A comfort zone is like a cushy crib bumper — you know, the kind they no longer recommend for baby beds. They smooth the hard edges, creating a cosy spot. But eventually, the experts realized they could smother, so they went the way of lawn darts and baby walkers.

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If only it were so easy to ditch our own comfort zones — our habits, mindsets and routines that might soothe our nerves but also smother our growth.

Here’s how to tell if you’re stuck:

  • How often do you meet new people or try learning a new activity or skill?
  • Do you voice your ideas often or tend to follow?
  • Do you set new goals and track old ones?

If your answers are “not very often” and “no,” you need to reboot.

Start small

Think about what part of your routine is holding you back and make small changes at first. They can lead to bigger ones later.

For example, are you always exhausted? Why? Staring at a screen until your eyes are bleary? Consider putting it down a half hour before bed. Just 30 minutes could change the way the following morning feels.

A Harvard study linked light at night as a culprit in people getting less sleep — and this was linked to higher risks of disease, including depression and diabetes.

Just giving yourself better sleep is a small tweak that can change perspective and lead to action.

But think big

Harvard Health recommends setting “audacious goals” but breaking them into doable parts.

And don’t scoff at the easy stuff. Pat yourself on the back for starting something and sticking with it even if the change or addition seems minor. Those baby steps can build toward bigger things.

Research from University College London shows it takes a person 18 to 254 days to make a new action automatic. Think about that. That’s either a couple weeks or nearly a year!

So, don’t beat yourself up if even that little change you were trying to adopt doesn’t “stick” at first. Just keep at it. Tomorrow’s a new day.

Others do it. Why not you?

Some say they “slipped into” a new zone. Blessed are those who slip in. Most of us require the force to actually break out of an old one.

Australian-British author-turned-actor Kathy Bette, nearly 60, tells it best. She got out from behind her computer screen where she confidently wrote and stood up on a stage at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival. She was alone and felt terrified, but she performed.

“Why had I pushed myself out of my comfort zone? At my age, I should be sitting at home knitting my own bus pass, right? Wrong. Research shows that the best way to stay young and stave off dementia is to learn new skills and to challenge yourself,” Bette wrote.

She even calls a comfort zone a health hazard.

“I’m carpe-ing the hell out of diem like there’s no tomorrow,” she said.

Be a copycat

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so don’t feel like you need to invent the wheel.

Hang around people who do stuff. It’s contagious.

I know that breaking out of most things (except hives and acne) requires strength. None of it is easy, so how do you get stronger and ready to change?

Rubbing shoulders with entrepreneurs won’t make you an entrepreneur, but you’ll glean tidbits of what they do that you can adapt to your life. Same with avid readers or marathon runners.

What makes them passionate? What does their day look like? What habits do they have that you could adopt or translate into your line of work or lifestyle that would nudge you beyond your normal?

So, show up to that lunch or mixer. Grab a coffee with a coworker who is on fire and learn their secrets. Do an informational interview with a person who interests you or has the job you’d love to have one day. Just hang out where interesting people hang out.

And pay attention. Best practices are meant to be shared.

Be accountable

Sometimes just saying something out loud makes it more real than if you pledged it in your head. Some call it having an “accountability partner.” Others have entire weekly or monthly meetings to set goals and check in on who has met (or not) their last target.

However formal or informal you adapt this to your life, just getting outside your own head is vital. Asking for or allowing someone else’s input or check-in with you is a great way to keep moving toward or away from something.

(And asking a pesky friend who won’t let you off the hook is even better.)

Talk about it

I’d love to hear from you. Have you left your comfort zone? What was your process? What or who helped you? Details, please! Getting into a rut is easy. Getting out takes work.

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