Don't Get Comfortable

Don't Get Comfortable

Get motivated, get moving
and stretch your limits.

By Linda Allen, CC

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
                          – Neale Donald Walsch

Has your comfort zone become a rut so deep that you need a ladder just to peek out? Do creature comforts and distractions keep you from moving forward? Then it’s time to get motivated, get moving and stretch your limits.

Chang Ming Ye, Huiju Park and Gustavo Duarte stretch their limits every day. Simply talking on the phone is a leap out of their comfort zones. While that may not seem like a big deal for many of us, it is for them because English is not their native language. For these three Toastmasters, phone conversations can be frustrating. Understanding the message is only the first challenge. But each day, they push themselves and expand their skills and experiences.

Ye, Park and Duarte are international members of the Pacesetters Toastmasters club in Stillwater, Oklahoma. They regularly take on leadership roles and present speeches. Each joined Toastmasters to improve his English and achieve his professional goals.

A natural adventurer, Chang Ming Ye left his home country of China nine years ago as a successful professor. He wanted to explore the world and start a new career in the United States, but language and financial challenges proved more than he expected. His confidence sank.

A friend encouraged him to join Toastmasters. “I thought she wanted me to sell toasters,” Ye recalls with a laugh. When he learned what Toastmasters was about, he realized the organization could help him. He joined Pacesetters, and as he stretched himself by taking on meeting roles, Ye’s confidence grew. In just one year, he advanced from a novice speaker to club president; he is currently working on the Advanced Communicator Bronze and Competent Leader awards.

To challenge yourself as a Toastmaster, Ye advises taking on all meeting roles and participating in district speech contests. “Encourage new members to reach beyond their limits,” he adds.

When Huiju Park came to the United States from Korea, he practiced English by listening to CNN and ABC News, but he decided his speech sounded unnatural and rehearsed. “It was like I was reading the news when I talked,” he notes. He credits Toastmasters with helping him become more comfortable in front of an audience and is pursuing his goal of becoming a professor and using his speaking skills to inspire students.

Gustavo Duarte, a native of Mexico, pushes beyond his comfort zone with the help of curiosity and a sense of humor. “I choose speech topics that I’m not an expert on so I will have to research and organize the information,” he says. “I also talk to people with different backgrounds, careers, religions and politics so I can improve my English, satisfy my curiosity and make new friends.” 

Conquer Your Fears
All three Toastmasters agree that fear traps many people in a rut. Fear can immobilize you; it allows your imagination to run wild with a list of “what ifs” that control your emotions and actions if you allow it. Escaping your comfort zone is a mental game, one that challenges the self-created barriers that hold you down. Here’s a suggestion: Think of fear as an acronym for “False Expectations Appearing Real.” Or make a list of positive “what-if” outcomes instead of focusing on negative possibilities.

It’s not so much the fear of failure or even success that traps us – it’s a fear of change. Although often uncomfortable, change is inevitable and necessary. Stepping out of your comfort zone can cause discomfort and even panic, but the payoff is rich: new experiences, adventures and understanding.

Here are some tips for bringing about change in your life:

Get comfortable with change. Try something simple, like taking a new way to work, re-arranging your routine or learning and using a new word every day.

Seek advice. Find a mentor or someone who has done what you want to do. Benefit from his or her experience and knowledge. As you grow and develop your new skills, return the favor – be a mentor to someone else.

Visualize the results you want. Visualization is a mental exercise that can take you from where you are to where you want to be.

Ease into change. Take baby steps – start small.

Celebrate and share your victories and successes. They will encourage others.

Remember: If you don’t try, the answer is automatically “no.”

Excuses prevent change. They rationalize procrastination and reluctance to trade our comfort for the challenges of growth. In his new book Excuses Be Gone, Wayne Dyer lists 18 reasons that people give for postponing decisions. The excuses are typical ones we have all thought or said: “I can’t afford it”; “It will be difficult”; “It will take a long time”; “I’m too old” and “I’m too tired.” Dyer analyzes each excuse and offers suggestions, visualizations and affirmations to move beyond indecision and out of your comfort zone.

Mike Dooley, an author and former Toastmaster, recommends visualization to create your future and live an unlimited life. In 2000, he gave a seven-minute Toastmasters contest speech titled, “Thoughts Become Things.” From that speech, Dooley created a platform of books, audio programs and Internet sites that encourage living life to the fullest. He credits his “thoughts become things” philosophy for everything he has accomplished, from entrepreneur and international tax consultant to motivational writer and speaker.

Broadening My Horizons
It’s always useful to add my personal tagline, “I make them great ones,” to Dooley’s mantra to add a jolt of energy, enthusiasm and optimism to my thoughts. While preparing for a recent month-long Rotary exchange to Bolivia, I practiced both Dyer’s and Dooley’s suggestions. Although I’d traveled to Bolivia several times on shorter trips, this time would immerse me in the language and culture. As part of the exchange, I presented programs in Spanish to 18 Rotary clubs and to the district Rotary conference, attended by more than 200 people.

A part of my preparations for the trip and presentation was to observe how Ye, Park and Duarte communicated to their audiences in their second language. Then I rehearsed my presentation until I was comfortable enough to give it without notes. Although Table Topics is not my favorite part of the Toastmasters meeting, I participated frequently. The topics and questions prepared me to think on my feet and to think before I speak.

I visualized an exciting, fun and safe trip, not only outside my home country, but outside my comfort zone. Preparation, practice and visualization – they worked! Was the journey difficult and uncomfortable at times? Yes. Was it worth it? Most definitely yes!

Toastmasters can bridge your transition out of your comfort zone to the world of new experiences. Manuals, meetings and mentors can empower you to move forward in relationships and career areas beyond communication and leadership. Actively participating in all club roles and offices helps you grow in different ways. District and regional contests stretch your limits with opportunities to speak to larger and different audiences than your home club. Even a change as simple as sitting in a different place each meeting can expand your friendships and keep you, as the speaker, attentive and focused on the audience.

When you’re motivated and moving out of your rut, new dreams and adventures await you. As Neale Donald Walsch, author of the Conversations with God series, writes, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” 

Linda E. Allen, CC, is a member of the Pacesetters Toastmasters in Stillwater, Oklahoma. She is a writer who teaches personal empowerment, leadership and cultural awareness programs. Reach her at