Why You Should Step Outside Your Comfort Zone—Student Guide

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Comfort, safety, the familiar—do these sound like things you enjoy? While what’s comfortable may be, well, comfortable, what’s safe and familiar doesn’t test your limits, help you grow, or build your confidence.

Many premeds and medical students are used to sticking to what they know, and we understand why. This is a busy phase in your life, to say the least, so sticking to what you know can save you time and requires less energy. But there’s value in stepping outside of your comfort zone, trying something new, and pushing your limits.

Let’s discuss some of the benefits of stepping outside your comfort zone and how to do it more often.

 

Why You Should Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

1| Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable Benefits All Aspects of Your Life

There’s no way around it; if you want to be successful in medical school and beyond, you must learn how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You’ll be pulling long hours and challenging your intellect, time management skills, social skills, fortitude, and resilience in ways they’ve likely never been challenged before.

Pushing your brain power, energy, and patience to their limits won’t be easy, and without steadily building your resilience over time, you’ll burn out, believing you’re not tough enough.

But resilience is something you can practice. By consistently stepping outside of your comfort zone and seeking experiences outside your natural habits, you can get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Instead of trying to escape your discomfort, practice mindfulness. Try and look at your strain and stress from an outside, third person perspective. This can help you learn to be intrigued by what you’re feeling rather than letting your feelings control you. When anxiety begins to surge in you, tell yourself that’s what excitement feels like.

If you’re afraid of public speaking, intentionally expose yourself to it. Instead of leaning into your nerves before speaking, condition yourself to see these nerves as excitement. Another way to push yourself is physically. Exercise, sports, or endurance training are ideal ways to help you develop your body and mind’s ability to manage discomfort.

Learn more: How Exercise Makes You Smarter (And a Better Student!)

2 | Embrace Learning Opportunities

People often avoid pursuing anything that’s outside of their comfort zone because what is unfamiliar may present risks. You don’t want to take risks because you’re afraid you might fail, make a mistake, or even look silly in front of other people.

But any failure, even a small one, teaches you how to get back up again; plus failures and missteps provide valuable lessons that build your resilience and help you grow.

Always playing it safe stifles your creativity, keeps you from building your problem solving abilities, and limits your growth. Even simple decisions that step outside of your norm, like reading a book in a different genre, sparking a conversation with a stranger, or trying a new way of exercising, present major opportunities to learn and grow.

3 | Become an Interesting Person and Conversationalist

People like talking to interesting people. When was the last time you did something new worth talking about?

Stepping outside of your comfort zone is often more interesting than your regular daily school routine, and it’s more interesting to talk about too. Think about the conversations you have with other people. Are you more likely to want to spend time with and talk to someone who tells interesting stories and has something new to talk about or someone who answers “how are you doing?” with a simple “fine” or, “you know, the same old?”

If you want to meet new people, network, and build strong relationships, having interesting things to talk about is a good start. It’s also a great way to find common ground. Do you have something in common to talk about, such as exercise, travel, sports, etc.?

Actively listen, ask questions, and engage. If you’re looking to find more ways to step outside of your comfort zone, ask those you speak to about their hobbies and interests. You may learn about something new you can try, and if not, you’ve asked thought-provoking questions that show you’re interested in learning more about the person you’re speaking to.

4 | Add to Your Essay and Interview Topics

Many, many medical school applications look similar, which can hinder your ability to stand out from the crowd and earn an acceptance. Admissions committees look for diverse, well-rounded students who will meaningfully contribute to their program and student body.

Stepping outside your comfort zone and trying new things can set you apart from other candidates. You’ll be able to discuss more than your stellar grades, a love of science, and a desire to help people throughout your application and during interviews. There’s a good chance most of the other applicants share those common traits. What sets you apart?

By experiencing more from life and pushing yourself to your limits, you’ll gain interesting, real life experiences to write about in essays and discuss with interviewers. What did you learn about yourself and diverse communities when you backpacked overseas? What did learning how to play a new instrument teach you about yourself? Why did you choose to take up aviation, and what is it like?

 

How to Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

Everyone’s comfort level is different, but the goal here is to expand your comfort level from wherever you currently are. Push your boundaries a bit and see what happens. Try something new. Try something you never thought you’d try before.

It might be scary and not feel so good at first, but that’s the point. You’re pushing yourself and stepping outside of what’s comfortable to build tolerance, resilience, strength, and confidence.

Expose Yourself to Your Fears

The more you avoid something, the scarier it becomes. Avoiding a situation or activity you don’t like gives it a fantastical, nightmarish quality until the fear expands so much in your imagination that it completely robs you of your rational thinking.

