One day I asked myself: What if I could stay in my comfort zone — even in uncomfortable situations — like at parties or networking events?
I was spooning Nutella into my mouth, trying not to drip it on my microfiber pillow, when I had an epiphany: We can’t all be our best, most out-of-our-comfort-zone, badass selves all the time. It’s simply impossible to consistently be living our best lives and being our best selves. More importantly, who would want to? (My apologies, Oprah.)
First of all, it’s exhausting on a practical level. Sure, I love the abstract concept of drinking fresh green juice everyday, but the reality of shoveling bales of kale into a juicer to extract a few drops of mossy liquid leaves me disappointed, underwhelmed, and ravenous.
As an introvert entrepreneur and freelance writer, most of my work has involved stepping out of my comfort zone, a.k.a., “getting out of bed.” I attend countless networking meetings and events, but I’m most at peace when I can stay right where I am at this moment — happily writing in total solitude.
But one day I asked myself: What if I could stay in my comfort zone, even in uncomfortable situations? What if I could harness the same level of comfort and peace that I feel when I’m alone and carry that with me in my mental briefcase for when I need it — such as when I’m in a room filled with people?
After some trial and error, I learned that it is possible. Here’s my story.
Social Anxiety and a Stutter Crippled Me
When I was struggling with a confidence-crushing mix of social anxiety and a stutter, I would do almost anything to avoid being pushed out of my comfort zone. And at that point in my life, being out of my comfort zone might mean someone randomly speaking to me in line at the grocery store.
One time, during a staff meeting at work, I pretended to become suddenly ill and hid in the bathroom just so I didn’t have to introduce myself in front of the group. I used to do the same kind of thing in elementary school when we had to take turns reading paragraphs aloud. Later, even as an adult, I was constantly terrified of being called out for what I believed I was: a coward and a fraud.
Fast forward to today, and I actually look forward to public speaking and networking events. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still an introvert, and I still need my me-time. A wild Friday night can involve TV hospital dramas and my jammies, but that’s the point: I realized those moments in my comfort zone are what make the more challenging ones possible.
As introverts, being around a lot of people can be draining. We desperately need times of solitude to recharge our batteries and refresh our souls. The peace that we experience in our comfort zone can be harnessed and infused into situations when we need it most.
The transformation I experienced took time and effort, but it was not about getting out of my comfort zone. It required going deeper into it.
Imagine what it would be like to schedule “comfort time” for yourself, and give it just as much importance as anything else. Now imagine feeling that same blissful sense of no expectations or pressure, and learning how to embody that version of yourself all the time. I bet you feel better already, right?
But I can almost hear your inner critic chiming in, “Are you kidding me? You can’t do that.”
Actually, you can.
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Change Your Mindset, Change Your Experience
Here’s a secret most people don’t know: The expectations and pressures you place on yourself only exist because you’ve created them. They can stop existing. Most of us don’t realize we have that power.
I certainly didn’t, not for more decades than I’d like to admit. When you set an intention for how you want to show up for yourself, you control your experience, instead of letting fear and anxiety dictate it for you. When you stop telling yourself you have to get out of your comfort zone — and you let yourself off the hook — you create a space where you can be at ease, even when your mind is telling you that you ought to be freaking out.
Now when I walk into a room full of strangers, whether it’s a party or a networking event, I know that I can remain in my comfort zone by being my authentic self: an introvert. My cocktail dress or business suit might as well be pajamas. That’s how comfortable I’ve become. I don’t have to talk to everyone, I don’t have to pretend to be someone I am not. I can have a meaningful conversation with one or two other people. I mostly ask compelling questions and listen carefully to other people’s answers. I completely let myself off the hook about any “selling” or “impressing” that I have to do.
The funny thing is, when I show up in this way, I end up making more personal connections and business referrals. Total win-win.
Is social anxiety holding you back?
Although social anxiety is not the same thing as introversion, many introverts experience this painful and isolating condition. The truth is you can beat social anxiety, and our partner Natasha Daniels can show you how. This means more relaxed conversations, more enjoyable work/school days, and more social invitations that you don’t immediately decline (unless you want to, of course!). Click here to check out her online class for kids and adults, How to Crush Social Anxiety.
It Starts With Lowering the Bar
By lowering my own expectations for myself, I let myself off the hook to allow for more comfort. If I stutter, say something ridiculous, or do something awkward, it’s okay. I give myself permission to be an introvert. It’s perfectly fine that I am not the loudest or most charming or most socially graceful person in the room.
Another thing I do is set a clear intention in my mind ahead of time of what success at the event would look like. For example, if I’m at a social function of any kind, I tell myself that if I connect meaningfully with just two people, then I don’t have to talk to anyone else. I define connecting meaningfully as asking those people thoughtful questions about their life, then really listening to their answers.
It helps when I can simply be the listener. This lets me off the hook in another way: I don’t have to worry about talking about myself. It’s rare that a person feels really listened to, and the people I connect with tends to seem appreciative. It’s another win-win.
By lowering your expectations of yourself, it’s like walking around in your jammies ALL. THE. TIME.
Focus on How You Want to Feel
Here’s another simple but effective tip for the next time you are about to enter an uncomfortable situation: Find a quiet place, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths (I love the solitude of my car for this). Then decide on one word that defines how you want to feel when you enter the room or place of discomfort.
The challenge is to refrain from choosing a rah-rah-living-my-best-life word like “BOLD!” And please stop telling yourself that you must always be “confident.” Again, lower your expectations! Instead try a word like “peaceful” or “calm.” If you feel stuck, think of how you feel when you are in your comfort zone at home and find inspiration there. Sketch the word in your mind. Literally visualize it scrawling across your imagination. As you enter the room, let that word be your mantra.
Once I began to realize I could stay in my comfort zone all the time, I felt immediate relief, like I had just quit the worst, most stressful job of my life. The more I practiced staying in my comfort zone, the more other things in my life began to shift in powerful ways. I began to feel at ease even as I challenged myself professionally to grow my business and get more clients. It was as if I had all this pent up confidence and courage that had been patiently waiting backstage for its moment in the spotlight.
When the moment finally came for me to step into that spotlight, I didn’t step out of my comfort zone. I stepped into it.