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Alcohol and Mental Health

7 Evidence-Backed Ways To Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

September 28, 2023
20 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
September 28, 2023
20 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
September 28, 2023
20 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
September 28, 2023
20 min read
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Reframe Content Team
September 28, 2023
20 min read

After work, a young professional walks into the grocery store to pick up dinner ingredients. They spot a "Wine and Dine" section filled with fine cheeses, gourmet crackers, and a selection of wines and beers. Contemplating a cozy evening, they pick some interesting cheeses and end up purchasing a bottle of wine. It's all too easy, given the routine nature of this errand, to consider making it a nightly affair. 

But what if, instead of heading towards the familiar allure of alcohol, they took a different route — maybe venturing into the international cuisine aisle or exploring different tea flavors? Such a simple shift can be the start of stepping out of your comfort zone, a valuable maneuver that can be instrumental in changing your drinking habits.

Wondering how to get out of your comfort zone? Let’s explore the science behind it, as well as some ways that make getting out of your comfort zone a bit easier and more fun.

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone: Unpacking the Science

The comfort zone: it's that snug, invisible bubble that encompasses the habits, behaviors, and routines we find familiar and, well, comfortable. While this zone may feel safe, it's not the best place for personal growth or mental agility

Neuroplasticity: The Brain's Ability To Change

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A key neuroscientific concept is neuroplasticity — the brain's lifelong ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. It's the mechanism that allows us to learn from our experiences. According to a study in Nature Neuroscience, when we confront new challenges, we create and solidify new neural pathways (Zatorre, Fields, & Johansen-Berg, 2012). Stepping out of our comfort zone quite literally rewires our brain for the better.

Adaptability and Cognitive Flexibility

In psychology, adaptability refers to the ability to adjust ourselves readily to different conditions — an invaluable trait for anyone looking to cut back on or quit alcohol. A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology highlighted how people who are more adaptable are better able to deal with uncertainties and unexpected events (Pulakos et al., 2000).

The sibling of adaptability is cognitive flexibility, the ability to switch between thinking about two different concepts or to think about multiple concepts simultaneously. Research shows that cognitive flexibility improves when people are faced with new and challenging experiences. 

Stress and the "Optimal Anxiety Zone"

Interestingly, a touch of stress can actually be beneficial when stepping out of the comfort zone. Psychologists refer to the "optimal anxiety zone," a space where stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This is where peak productivity happens. In a study published in Psychological Science, researchers found that optimal stress levels helped participants perform tasks more efficiently and improved their memory recall (Jamieson et al., 2010).

Dopamine: The Reward Chemical

Another fascinating angle comes from the field of neurochemistry. The neurotransmitter dopamine is released when we encounter new experiences or challenges. A study in the journal Neuron established a connection between novelty and the release of dopamine, suggesting that new experiences are not just challenging but also rewarding (Düzel et al., 2010). Dopamine reinforces the positive feelings associated with stepping out of the comfort zone, making the experience more gratifying.

Real-World Implications: Changing Our Drinking Habits

When considering the daunting task of quitting or cutting back on alcohol, the neurological and psychological benefits of stepping out of the comfort zone can offer some consolation. Taking up new activities, engaging with different social circles, or even altering the usual grocery shopping list activate the brain's learning centers. This activation, in turn, makes it easier to adapt to the new habit of consuming less (or no) alcohol.

Taking a step into the unfamiliar can seem intimidating, but scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the notion that doing so equips the brain with the tools it needs for growth, resilience, and happiness. Whether we’re consuming less alcohol or making any other life-altering change, a slight venture out of our comfort zone can lead to profoundly beneficial outcomes.

Benefits of Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone While Changing Your Drinking Habits

Alcohol often serves as a social lubricant, a stress reliever, or even a habitual end-of-day ritual. It’s a cornerstone in many people's comfort zones. When the goal is to cut back or quit drinking altogether, getting out of your comfort zone takes on a newfound significance. Here's how challenging the familiar can propel positive change during this transition period. 

Reshaping Neural Pathways for Better Decision-Making

The first glass of wine or the first beer is often consumed out of habit, a pattern so deeply ingrained that it's almost automatic. Yet neuroscience shows that new experiences can reshape neural pathways. Confronting unfamiliar situations stimulates brain regions involved in learning and decision-making; choosing a mocktail over a cocktail at a party or opting for herbal tea instead of a nightcap forces the brain to adapt, creating a new neural blueprint. Rewiring our brain in this way makes the decision to abstain easier over time.