You might begin to think: “If I stand near a horse, it will kick me, and I will die. There is no middle ground.” “If I speak in front of a crowd, I will blush, my voice will crack, and I’ll get sweaty, which will show everyone how afraid I am. Then they’ll know I’m weak, and weak people don’t get into medical school. A single public speaking engagement could derail my chances of medical school acceptance!”

Now, rationally speaking, these things aren’t necessarily true. A horse could kick you, but that outcome has a lot more to do with your own actions. If you jump out behind a horse, scream, and slap its hindquarters, yeah, it might kick you. If you approach calmly where the horse can see you and the apple you have for it, the horse will probably think you’re at least alright. You might blush or sweat in front of the crowd you’re speaking to, but as long as it’s not a medical school interview, it likely won’t affect your entire future. Plus, the more you speak in front of a crowd, the less intimidating it will feel.

The less experience you have with something, the scarier it is, and the more you avoid it, the scarier it will become. Continually avoiding something will make you fear it more, so the only way to overcome your fear is to continually expose yourself to it.

Start small at first. If it’s public speaking you’re terrified of, begin speaking more in front of your friends or small gatherings of people. It’s okay if it doesn’t feel comfortable. Building your tolerance for being uncomfortable will also expand your resilience and strength in all other aspects of your life.

Exposing yourself to your fears will be scary at first, but each exposure will get easier. Not only will this expand and enhance your comfort zone, but it will also help build your confidence.

Build Confidence by Building Skills

Confidence is made, not born. While some people are naturally more confident than others, confidence can be built from skill-building and regular practice. The more you prove to yourself that you can do something, the more you’ll have faith in your abilities. If you demonstrate that you can do one thing really well, the next challenge won’t seem so daunting.

If you regularly worry about social engagements or how to make conversation with other people, first build your confidence through skill-building. Gaining skills and experiences in other areas of your life will give you more to speak about with others, and as you build confidence in one area of your life, that confidence will spill over into other areas.

Any type of skill-building or mastery will help you build your confidence. Doesn’t it feel good when you know how to do something well and are able to teach others what you know?

Let’s say you’re at a family gathering and the sink starts to leak. Everyone panics—your whole family was never the type to know their way around a toolbox. But you’ve made an effort to learn basic plumbing and household maintenance over the past few years. While everyone continues to discuss what to do, you jump in, turn the water off, and quickly fix the issue. Everyone is overjoyed and surprised at your skill. It’s a big confidence boost. You didn’t grow up learning these skills—you chose to learn them.

What skills are you interested in learning? What times in your life have you felt like you couldn’t do something or that everyone else around you knew more than you? You might choose to learn how to play an instrument, how to change the oil in your car, what to do in a medical emergency, how to sew a ripped seam, or how to cook a perfect poached egg.

Acquiring knowledge about the world works the same way. It feels good to know what people are talking about and to be able to confidently contribute to conversations. Don’t limit yourself to your studies. Step outside of what you know to learn more about the world around you, whether that be history, literature, jazz music, world culture, economics, philosophy, etc.

Travel to Experience Different Cultures and Points of View

Travel pushes you outside of your comfort zone by forcing you to make your own way in places that are unfamiliar. You may need to navigate language barriers, food you’ve never had before, new laws, different road signage, and cultural differences.

Additionally, traveling tests and builds your problem solving abilities as you plan, manage setbacks, navigate transportation, meet new people, and try new things.

Depending on where you go, you may get to experience cultures that are very different from your own. This not only challenges what you know, but it also gives you a better understanding of the vast differences and similarities of human beings across the world. Getting to know other cultures and experiencing how people live outside of your own small circle is incredibly valuable to future doctors, as you will be working with people from various backgrounds on a daily basis.

Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone through travel might mean joining your friends on a road trip, traveling outside of your city to try a restaurant you’ve never been to before, volunteering your time in another country, or backpacking across Europe.

What you’re able to do with your travel experience depends on your resources and the time you have available, but don’t think travel is out of the question for you because you don’t have three months to spare. There are plenty of smaller opportunities that can push you outside of what you know, expand your horizons, and expose you to other points of view.

We cover how to make travel decisions, travel ideas, and tips for making the most of the experience in our guide: Traveling Before Medical School—Decisions, Options, and Travel Strategies.

 

Crafting the Path to Success

Med School Insiders offers one-on-one advising that pairs you with a physician advisor who can answer your questions about medical school applications, what to do with the time between your studies, how to transition into your first year of medical school, and more. It’s our goal to help you create a future that aligns with your vision, which includes your studies, career goals, lifestyle, and habits.

Reach out to our team to learn more, and follow the Med School Insiders blog for the latest how-to advice, strategies, and personal stories. We share new content multiple times a week, and our newsletter roundup of videos, articles, study advice, industry news, and more goes straight to your inbox once a week.

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