Why You Should Choose Courage Over Comfort

UW Health Services

Health Psychology

Sport Psychology

Dr. Shilagh Mirgain offers tips to help you get out of your comfort zone.

Ever get the feeling like you're moving on auto-pilot? Wake up, go to work, come home, repeat. Maybe even down to what dinner you'll have on a given weeknight.


But when you start to change things up – teriyaki instead of tacos on Tuesdays – there's the potential for something great to happen. You can start to discover new aspects of yourself and achieve goals you never thought possible.


Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, UW Health psychologist, acknowledges that while new risks can bring new rewards, the process can be nerve wracking for a lot of people. To help, she offers three tips to get past the anxiety and enjoy the journey.


Choose Courage Over Comfort Zone


From Our e-Newsletter

When we watch children on the playground, they don't seem to have any fear. Spinning wildly on the merry-go-round or climbing out on precarious limbs – they are constantly exploring and testing their worlds. But as adults, at some point that exploration stops and with it, the potential for learning something new about ourselves.


"Our best life begins on the edge of our comfort zone," says Mirgain. "To ignite our potential, we must stretch ourselves outside of our daily patterns."


She notes that it's never too late to start making resolutions. If you think of the year as a blank canvas, like an artist be intentional about the life you want to create.


"Start small by mixing up your daily routine. Drive a different way to work. Read. Watch or listen to something you wouldn't normally. Try out a different variety of food. Say yes to more things you normally say no to. Do something regularly that scares you – unplug from electronics for a day, or reach out to a stranger and introduce yourself," advises Mirgain.


While trying a new food may not seem life changing, it's really about learning to step outside of your own limits. We develop habits and routines because they are less stressful and more comfortable. But moving beyond that helps you start working toward a larger goal.


"If you want to commit to making positive changes in life – getting out of debt, learning to play an instrument, developing a healthy relationship with your body – it's going to take an effort. You'll have to do things differently, change your thinking, and that can be uncomfortable. But you have to embrace that risk," she notes.


Tolerate the Growing Pains


When we start something new, there's often the fresh faced enthusiasm filled with images of the new life ahead – a healthier body from all the time at the gym, for example. But, at some point your enthusiasm and excitement will likely be met with an equal amount of anxiety and resistance.


Shilagh on NBC-15

Dr. Mirgain was recently on NBC-15 to talk about why you should choose courage over comfort. Watch the interview

"Growing pains are natural," explains Mirgain. "At some point the beliefs you maintained that supported your old habits may cause you to procrastinate or even derail the progress you've made. The challenge is not to give in."

Mirgain recommends three steps to get past the mental block:


1) Deep breathing

2) Develop a mantra

3) Elicit the support of cheerleaders in your life


Deep Breathing


Mirgain suggests making anxiety your ally. Try to recognize what is happening internally and when you do, you can begin to shift your perspective and reframe what is happening.


"When you feel the anxiety, acknowledge it and then breathe deeply for 90 seconds to calm your body," she says. "This helps shift your body back into ‘neutral' so you can move on to steps two and three."


Develop a Mantra


When you're experiencing fear or anxiety, try to reframe what is happening. Instead of thinking 'I'm scared' try thinking 'I'm excited'. A mantra can help – a brief phrase that's allows you to refocus your thoughts can help keep you moving forward.


"For me, I use the mantra 'fear means go.' It helps transform what I'm experiencing into the fuel and momentum I need," she comments.


And in case you're wondering, she practices what she advises. Mirgain, who is an active public speaker and has appeared on national TV, admits to feeling nervous and even afraid when she has to speak in front of groups. But, she explains, she channels the feelings into action.


Find Cheerleaders


Some people may find strength when they are driven by a larger sense of purpose. If it helps, consider setting a goal and dedicating it to someone else. Maybe you're going back to school. If you think about how it can inspire your child to dream bigger, it might help keep you motivated when you're facing your own doubts. And surround yourself with people who will lift you up, not keep you down.


"Find those people – your champions – who believe in your potential and dreams and can offer support when you're facing your own insecurities," comments Mirgain. "Encouraging words can make a significant difference when we need to hear them the most."


Visualize 10 Percent Improvement


When it comes to making changes in life, Mirgain uses the analogy of driving a car at night. You can only see the portion of the road straight in front of your headlights. Just focus on the step you need to take next rather than the entire landscape. As she explains, one powerful technique to do this is to visualize 10 percent improvement.


"If your goal is to get healthier, you would visualize having 10 percent better health. Ten percent is doable, while 100 percent can feel impossible to achieve."


It may start with thinking about the small changes you would need to make to your eating and exercise habits. And the key is small changes. Rather than vowing never to eat pizza again when every Friday is family pizza night, it might be committing to having a side salad and only one slice. The key is to acknowledge and work with your habits, and commit to small changes one step at a time.


"When you think about making changes, notice any tension and resistance that occurs. It's typical, and is one way you can identify potential obstacles and barriers you may face. When you do, you can then problem solve how you will handle the obstacles and incorporate that into your visualization of what it means to become 10 percent better," explains Mirgain.


She reminds us that with each step forward we take toward our goal, we're becoming the type of person who achieves goals. In the end, making changes will become easier as we become more confident, capable and comfortable outside of our zone.


Join Dr. Mirgain on February 13 (and Save!)


Learn how to nurture yourself and cultivate your personal potential during the BRAVA Thrive Conference on February 13, in Madison. Dr. Mirgain will be the keynote speaker and talk about how you can become a woman a substance. And, when you register using the code SHILAGH2016 you will receive $20 off the registration fee. Learn more about the conference and register


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Date Published: 01/13/2016

News tag(s):  wellnessshilagh a mirgainhealthy minds

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