A science-based framework to face and challenge the fears found at the edge of your comfort zone. 

On the list of anxiety-inducing, gut-wrenching scenarios, negotiating with yourself to start a new professional venture can rank somewhere between trying to talk yourself into walking a tightrope over a 10,000-foot chasm and setting all your worldly possessions on fire.

 Great leaps forward are coveted. Taking them ourselves often triggers our worst fears. Why? It’s not because we lack courage, or aren’t brave; it’s because we have not educated ourselves to the complexity and brilliance of our own human design. Humans are hard-wired to survive. We are hard-wired to adapt. And we are hard-wired to be curious.

When we start thinking about ‘what if’, when we start imagining exhilarating possibilities, we are growing. We get curious. We refocus. We explore. However, if we have not yet learned to make developing ourselves a full-fledged habit, these moments can be met with confusion, anxiety, longing, and struggle.

Initially, we pursue safety and shelter. That’s normal. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ranks safety as the second-most important human desire, right after breathing and having food. But we are not supposed to stay there.

What’s wrong with staying in your comfort zone?

Isn’t it nice to be comfortable?

Yes. However, seeking comfort is only part of the code wired inside us for feeling fulfilled. Curiosity is also part of the code. Seeking the comfort zone — safety and shelter — as the ‘it’ will ultimately leave you feeling unfulfilled.

Ask anyone who has reached their initial idea of ‘it’. Somehow, mysteriously and magically, the definition of ‘it’ seems to have shifted and is no longer the ‘it’.

What is important to address is do we equate being comfortable with surviving. If so, you are in for a long road of frustration and emptiness.

The hack to starting any successful venture is to immediately discern why you want to do this. If it’s for a perceived sense of safety, you may want to be honest, avoid the struggle and focus on defining what you need to feel safe.

If, on the other hand, you want to do something new because you sense there’s something more, something untapped, something spectacular you have contributed to life, what you are truly asking is “How do I get there?”

And how you get there is by understanding the brilliance of your human design, how to use it and equipping yourself to do so.

Is your desire for comfort fueled by fear — subconscious or otherwise?

Are you feeling exhausted but stagnant and are being lulled by the siren sound of comfort? Is a professional title or other trappings preventing you from stepping into going all out in living your true passions, true success, and reason for being?

Pause for a second and ask yourself: Do you feel fulfilled? Are you learning regularly? Do you wake up excited every morning?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, the fear of not knowing how to access real life is disguised as comfort, and it’s holding you back. Rather than keeping you safe, you are entering the danger zone — becoming so sheltered with comfort that you aren’t really living at all.

It’s time to reframe the comfort zone

Missing your true potential doesn’t exactly sound comforting, does it?

That false feeling of “comfort” is myopic; it’s short-term thinking driven by primitive instincts. It’s the same gut reaction that helped us avoid danger as cavemen and cavewomen, but it often doesn’t apply to our modern world.

What separates mission-driven leaders from the rest of the pack is their bravery. They untie the mental tethers that threaten to hold them back, they know they will be challenged and preempt these moments by developing the daily practice of challenging themselves.

How do you accomplish that without creating massive anxiety?

Transformative leaders use challenges to develop themselves. That doesn’t necessarily mean they go skydiving or seek out extremes as a way to force the challenge. Countless studies show that there’s an “anxiety sweet spot” — a psychological state of “moderate anxiety” where performance is optimized.

You can liken this to Goldilocks; where a little girl chooses from three bowls of porridge and picks the one that’s just the right temperature. Transformational leaders gauge their own temperature for risk — they turn off autopilot, and they focus on finding that sweet spot between white-knuckle fear and liberating success.

You don’t have to be a superhero to do this. You have to educate, develop and equip yourself to know yourself at your edge and how you make decisions when you get there. Subconsciously you are going to make decisions that keep you safe. Your subconscious thinking is what is driving you. And may no longer be serving you. You’ll know if it is or not by your level of fulfillment.

When you are at the edge of your comfort zone, to reach new levels of fulfillment, you need to inform yourself differently and consciously. The information you need is not in your comfort zone. What you need to step out of that zone and into your best life is found in new wiring.

If you are reading this, you are listening. You are questioning. These are the first right steps. For me, my journey to fulfillment started with listening. I listened to my instincts rather than my fear.

You can have what you want. You can learn to look at that tightrope and not only want to get on it but feel confident you know how to use it to get to the other side. Your comfort zone can be replaced with the comfort of knowing how to meet any challenge and how to leverage it to take you to wherever you want to go.

Explore The StillPoint Experience – an interactive digital experience that shows you how you think subconsciously when you are outside of your comfort zone and what to do about it.

[This article was originally published in Thrive Global]