Why do so many of us stay firmly in our comfort zones despite knowing that beyond that boundary there’s a land of opportunity?
It’s because we are designed to be happy with our lot. It’s way easier to do what we do routinely, improving bit by bit, treading the same path avoiding stress and risk. Why give up certainty and ‘ok’? And let’s face it, it’s terrifying.
Back in 1908, two psychologists, Robert Yerkes and Jon Dodson concluded that a state of relative comfort created a steady level of performance. However, to get better performance you need to be slightly anxious, with higher levels of stress. This is called ‘Optimal Anxiety,’ and it’s just outside our comfort zone. Of course, too much of that and we stop being productive.
A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what a ship is built for. ~Unknown
There’s plenty of evidence to show that when you expand your limits you can achieve things that you didn’t consider possible. So where’s the middle ground? And is it that bad to want relative comfort?
1: Be aware when you are kidding yourself
It’s funny how we persuade ourselves that we aren’t in our comfort zones, but we all do it. For many of us independents, who rely expanding our networks and finding new clients, picking up the phone and cold calling, or walking into a room full of strangers is our idea of a nightmare.
For those employees facing yet another company restructure, kidding yourself that avoiding redundancy on this particular occasion means you are secure is also common.
But substitute fear for the question ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ and your perspective might alter. You’ll see possibilities that are currently not on your horizons and that could be all the encouragement you need.
Instead of rationalizing why the behaviour is something not worth performing, actively brainstorm all the reasons why it is worth performing. How can taking the leap and starting to work on performing this tough, but key behaviour advance your career, give you chances to grow and learn in exciting ways, or whatever other goals you happen to care about?
2: Find a coach to give you a helping hand
Some years ago, someone who mentored me asked me the following question. ‘Do you only apply for jobs when you can tick all 10 of the attributes they ask for?’ I said yes. ‘Then’ she said ‘you will never know whether you would be any good at those jobs’.
She taught me a valuable lesson, which was that sometimes you need to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone to try and do jobs that you don’t know you can do.
Talking through your thought processes with a coach or mentor is a great way to examine what’s holding you back. They’ll help you push your limits, at your pace.
3. Start small
The problem with this time of year is that we go for the mega-January-push to change our lives for the better, and the reality soon kicks in. The key to getting out of your comfort zone is to do it one step at a time.
If, for example, you’ve resolved to get out of the house more and expand your network, you don’t have to immediately sign up to the local business networking group. You could start by joining a class, with people who are likely to share your interests and therefore have something in common.
Or you could join a coworking group. We’ve got lots to choose from in London and outside, and you’d be surrounded by people who hate the thought of traditional networking just like you.
4. Don’t expect miracles
The point is to step out of your comfort zone, not jump in to something huge and life changing straightaway. Look at the everyday things you do and adapt them at first to give yourself the confidence.
Everyone’s different. For some of us, jumping out of an aeroplane or off piste skiing isn’t the way we get the adrenaline pumping so don’t feel you have to force yourself to do or be someone you aren’t. But you could commit to doing something different or differently every week.
And is all this worth the extra stress? Well, I think so. I recognise that it’s not the same for everyone but I have found that changing some simple things made me much more productive. Comfort zones are killers of productivity. I’ve also found it gets easier over time, now that I’ve seen that nothing too bad happened as a result.