The Secret to Getting Unstuck: How to Grow Your Confidence

I was at the gym today during my regular ‘pump’ class when the instructor reminded us that we need to increase the weight of the bar regularly if we want our muscles to grow stronger. It got me thinking how that’s the case in our everyday lives as well: we need to get outside our comfort zone regularly if we want to grow our confidence.

When I first started going to this strength training class, I used the smallest weights possible. It was a little embarrassing when I looked around and saw everyone else, even women 10 years older than me, with substantially heavier weights on their bars. (Often times, we need to risk being ridiculed in order to grow.) I didn’t think it was possible for me to lift that much weight, since lifting the small weights was enough of a struggle.

But the more I went, the easier it got, and before long I was able to put as much weight on the bar as most of the regular participants around me. I can’t imagine going back to the light weights I lifted when I first started – it would be ridiculously easy and I wouldn’t get much from the exercise. Similarly in life, we don’t get much from staying in our comfort zone; sure, things are easy, but if we don’t stretch ourselves, we don’t get a chance to grow. And if we are not growing, we are staying stuck.

“Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.”

– James B. Conant

A few years ago, my husband and I were vacationing in Barbados with another couple. When the three of them wanted to go on a snorkeling excursion, I was hesitant, because I can’t swim. (I have taken lessons as an adult several times, but every time we get towards the end of the program, I panic in the deep end.) I agreed to go when I was assured that I could stay on the catamaran while they went snorkeling.

But when the moment arrived, I decided I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines by myself and watch everyone else experiencing this adventure. I was tired of letting this fear hold me back. So I pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone and just do it (okay, there was a little peer pressure too).

Confident in the Water

One of the excursion guides was in the water with me, holding the other end of the floatation device, which I was clutching for dear life. (That’s us in the picture above.)

Once I got in the water and realized that my feet didn’t touch the ground, that I couldn’t even see the ground – I won’t lie – I was terrified! There were moments of sheer panic as I tried to get the hang of the snorkeling apparatus as well.

In that moment, I had two choices. Go back up on the catamaran or brave the discomfort of the unfamiliar.  My mind got very noisy as I was weighing my options. (The mind’s job is to try and keep us safe, even if that doesn’t always serve us.) Just then, a large, majestic turtle swam directly under me! I reached my free hand to touch him, and that’s when I realized that my courage was being rewarded.

Afterward, I felt so powerful and confident – like I could take on just about anything. I learned that we should never underestimate what we are capable of if we are willing to step outside our comfort zone. We shouldn’t let our fears tether us, because we won’t get to truly experience life  if we keep ourselves on a short leash.

“Comfort seduces us into repetition, and if we keep doing what we’re doing, we keep getting what we’re getting.”

– Charlene Belitz & Meg Lundstrom, The Power of Flow

How about you? What’s something you know you must do for the sake of your growth but have been avoiding? What’s one way you can stretch yourself? Taking small risks will strengthen your courage muscles and give you the confidence to stretch even further outside your personal comfort zone. It could be something as simple as wearing bright nail polish when all you ever wear is neutral. Or taking a class where you know you have to share your thoughts. Or going to a movie by yourself. (By the way, what may seem like a big risk to one person may be easy for someone else and vice versa.)

I would love to hear your thoughts, so please share in the comment section below.







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This post has 13 comments

  • Kathy Davidson says:

    I grew my confidence by running a marathon! Now I’m injured and “stuck” in that I had to stop running for a year. You’d think that would have given me ample time to de-clutter? Well, that’s the other major place in my life (both home and work) where I’m seriously stuck. It’s all about fear and security. The minute I turf something, someone will come in wanting it!!! So I guess de-cluttering is like running a marathon…one piece of paper at a time…one step at a time…

  • Maureen says:

    Hi Kathy: I run marathons too – and I have a lot of clutter. I hope you are back running again soon. Maureen

  • You must have read my mind, I wrote a very similar blog post yesterday! Moving through fear is indeed a very difficult thing to do, but necessary for growth.

    Thanks, this was a great read.

  • Mom says:

    My daughter graduated from University a couple of years ago and has not found a full-time job as yet. I know it is hard finding a job, however, I know she is also more afraid of finding one because of the unknown. I have brought your newsletter to her attention and hopefully this will give her a little push to not be afraid.

  • Bea says:

    For 7 yrs I have been traveling to my parents 6-9 months a yr. Not all in 1 stretch, 1-3 months at a time. With 1-2 months at my home. I switch with my sister. Our parents need our care, & I am glad to be able to do it. My problem has always been clutter. Now when I am at my home I just want to totally relax. I am just so glad to be at my home. I really can’t get motivated to declutter. I’m hoping that by actually sharing this in print, it will motivate me. I do not want to have my children deal with this clutter. I personally know how hard that is. Thanks to all who took the time to read this. Declaring it in print will hopefully help me to be “unstuck”.

  • Hi Hellen,
    I too was afraid of swimming in the deep until one day in a swimming pool, I adventured into the deep end. I totally relaxed my muscles, my mind and just let go.
    You cannot imagine the feeling of freedom I felt! That is the power of fear; it holds
    us back from experiencing the most important achievements in our lives. Just like Susan Jeffers wrote “Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway”. I highly recommend this book if you are trying to move from Pain to Power!
    As always, I really enjoy your blogs Hellen. Warm regards!

  • Jeff says:

    Hi Hellen,

    For years as a youngster, I had a dream of being a radio announcer. But in truth, as much as I yearned for that very publc career, I was extremely shy and fearful of that microphone. But just when it appeared that I would quietly step away from my dream, I forged ahead and went for it. I’v been a broadcaster for 25 years now, and have a career that I enjoy so much. But I was “this close” to walking away and no one would’ve heard a peep from me!

  • Barbara cassidy says:

    When I moved back to Calgary from Toronto I wanted to horseback ride in the beautiful foothills. I convinced my 3 friends… 53 year old housewives to join me and get outside our comfort zone. We all love it…and ride every Tuesday spring thru fall. I have even ridden bareback in the dead of winter….often frightened…but it just makes you feel alive taking risks.

    Going outside my comfort zone has enriched all of our lives.

  • Phyllis says:

    I am terrified of heights but when I went to Costa Rica last year I went zip lining to celebrate surviving cancer. I can not explain the feeling of ” conquering the world” it gave me . My family was amazed.

  • Teresa says:

    Ah, swimming. Reminds me of the fear I had when I was learning in high school. One thing I found that really helped me was to wear swim goggles. Just being able to “see” underwater released my fear of the unknown. Worked for my kids, too. Also, when I swim in a body of water I don’t know (like on vacation), I like to wear my water shoes. Keep writing great posts.

  • oaitch says:

    great read! Very motivating. Thank you, Hellen

  • Annie says:

    Oh I can relate to that! I’m a very good swimmer, but for some reason, I’m terrified of swimming in the sea, or even in a lake. I’ll have to get over that fear if I want to do some snorkelling in Australia. 🙂

  • Marianne says:

    I recently moved to a new Country and have a bit of a language barrier still. Until recently, I was so scared to speak to anyone I didnt want to leave my home to pick up groceries even. Now, I dont even think twice about it.
    I enjoy reading your very motivating posts! -Thanks! 🙂