The Life Outside of Your Comfort Zone is Beautiful

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I harbour a growing hatred of New Year’s resolutions. By now, it seems as if everyone you know is thoroughly in the swing of their ‘best year yet’. Diets are begun. Newfound, and endlessly thrilling projects are well underway, and delving into any form of social media feels like walking into the local village hall to join a self-help workshop run by someone’s mum. If I were to impersonate the beanie-clad indie boy who perpetually sits in your Instagram inbox; I would inform you that my disaffection is apparent because time is an illusion, and that to make a New Year’s resolution is to subscribe to the unstoppable capitalist machine that makes up modern-day society. If I’m being honest, it’s because I hate the pressure of a New Year almost as much as I hate pretentious Instagram messages. 

I have my reasons. There are certain elements of the tradition that I believe substantiate my insurmountable loathing. Resolutions, for all their benefits, are often made to remedy perceived character or behavioural flaws. ‘Lose weight’, ‘drink less’, ‘save more’; all, on the surface, reasonable goals. But they are also goals that often happen to arise from self-doubt. The niggling voice that whispers in your ear to inform you that everyone else is saving more, to remind you of the time you drunkenly cried to your taxi driver about The Lion King, and to convince you every day that you take up more space on this earth than you deserve. It’s the voice that tells you to put down the chocolate cake, and the one that aims to convince you that you will die unsuccessful and alone - missed only by your thirty-three beloved cats. Not the most favourable place from which to instigate change, perhaps. 

That is not to say that change is not positive. Without desire for change there would be little progression; and our goals, in whatever form, are part of what makes us human. Whether they were consciously made while muttering Auld Lang Syne on the first of the first, or are merely a passing thought in the hazy moments before we fall asleep; our goals are the ones that, for the most part, convince us to get out of bed every morning. But the way in which we construct them, and the means by which we work towards them is important. We are all well aware of the incurable itch in human nature that manages to encourage us almost every time to press the big red button that warns us not to - and in a world already suffocating with rules and restrictions, why add another to the list? 

As the first few months of the year slip by, and the pursuits we began so benevolently seem increasingly unachievable, it is easy to feel as if the year is already a lost cause. That cruel little voice gets louder, and the poison it spills taints our thoughts with increasing detriment every passing day. It can seem as if we are the only ones to fail, and we feel foolish for ever trying in the first place. But then, if the goal itself comes from a place of doubt, how are we really expected to have faith in its completion?

It was around this time last year, therefore, that I decided to set a different type of goal for myself. It was not a restriction, or a rule that I had to constantly abide by. Nor was it, under any circumstances, to be considered a New Year’s resolution. It was not fuelled by self-doubt, and it was not made with any real measurable outcome. It was simply a promise made with myself - a promise to push my comfort zone. To look back at myself at the time of making this commitment is almost to look at a completely different person; I’d spent New Year’s crying about the prospect of facing a whole other year. I’d worked myself to exhaustion, and was distinctly lacking in enthusiasm for just about everything. I felt overwhelmingly trapped and alone. It truly felt like rock bottom, and my promise was a reason to instigate what I hoped would be a positive change. 

It started small. The concept is so subjective and immeasurable that I did not feel the pressure that is often part and parcel of setting goals. I hadn’t told anyone. I hadn’t tied myself up in an elaborate, super-villain style plan. I hadn’t even thought about what I wanted to achieve. It all felt very relaxed, and very much within my control. I would know, I thought, when the time had come to fulfil my promise. And very quickly of course, it did. First of all, I attended an event alone. It was something I had planned with a friend, and when some everyday comeuppance forced her to cancel; it gave me two simple options. Being the self-conscious and generally awkward soul I am, I would normally (and quite happily) have scuttled home to feel sorry for myself - spending my evening mindlessly scrolling through social media and talking to my cat. But, I remembered; I was no longer subscribing to ‘normal’. Comfort was not my thing anymore. I had assigned myself the role of renegade, and had promised to fulfil it. So I went. Alone. I trembled, I felt awkward. I felt as if the whole room was staring at me. But, much to my surprise, the world did not end. I was not instantly made a social pariah, and more importantly; I enjoyed myself, and the satisfaction of the achievement spurred me on to more. 

With each challenge I achieved more than I thought I was capable of. It didn’t have to be profound, memorable achievements. It didn’t have to be something that would gain me hundreds of likes on Instagram. I didn’t even have to tell anyone. But, each time, it was an assurance that I still had the ability to surprise myself. Sometimes, it was as simple as speaking to someone new. Sometimes, it was about allowing myself to feel vulnerable. Sometimes it was simply saying ‘yes.’ It gave me a reason to do things I normally wouldn’t; and consequently, the confidence to do the things I wish I already had.  

I became prolific in my discomfort. When my best friend and I attended an anti-Valentines quiz, (yes, really) I approached a table of strangers and asked them to join our team; which, with the addition of a few too many beers, ended up being one of the funniest nights of my life. I said yes to a Tinder date. I attended a songwriting workshop, alone. I forwent my usual three months of planning and panicking, and accompanied a friend on a last minute, 24-hour trip to Paris. I faced my insecurities about my absolute lack of vocal talent and posted a video of myself singing on social media; because, it doesn’t actually matter that I do not sound anything like Amy Winehouse - even if I really, really wish I did. I wrote my very first article, and had it published. I moved in with a friend. I enquired about becoming a staff writer here at Aurelia, and, well; here I am. The more I challenged my fears and insecurities the more I realised that they were often unjust. Even the times my fear was appropriate I found new confidence in proceeding to do the anxiety-inducing thing anyway. It was not always easy, of course. A large portion of my year was spent muttering ‘it’s going to be fine’ repeatedly under my breath, and all with a truly astounding insincerity. But, despite my concerns, it actually was absolutely fine, and there’s not one thing I’ve done that I have regretted. 

Our comfort zones are personal. They differ from person to person. Something that to me, might be terrifying, is likely an everyday occurrence for somebody else. You might read this and question what it is that I’ve done that qualifies. On the contrary, you might read these words and imagine it to be the most daunting list you’ve ever seen. But comfort zones are universal in the way they are safe, calm, unchallenging, and – well – comfortable. They’re the psychological equivalent of a big squishy sofa. I’m not by any means suggesting that you read this and instantly sign up to a charity skydive. Nor am I condoning saying yes to anything that makes you feel truly and incurably uncomfortable. Don’t, whatever you do, say yes to going on a date with that person that gives you the creeps. But after a year of allowing myself to tolerate my discomfort, of dancing with my own vulnerability, and quite frankly, of having a bloody great time doing it - I might just be suggesting that you do the same. There’s only so much you can do from your sofa. There's so much to see.