For many people, one of the keys to making lasting and sustainable healthy lifestyle changes is developing new habits and getting into a healthy routine. But could our routines be holding us back?

Having a routine that we can rely on (a very specific diet or exercise regimen for example) helps us establish a “comfort zone,” which is a way to minimize stress and risk. Staying in our comfort zone is reliable, consistent, and safe, and for most people, it leads to solid results over time. This is our natural state as humans – we are designed to avoid danger or risk, and we like to know what’s coming next. Having low anxiety and regular happiness is desirable, isn’t it? In fact, there are entire industries, professions, and hundreds of books dedicated to helping people eliminate stress and anxiety from their lives. But here’s the rub – in order to truly grow in life and perform at our optimal level in anything we do, we’re going to need to step OUTSIDE that comfort zone.

And no, this isn’t some rah-rah inspirational nonsense from the 1980’s – neuroscience has proven that pushing our boundaries is the key to progress. In fact, rather than trying to avoid all stress and anxiety, we need to find a place where our anxiety level is slightly higher than normal in order to maximize performance. However, if we’re too stressed or too anxious, our performance drops off dramatically. Psychologists actually call this sweet spot “optimal anxiety.”

Here are 3 major benefits to the practice of stepping outside our comfort level:

  1. Your creativity will skyrocket. Opening yourself up to failure and rejection by thinking outside the box can be intimidating – terrifying even – but it also increases your chances of achieving something new or discovering a game-changer in your work or life. In fact, the level to which you are open to new experiences is a strong predictor of your creative achievement. Even more interestingly, the more and more you flex your creative muscles, the better and better you’ll get at harnessing your imaginative brilliance.
  1. You will age better. Although our comfort zones tend to shrink as you get older, continually learning new things or exposing yourself to unfamiliar experiences as you age can actually help your brain stay sharper and avoid cognitive decline. Studies have shown that learning new and demanding life skills consistently over time helps maintain high brain function.
  1. It’ll be easier to deal with new and unexpected experiences. One of the more interesting effects of purposely stepping outside your comfort zone is that it will prepare you for nearly anything life can throw at you. If you’re too locked into a routine and something changes unexpectedly and dramatically, it can be difficult to handle. However, mastering new things and finding that state of optimal anxiety is to your mental flexibility what going to the gym is for your muscles – training for the times when you really need to use them.

But how do you find this optimal state of anxiety without pushing it too far? Here are 3 tips to get started:

  1. Do something slightly different every day. Whether it’s taking a new route to work, having a different breakfast, or even experimenting with a different nighttime routine, taking an organized approach to trying new things with your daily life can start to warm you up to making bigger changes.
  1. Learn to love failure. Most people are so afraid of failure or rejection that they’re completely unwilling to try anything new. But if you view failure as a teacher, you’ll immediately expand your ability to get outside your comfort zone in a major way. Simply look at some of the greatest achievers in history – from Albert Einstein to Michael Jordan to Steve Jobs – and you will see that their amazing successes were all preceded by failure after failure.
  1. Spend more time with risk takers. Do you know anyone in your life who is more adventurous or is always up to something new and interesting? Seek them out and soak up their energy – finding support and comradery when you are taking risks and trying new things can not only make the prospect less scary, it can make the entire process fun! Once you start to enjoy being slightly uncomfortable, it becomes addictive and you’ll be well on your way to busting through your comfort zone on a regular basis.



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