I was still a beginner in the language. Or during those long bus rides in close quarters next to strangers. Or when many friends and family couldn’t understand why I’d choose to wander around another continent by myself for months at a time.
But leaning into that discomfort enabled me to realize some of my long-held dreams, such as visiting Machu Picchu, learning another language and living abroad.
If you’d rather not live a life filled with regret or wondering about what could have been, make it a point to ditch your comfort zone for a bit. When you do achieve your dreams, the euphoria makes up for the discomfort tenfold.
5. You grow into yourself.
One of my favorite pastimes is roaming around a city on foot. I didn’t know that about myself until I started traveling outside of resorts. I didn’t know how much I loved live music until I started hearing tango bands play every week.
And I had no idea how much freedom there was in shutting down my extremely active mind and just going with the flow. That is until I planted myself in a world that operated in a different way than what I was used to.
When I started intentionally making myself uncomfortable, I got acquainted with parts of myself that had always existed but had been lying dormant for decades. I discovered more flaws, uncovered new strengths and felt more like me than I ever had when living in my “safe zone.”
And if you’d like to wake up the parts of you that have been lying dormant, do something you’ve never done before. Don’t rob yourself of the chance of getting to rediscover who you are or what you’re made of.
It’s easy to understand why people enjoy being comfortable. You get in a routine. You feel in control. You can predict what’s going to happen. Although stepping outside your comfort zone can look and feel scary, the abundance of benefits that exist on the other side of a little temporary discomfort are totally worth it.
So start making yourself a little uncomfortable. Say yes to something you might have previously said no to.
The uneasiness will soon give way to bliss.