New Coping Mechanisms

Alcohol is often used as a coping mechanism for stress, sadness, or anxiety. However, substituting healthier alternatives for alcohol provides an opportunity to develop new coping strategies. Physical activity or mindfulness meditation taps into the brain's reward system much as alcohol does, but without the negative repercussions. Plus, these activities push us to move beyond our comfort zone. Whether we’re mastering the art of deep breathing or attempting a new exercise routine, new coping mechanisms are invaluable tools in the journey toward changing our relationship with alcohol.

Enhancing Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is a psychological concept closely tied to adaptability; it’s the belief in our abilities to accomplish specific tasks. As work by Bandura in the field of social cognitive theory tells us, we can enhance self-efficacy by achieving small goals. Therefore, every time we successfully step out of our comfort zone — say, by socializing without alcohol or trying a new non-alcoholic drink — it builds confidence and strengthens our belief that we can indeed cut back or quit drinking. Over time, this boost in self-efficacy makes it easier to decline that drink.

Expanding Social Circles and Interests

Drinking is often a social activity, and many fear that cutting back or quitting will result in social isolation or boredom. However, stepping out of our comfort zone socially can bring new friends and interests that don't revolve around alcohol. Joining a book club, participating in community service, or taking up a new hobby are all ways to meet like-minded people and make new friends. These social engagements can replace the role that alcohol once played, providing a healthier form of social interaction.

By stepping out of our comfort zone, those of us aiming to reduce our alcohol consumption (or quit altogether) can benefit from neural, psychological, and social shifts that make the journey not just bearable but rewarding. The discomfort of breaking the status quo can ultimately pave the way for a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Illustration showing how to step out of your comfort zone

How To Get Out of Your Comfort Zone: Getting Started

So, what are the best ways to start stepping out of your comfort zone? Let’s take a look!

Redefine Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping is often a mundane task, filled with the same old staples week after week. However, it can be transformed into an adventurous quest. Create a new grocery list that looks nothing like the old one. Consider prioritizing foods that naturally elevate mood or detoxify the body, such as leafy greens and antioxidant-rich berries. Make it exciting by including exotic fruits like dragon fruit, lychee, or passion fruit. These unique options will not only tantalize your taste buds but also make for great smoothie ingredients — a perfect substitute for a cocktail.

Don't just stop at fruits; explore the world of herbal teas. Chamomile, lavender, and peppermint are excellent teas for calming the nervous system, and they offer a warm comfort that can easily replace the habitual glass of wine. If you enjoy cooking, make the trip to the store an adventure by searching for gourmet cooking ingredients. Hunt for spices like saffron or smoked paprika and plan to use them in new recipes. These culinary explorations can become a fun and fulfilling way to fill the void created by drinking less (or not at all).

Socialize Differently

Social circles often revolve around activities that include drinking, which can make cutting back or quitting a lonely endeavor. But this doesn't have to be the case! Changing your relationship with alcohol is an opportunity to explore new social avenues and make connections that aren't centered around alcohol. Join clubs or attend events that align with other interests. A cooking class, for example, both improves culinary skills and also provides a fresh avenue for social interaction where wine isn't the main course.

Hiking groups, book clubs, or even amateur photography circles offer chances to meet like-minded individuals in an environment that doesn't involve drinking. Even if it feels intimidating at first, remember that every step outside your comfort zone is a step toward a healthier lifestyle. These new activities often lead to friendships and connections that can support and sustain the journey away from alcohol.

Make a Mocktail

For many, the joy of drinking comes from the ritual of crafting a beautiful cocktail, complete with garnishes and the perfect balance of flavors. The good news is that this experience can be replicated, and even enhanced, without alcohol. Welcome to the world of mocktails! Explore tasty mocktail recipes and dive into the delightful process of mixing, shaking, and garnishing. Ingredients like fresh herbs, exotic fruit purees, and artisanal syrups can elevate a simple mocktail into a culinary masterpiece.

The key is to make these mocktails elaborate and delicious enough to feel like a treat. From a tangy, ginger-infused lemonade to a creamy, non-alcoholic piña colada, the possibilities are endless. Crafting these beverages can turn into a hobby, providing a satisfying and creative outlet. Plus, they’re a fantastic way to impress guests who are also looking for tasty, health-conscious options.

