Regardless of the inspirational quotes that encourage us to step out of our comfort zone, most of us fear failure. Unfortunately, to progress personally and professionally we need to challenge ourselves and risk failing. Here’s why getting out of your comfort zone could mean finding the career satisfaction you’ve always looked for.
What Is a Comfort Zone?
Put simply, your comfort zone is a behavioral safe space where routines create a certain amount of predictability. This minimizes stress and risk.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting.
According to psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson we need to create “optimal anxiety,” in order to maximize performance. This is because optimal anxiety is a state just outside of our comfort zone. Become too anxious and you derail your performance, but add a heightened state of awareness and suddenly you can maximize your results.
The key is not to think of your comfort zone as a negative place. We all need to have times where we minimize anxiety and stress. This allows us to operate from a place of strength when we do choose to branch out.
Want to read more about optimal anxiety? Check out this article from Business Insider.
How to Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
No need to take up skydiving here, or paddle the Amazon, small changes in routine that create a sense of challenge can be enough to reduce the fear of failure. You’re essentially desensitizing yourself by safely (and systematically) creating a slight increase in perceived risk.
- Select one routine and change it slightly – A different route to work, a varied exercise routine, or even a new restaurant can be good first steps
- Make decisions differently – If you’re given to slow, considered thought, try making a snap decision on instinct and then embrace whatever happens (again, we’re not talking about climbing Everest here). It’s more about learning to let go a bit and trust in the process.
- Visualize yourself stepping outside of your comfort zone. Imagine failure. Can you live with the results? Will the world come crashing down? Probably not. When we’re afraid, we tend to negatively deconstruct the possible outcome. This catastrophic thinking works against us and keeps us from branching out.
- Small steps – Write down 3 small steps that you’ll take in the next 3 to 6 months. Make them goals with specific timelines and accountability. Whether it’s taking a trip you’ve always wanted to do, volunteering with an organization, or asking your manager for an opportunity to take a lead on a project, make the goals achievable and realistic.
Pro Tip: Take time to return to your comfort zone and process your experiences for maximum effect. This article from the New York Times called “Tiptoeing Out of Your Comfort Zone (and of Course, Back In)” does a great job of explaining how to take small, controlled steps of perceived risk.
Benefits of Stepping Outside of Your Comfort Zone
- Increased productivity – Stepping outside of your comfort zone can create a “rush” which can increase productivity and mental focus.
- Greater adaptability – By experiencing change in a controlled way and pushing past fear, you’ll gain a greater ability to manage unexpected situations
- Improved Confidence – Experiencing time out of your comfort zone increases confidence.
- Creativity – Challenging the old ways of doing things can unlock the creative part of our brain.
- Growth – Whether you get in over your head or not, the personal growth will be substantial. Remember, constructive feedback can be a good thing.
Stepping outside of your comfort zone can be a challenging endeavor. But doing so, can lead to maximum performance and career growth. Take small steps. Set measurable and achievable goals that let you challenge your comfort zone in a controlled way. The end result will likely be increased productivity, confidence and personal growth.
Your Next Step
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