7 ways to leave your comfort zone behind you for good

Your comfort zone is just a self-imposed boundary that limits what you do. You can live a very nice life in the zone. Safe, predictable, every day the same as the one before it. But, as you’ll know if you’ve ever been on a corporate retreat:

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Your comfort zone is easy because it’s familiar and safe. What stops you leaving it? Fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of WHAT PEOPLE WILL SAY? Why try shooting manual when your photos are OK on auto? Why take your tripod out in public when you can get by with a higher ISO? Why try street photography when you can sit in the car and shoot landscapes out of the window? Why enter a competition when you can leave all your photos on your hard drive so no one ever sees them?

If you’re going to leave whatever photography plateau you are currently living on, you will have to step out of your comfort zone and into the unknown. Once you’ve left, you can expect to be more creative, more confident, more adaptable and more interesting. You’ll have new stories to tell, new ideas for photos to take, and you really will stop caring what people think (mainly because you’ll realise no one is paying any attention anyway).

To leave your comfort zone behind for good, you simply need to get your brain used to the idea that your “new normal” is one step away from what you previously thought was the only place to be.

1. Start small

You don’t have to leap so far from your comfort zone that you are paralysed with fear. It’s OK to put one foot outside, just until you’ve got used to the feeling.

2. Have a plan

Write down your goal. Make it specific:

  • “Use my tripod in public until I’m no longer self conscious about it, starting somewhere where there is only one other person.”

  • “Practise shooting off auto for 10 minutes every day, until I won’t annoy everyone I’m with by fiddling with the settings when we’re shooting in a group.”

  • “Go on a photo meetup with the attitude that nobody cares how good a photographer I am, they are just glad I came so the meetup wasn’t a failure.”

3. Redefine failure

Do you have an unspoken yet constant thought that you shouldn’t try something new because you’ll do it wrong? Or other people will think your photos are bad? Are you afraid to shoot on manual mode because your photos will be worse than when you shoot on auto? Are you unwilling to try a different viewpoint because you don’t know if it’s the right thing to do?

Who makes these unwritten rules that you are guided by?

Photography isn’t maths. There isn’t one correct answer. It’s not like a chemistry experiment where you have to do everything in exactly the right order otherwise nothing will work. Photography is art. Nobody (NOBODY) can tell you there is a right way to do it.

Yes, there are a lot of camera clubs and Facebook groups full of people who think there is only one way to take photographs. But they couldn’t be more wrong. Don’t let an aggressive group of photographers with lots of kit and even more opinions put you off doing things differently.

So stop thinking you’re a failure if you don’t take a photo the way someone else thinks you should. Go out and have fun. Don’t call photos you’re not happy with “failures”. Call them “progress”. It’s easier to embrace progress and step out of your comfort zone, than to stay where you are through fear of failure.

4. Break some habits

Get your brain used to the fact you’ll be doing things differently from now on. Start doing a lot of small things differently. Use a different kind of toothpaste. Hold your coffee in the other hand. Write in a new colour. Almost everything we do from dawn to dusk has some kind of habit ingrained. What can you do that’s just slightly different?

5. New horizons

Go to a new place. Travel to work a different way. Do your food shopping in a different supermarket. Go and sit somewhere for 10 minutes that you usually walk straight through. If you have the time and budget, travel to new countries, and experience different cultures.

6. Learn something

Acquire a new skill, totally unrelated to photography. Learn a new language, learn to crochet, have a go at calligraphy or philosophy. Pick a course off OpenCulture at random, and finish it.

7. Embrace vulnerability

As you break your habits, expand your horizons and remember what it’s like to be a complete beginner, you will become more comfortable with vulnerability. You will recognise that it is just your brain looking out for you, trying to stop you hurting yourself. But as you experience being vulnerable, and realise only good things happen in the long run, your brain will start to accept that vulnerability can be a good thing.


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Emma Davies