Set a “No Drink” Alarm

Smartphones keep us connected to work and social media — but they can also be powerful personal development tools. Setting a daily “no drink” alarm is a straightforward yet effective way to remind yourself not to reach for that glass of wine or beer. 

Make these alarms resonate emotionally by labeling them with motivational quotes or personal affirmations. Quotes like "Choose health over habit" or "You're stronger than you think" can serve as a mental push towards making better decisions. When the alarm rings, it interrupts the day just long enough to prompt reflection and help us avoid an automatic trek to the liquor cabinet.

Learn a New Skill

Cutting back on alcohol or quitting entirely can leave you with more time and money. What better way to utilize these newfound resources than by investing in personal growth? Learning a new skill is a fantastic way to distract the mind from the void where alcohol used to be. Whether it's painting, cooking, coding, or playing a musical instrument, acquiring a new skill offers more than just diversion — it provides a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. Plus, these skills might lead to new social circles or career opportunities, making this investment doubly rewarding.

Embrace Mindfulness Techniques

Instead of grabbing that bottle when stressed, why not reach for inner peace through mindfulness? The Reframe app offers a wealth of quick and effective meditation exercises that can be done anywhere, whether in the office or at home. Our app offers guided sessions aimed at stress reduction, better sleep, and simply becoming more present in the moment. Replacing the urge to drink with the habit of mindfulness not only alleviates stress but also improves mental clarity and emotional stability. Over time, this practice can become a new, healthier coping mechanism, paving the way for long-term wellness.

Contribute to a “No Drink”' Jar

The pull of habit can be strong when the brain craves the comfort of familiarity. However, breaking the cycle can be made easier (maybe even fun!) by setting up a “no drink” jar. Each time you resist the urge to buy alcohol, drop an equivalent amount of money into this jar. Over weeks or months, this amount can accumulate into something substantial. Use these savings to treat yourself to something special, like a spa day, a weekend getaway, or an investment in developing a new skill. It’s both a motivator and a reward system!

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone: Final Thoughts

Consciously choosing to consume less alcohol is certainly a formidable task, but achieving this goal doesn't have to be arduous. Embracing these creative, evidence-based methods makes the journey not just bearable, but also enriching. 

You might be thinking, “Now that I’m out of my comfort zone, what’s next?” You’ll be happy to see that being comfortable outside of your comfort zone will serve you well throughout your life. Stepping out of your comfort zone doesn't just fulfill a temporary goal; it sparks a lifelong commitment to self-improvement and well-being. The mind grows sharper, social circles expand, and new hobbies provide an invigorating sense of purpose. These aren't just steps away from alcohol; they're strides toward a healthier, more fulfilling life. The efforts may be challenging, but the rewards make every challenge surmounted a triumph worth celebrating.

Summary FAQs

1. How can setting a “no drink” alarm help me?

Setting a daily “no drink” alarm on your smartphone serves as a constant reminder to make healthier choices. Using motivational quotes as labels provides an emotional nudge to help you resist the urge to drink.

2. What benefits can I get from learning a new skill?

Learning a new skill, like painting or playing a musical instrument, can keep your mind occupied and distract from cravings. It also gives you a sense of accomplishment and can open up new social or even career opportunities.

3. What are some mindfulness techniques, and how can they help?

Mindfulness techniques, available through apps like Reframe, offer quick and effective exercises to improve mental clarity and emotional stability. They provide a healthier alternative to drinking when you're stressed.

4. How does redefining grocery shopping help?

Turning grocery shopping into a culinary adventure helps you explore healthier alternatives to alcohol. It allows you to discover exotic fruits, herbal teas, and gourmet ingredients that can substitute for the “comfort” alcohol used to provide.

5. What's the idea behind the “no-drink” jar?

The “no-drink” jar is a physical reward system. Each time you resist the urge to buy alcohol, you place the money you would have spent into the jar. Over time, this amount can be used for a treat like a spa day or a special purchase, serving as both a motivator and a reward.

6. How can changing my social activities help?

Engaging in social activities that aren't centered around drinking, like cooking classes or hiking groups, can support your effort to cut back on alcohol. They introduce you to like-minded individuals and create an environment that doesn't pressure you to drink.

7. What's the overall benefit of stepping out of my comfort zone?

Venturing outside your comfort zone can significantly enhance your mental and emotional well-being. It fosters adaptability, cognitive flexibility, and sets the stage for a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and Build Better Drinking Habits With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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