Until college, I never wore colorful pants. I wouldn’t try contacts instead of glasses because I was scared of looking different. I thought if I cut my hair short, my curly hair would transform into a giant puffball on my head. I didn’t like to hike, let alone workout. I refused to try new foods, fearing they would taste bad or I’d have to live with the “I told you so!” statements from my friends and family members when the thing I thought I’d hate actually tasted good.

I was stubborn and set in my ways. I loved living in my comfort zone, or what I like to call my comfort bubble, and didn't want to leave. I was afraid of what it would entail. What if stepping outside my comfort bubble changed me as a person? What if people didn’t like who I became? I liked things the way they were, I liked who I was — why bother changing anything?

Change can be scary, especially when it’s associated with how people perceive who you are. It can often leave you feeling paralyzed, or like you aren’t being true to yourself because of how others might react, according to a Talkspace article. I didn’t want to add to my wardrobe of pants or change my look for fear that others would notice, and possibly react negatively. That’s what makes it so easy to stay put where we know we are accepted.

Life in our comfort bubbles is easy and predictable, according to the Huffington Post. It’s a place where no one challenges your beliefs or assumptions, and you can do the same thing over and over knowing you'll succeed each time. According to Dr. Nicholas DiFonzo, a professor of Psychology, this leads to a more positive self-image.

“We tend to evaluate our worth by our competencies; so we if we succeed, or if we are likely to succeed, we tend to think we are good, lovable and worthwhile,” DiFonzo said. “So when we encounter the possibility of failure or embarrassment, that disrupts our good view of ourselves and people don’t want to do that.”

"If we never step out of our comfort zone, then we never grow."

It wasn’t until a few months before college that I realized how living in a bubble stifled my ability to evolve as a person. I didn’t just have to succeed in the same few ways for the rest of my life — I could succeed in new areas, as well.

“If we never step out of our comfort zone, then we never grow. It keeps our muscles active — our brain muscles, our courage muscles, our virtue muscles,” DiFonzo said.

It took me years to realize that stubbornness didn’t propel me forward; rather, it held me back. When the realization hit, I brightened my wardrobe with colorful pants, switched from glasses to contacts and even made a spur of the moment decision in my freshman year at RIT to cut six inches off my hair. I went on a pre-orientation hiking trip, and fell in love with the outdoors. I also started working out a few times a week, and this semester I’m taking an Insanity workout class. I tried new foods — steak, Brussels sprouts, asparagus — and realized how I had been depriving my taste buds for so many years. All because I was scared of change.

Blowing New Bubbles

Stepping outside your comfort bubble may seem scary — and that’s okay. But it can also lead to so many new possibilities and growth opportunities you wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. You don’t have to try twelve new things at once. In fact, it’s better to approach change modestly, DiFonzo advises.

“I encourage people — and myself — to [step outside their comfort zones] in a moderate way,” DiFonzo said. “You don’t want to attack everything at once, otherwise you’ll go home and eat potato chips; you’ll seek avoidance behavior to escape.”

Identify something you have always been interested in, or recently thought would be cool to test out. Maybe you want to learn the ukulele, but are afraid people will think you don’t sound good. Maybe you want to give long distance running a shot, but are afraid of tiring out a mile in. Maybe you think plaid pants are super cool, but are scared that others will look at you funny.

"It’s better to approach change modestly."

I thought people would give me those weird looks when I stopped wearing glasses; instead, they complimented my new style. I was scared that people would judge me when I went from never exercising to going on hiking trips, but they were actually proud of me for making a choice to be more active.

It takes time to find your footing, no doubt, but you’ll never know how fulfilling new experiences can be unless you take that first step toward change.

“Some of the things that will produce these positive emotions involve a decision on a person's part, and then you have to follow through,” DiFonzo said. “It’s sort of like playing the piano — it’s a lot of hard work for most people, and it’s not until you get somewhat good at it that you really start to get into it."

Now, I know the whole “join a new club” and “college is a time to find yourself” spiel sounds cliche. But there’s a reason it’s stressed over and over again.

The purpose of college, yes, is to get an education. But it’s also a time for exploration. The college environments allow you to try so many new clubs, hidden passions and activities you never even knew you could like with very few consequences. If you go to the first Fencing Club meeting of the year, but discover you really don’t have an interest in pursuing the skill, there is no pressure to return. There are endless opportunities on campus and in the Rochester area — it would be a shame to let them slip through your fingers.

I used to take pride in my stubbornness, until I realized it kept me from fully living. Trying new things did change me as a person — but all for the best. I still get nervous before pursuing something new, but I’m even more afraid of who I’d be had I not popped my comfort bubble.