Taking inspiration from Michelle Obama, we find out how to calm your "fearful mind" and step out of your comfort zone to achieve more than you felt capable of
In an interview with the BBC about her recently published book, The Light We Carry, Michelle Obama explains that “everything that I am today is the result of pushing past my comfort zone, quieting my ‘fearful mind’ and taking on the challenges that might have otherwise held me back.”
Although it’s unlikely that you’ll face the same life challenges as Mrs Obama, it is likely that there will be situations that will require you to push past your comfort zone and step up to the challenge.
Whatever it is, like Michelle Obama, you too can quiet your “fearful mind”, move out of your comfort zone, and achieve things you may have thought were beyond you.
First, it helps to understand why you might find it difficult to move out of your comfort zone.
“Fear of the unknown can be paralysing,” says psychotherapist, Donna Butler. “You may not have the confidence to step up to the challenges, especially if, growing up, you weren’t encouraged by your family to push out and discover what’s possible.
"Furthermore, if, when you have stepped out of your comfort zone in the past, you experienced difficulties or failed, it’s easy to think it will always be so and you tell yourself that there’s no point in trying.”
"Like Michelle Obama, you too can quiet your 'fearful mind' and move out of your comfort zone"
If you believe there’s a chance that things might not work out and you could lose out in some way, it can be tempting to stay in your comfort zone.
Ali, for example, was offered a promotion at work. It was a new, interesting role with more responsibility and a pay increase. But Ali was concerned he might not be capable of the job and would then have to face the embarassment of being demoted, so he turned it down.
This was Ali’s approach to most things in life. He stayed in his comfort zone, a place he felt safe. The problem is, when you turn down opportunities, you don’t discover what you could actually be capable of, and you don’t give yourself the chance to feel good about yourself for having achieved something.
When Lin asked Jenna to sign up for a paddle-boarding lesson, Jenna wasn’t keen. Although she could swim, Jenna didn’t like cold water and was afraid of falling in. But she decided to give it a go anyway.
To her surprise, Jenna did well and enjoyed it. She had good balance and soon got to grips with the techniques. And she only fell in once!
Certainly, the thought of stepping out of your comfort zone can make you feel stressed and anxious. It involves taking a risk, making an effort and persevering.
It might not be easy but it’s not impossible. Here’s how to quiet your fearful mind and step up to the challenge.
Identify the benefits
Visualising yourself facing your fear and achieving your goal can help you motivate yourself towards it
Firstly, identify what you’ll gain and what you’ll achieve. Keeping that in your mind can quiet your “fearful mind”.
It helps to prevent feelings of doubt and uncertainty from taking over and gives you the surge of motivation you need to take the necessary first step.
Donna Butler suggests visualising it. “Imagine yourself successfully doing and achieving whatever it is you are aiming for.”
Break it down into a step-by-step plan
“Plan in advance what you need to do—what specific steps you need to take to achieve your goal,” says Donna. Breaking it down into small, achievable steps can help make it less daunting.
Once you’ve taken the first step, you’ll have got things started and then, as you take each subsequent step, you see yourself coping and moving forward.
Tap into your courage
Courage means doing something despite being afraid. Think of a situation in the past when, even though you felt afraid, you faced your fear and took action.
"Courage means doing something despite being afraid"
What was it that made you take that bold step? What thoughts or feelings encouraged you? Who or what helped you? Remind yourself of that next time you need courage.
Be inspired by other people
“Think of you someone you know,” says Donna, “who has moved out of their comfort zone and successfully managed their fears and stepped up to a challenge. Ask them what helped them.”
Read and listen to stories too about people who inspire you. Get some insight into how they succeeded in achieving something.
Give yourself positive affirmations everyday to help to build your confidence
In her book, Michelle Obama says “I try every day to greet myself with a positive message.” You can do the same.
Affirmations—positive statements about yourself and your abilities—can help encourage you. Push past anxious thoughts and feelings and tell yourself, "It may be difficult, but I can do this.” Feel the fear. And then do it.
Practise stepping out of your comfort zone
Write down three small things you could do that would move you out of your comfort zone—things that won’t involve too much of a stretch.
"If you usually go for a 20 minute run, extend it to 30 minutes"
Stepping out of your comfort zone can open you up to new ideas, opportunities and experiences. You can discover good things about yourself, your abilities, other people and the world.
Start now! Who knows what you could find yourself achieving?
Donna Butler is an Integrative Psychotherapist (UKCP reg)
Read more: How to live life more fully
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