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Experimenting with a New Look? Why Leaving Your Comfort Zone is Priceless

Sure, at first it’ll make you twitch. But sailing into uncertain seas can be the route to bliss


by Pamela Mitchell

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I recently made a massive change in my life. No, I didn’t decide to stop being a coach, leave my husband, or flee the U.S. and move to Zimbabwe. I refreshed the makeup I’d been wearing for 20 years. Still, this simple act dredged up a boatload of fear and resistance.

The last time I had someone do my colors, I was in my thirties and I’ve stuck with the recommended routine ever since. With my 50th birthday fast approaching, I decided a new decade calls for a new image, so I contacted Rory Lee, one of Miami’s top makeup artists, who had worked her magic on me on during a recent video shoot.

Even though I was eager to breathe new life into my look, as Rory made suggestions I found myself feeling anxious and fearful. As she encouraged me to try different colors, I badly wanted to retreat to the safety of my trusty old makeup bag.

That’s what happens when you exit your comfort zone. Despite the fact that you want something new—you fantasize about it, work for it, tell everyone you are ready for it—when change shows up, emotions get complicated. Unless you know how to navigate these feelings, you can end up drifting off course from your dream.

Here are five simple steps to steer through the choppy waters around your comfort zone:

1.    Expect discomfort. When you’re excited about a change, feeling uncomfortable can surprise you. But discomfort is a natural part of the process. Be patient; it takes time for our system to acclimate to different circumstances. It’s akin to moving to a new neighborhood—you’re thrilled to have more space, but in those early weeks driving home feels disorienting and strange. The key is to notice these feelings and move on.

2.    Beware the auto-no .To manage the flood of incoming information, our brain categorizes things, resisting ideas that don’t fit. Example: I said I wanted a new look, but when Rory asked me to try a different color eye shadow, I told her I wanted to find a match for my favorite, a sadly discontinued brown. When the auto-no pops up, it can shut down creative solutions, so it’s important to shift the gears of your mind into yes drive.

3.    See the funny. Leaving your comfort zone causes you to confront limits you may not realized you have. During our consultation Rory laid out 10 lipsticks in a neat row and said, “You realize these are all basically the same color, don’t you?” No, I hadn’t. Rather than beating myself up for wasting cash, I laughed as I pictured myself lingering at the cosmetics counter carefully selecting some exotic-sounding shade that was really just a variation of the lipstick already in my purse. Maintaining your sense of humor as you maneuver through change is critical since laughter reduces your stress levels; it also provides a balanced perspective that helps you move forward.

4.    Love to learn. Whether you’re pitching yourself for a cutting-edge project at work, trying the latest lipstick color or picking up a tennis racket for the first time, it’s no wonder doing something differently feels a little weird and scary: Your brain has to pave a fresh neural pathway devoted to that skill set. The demands this puts on your prefrontal cortex—a lot of mental energy—may have you wanting to abandon ship. But hang in there. If you persist, you’ll engrave that new habit in your basal ganglia, and what once felt so hard will become second nature.

5.    Never make decisions mid-change. When things are in flux it can be tempting to make a quick call to return to stable ground. But in the midst of a metamorphosis you don’t have a full picture, and lowering your sails can short-circuit your progress. When Rory applied blue eye shadow I resisted, but once she pulled the whole look together, I loved it. The lesson here: wait until you have all the information before casting your vote on a change.

Here’s a final tip: the secret to managing a new experience is to keep challenging yourself until the experience becomes second-nature—until you become comfortable outside your comfort zone. With that in mind, I made it a point to keep using the different colors Rory had shown me, even though it would have been easier to default to my old makeup bag. By tolerating the peaks and swells of unfamiliar seas, you can cruise to a new image—or a new life!

Pamela Mitchell is founder and CEO to The Reinvention Institute and author of  The Ten Laws of Career Reinvention.

Photo Credit: Pink Flowers Shattering: Arrmin Zogbaum/Gallerystock ,Orange Flowers Shattering: Marcel Christ/Gallerystock