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How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone (and Why You Should Care...)

27/05/2015 14:42 BST | Updated 26/05/2016 10:59 BST

Ever wondered what it takes to move out of your comfort zone?

You know, that space of mental security in which a steady stream of happiness and low stress levels intertwine.

There's a way for you to maximise performance in life and it comes when we push our boundaries.

You may have heard of friends or acquaintances talk about how they perform well under pressure or when busting a gut to make a deadline.

Here's why.

When asked recently by a Kenyan community leader if I would play as a back-up striker for the team he manages, a combination of excitement and fear gripped me.

'Know much about Gachie, John?' I asked a local buddy. "Hmm, that place used to be one of the most dangerous in Nairobi," he half-laughed, somewhat ominously.

Like all things we don't know enough about, plunging ourselves into the unknown is sometimes the best education of all.

Previously surrounded by dilapidated wooden and iron sheet-walled homes and an incubator for some of Kenya's most-feared criminals, known as the Matheri and Mungiki, Gachie, 15 kilometres from Nairobi in Kiambu County, is on the mend.

Like much of wider Kenya, Gachie is now exciting international property developers and investors, turning former farmland into modern storey flats and gated communities.

But as I warmed up on the sidelines of the muddy pitch, all I could hear was a swirl of indecipherable Kiswahili in the background as hundreds of local supporters looked on.

And John's words reverberated around my mind.

'Fabregas' - the bearded Chelsea central midfield ace - and 'Rooney', Man Utd and England's famous frontman, were two of the nicknames bestowed on me.

But as I juggled my shin pads, shorts and new boots and dashed for the ramshackle toilets, one of the supporters caught my eye and said: "Don't worry, just get changed here. It's ok." It struck me that what he was really saying was: "You're one of us now. Relax."

Those words triggered a sense of calm over me as I was about to enter the pitch.

And here's the thing: I was the only 'foreigner', or white guy - or mzungu in local parlance - on the pitch. That made me stand out. Instantly.

But instead of being singled out as an outsider and set upon with tough tackles and 'who-do-you-think-you-are showmanship?' - I was treated as just one of the guys.

According to psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson, we need a state of relative anxiety to perform at our maximum level to achieve a state of 'Optimal Anxiety' - the point at which we achieve slightly higher stress levels than normal or, similarly, when we push ourselves out of our comfort zone.

Too much stress and we won't perform.

Anyone who has achieved amazing things in their lives, knows only too well about moving out of our so-called 'comfort zones'.

Sometimes we can push ourselves too hard, which can be our undoing and sow a seed of doubt in our minds that will caution us against doing so in future.

Don't get me wrong. Our comfort zone is not an inherently bad space. We all need that go-to activity - whatever it is - to ground us.

Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, defines it so: "Where our uncertainty, scarcity and vulnerability are minimized...Where we feel we have some control."

Sometimes in life, letting go of that control can be exactly what we need to really know ourselves. That day playing football in a one-time down-and-out community, made me realise breaking our boundaries can be fulfilling and enjoyable.

Here are five benefits in breaking out of our comfort zones:

Pushing yourself once will fuel your next drive...

Taking risks in a managed way can lead you to bigger and better things in life. Do it once - successfully - and you'll provide the self-confidence you need to do it again.

It can trigger a productivity boost...

Comfort can sap your productivity because we do the bare minimum to get by. If you move out of your comfort zone, it will push you to innovate, work harder and smarter. Give it a go.

It helps to embrace new experiences...

Whether it's the skydive you are day dreaming about or pursuing a spiritual experience, propelling yourself into the unknown can be liberating. Try it. Daily.

It challenges us...

Seeking out new information and new ideas that challenges our perception of the world, can be an ideal way of unlearning old habits - and rewiring our brains to what's new.

We conquer our fears...

Those 'unknown unknowns' can be unsettling. What prevents us from jumping into the unknown is fear. Crystallise your fears, then take gradual strides to conquer them.