“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
“Anything you to do to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone will ultimately enable you to take larger risks and grow.”
I’m sure we’ve all read plenty of quotes and articles about the importance of escaping your comfort zone. I know I have. But for years, I’d always taken this type of advice with a pinch of salt. That was until I started my own business. Now, doing something new, frightening and out of my comfort zone is an almost daily experience.
“You’re up next, Ash.” I was sat in the crowd.
It was my turn to get up and pitch my startup to an audience of mentors, investors and founders. I was nervous.
Four minutes later, it was over. I walked back over to my seat in the crowd and felt amazing. Pushing myself into something uncomfortable and coming out the other side felt so rewarding.
What is a comfort zone?
Your comfort zone is an artificial mental boundary, which gives you a sense of security and feelings of , well, comfort. Within this artificial comfort zone, everything is routine, familiar and safe.
Inside our comfort zone we rarely seem pushed and rarely unlock our full potential or achieve what we’re capable of. Often, people will stay in a job or relationship just because of its familiarity, security and the fact that the unknown can seem extremely daunting. After all, why break a routine if it’s comfortable?
Though the comfort zone is an artificial boundary, there’s plenty of research and science to back its existence and effects on human performance.
Reaching optimal performance
Have you even been in a situation where the pressure has been on you? Maybe a presentation to your boss, investors or a potential client; a first date with someone you really want to impress or an impending deadline you see as impossible.
Just when you feel the last thing you need is a bit of anxiety or some last minute nerves, they kick in; you start to question yourself and fear the worst; What if I don’t finish this work in time? What if she doesn’t like me? It may feel like the end of the world is approaching, but actually, a little anxiety is a good thing.
Just outside of our comfort zone lays a space called ‘optimal anxiety’, it’s a sweet spot of human performance and place where we’re motivated to succeed.
Similar to an athlete who has just prepared and warmed up for a big game, optimal anxiety is the space where we are ready to perform at our best.
The theory that anxiety can aid performance is not something new, the idea goes back to at least 1908 when Robert Yerkes and John Dodson released a study showing that arousal (anxiety) increased performance. The study also shows that only certain levels of arousal are good for performance, too much has the opposite effect and is detrimental to performance.
Therefore, pushing ourselves too hard, too often can also create a notion that challenging ourselves is a negative thing and re-enforce our desire to stay within our comfort zone.
Why leave your comfort zone?
Your comfort zone isn’t a bad thing. It’s far from it. We all need a space where we can relax, feel at ease and comfortable. So, why should we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone from time to time?
You can achieve more
Sometimes a goal can seem out of reach and unachievable. Often this will put us off chasing the dream and we’ll settle for the mediocre (or what is achievable within our comfort zone).
As illustrated by this inforgraphic from Marcus Taylor, as we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone into optimal anxiety and our ‘growth zone’ challenges will become easier and our comfort zone expands.
Eventually, things that previously scared us will become part of our growth zone, then move into our comfort zone, thus helping us achieve more than we previously thought possible.
You’ll lead a more fulfilled life
Comfort can lead to laziness, and as we’ve already touched on stepping outside of our comfort zone can lead to heightened activity and optimal performance.
Comfort may feel good in the short term, but as Ran Zilca, explains on Psychology Today, sacrificing productivity for comfort may lead to regrets in the long run.
“We live in a society where comfort has become a value and a life goal. But comfort reduces our motivation for introducing important transformations in our lives. Sadly, being comfortable often prohibits us from chasing our dreams. Many of us are like lions in the zoo: well-fed but sit around passively stuck in a reactive rut.
Comfort equals boring shortsightedness, and a belief that things cannot change. Your comfort zone is your home base, a safe place not to stay in, but to return to, after each exhausting and exhilarating expedition through the wilderness of life. Take a look at your life today, if you are enjoying a shelter of comfort, break through it and go outside where life awaits.”
You’ll deal with change better
Sometimes we’re forced to leave our comfort without any choice. The more you push yourself to do things you wouldn’t normally do and experienced uncertainty in a controlled manner, the better you’ll be able to deal with un-expected situations as they arise.
You’ll be more creative
Pushing our boundaries, new experiences and learning new skills are great ways to inspire and educate ourselves. With new experiences and leanings behind us we can start to look at old problems in new ways and come up with new creative solutions.
4 ways step outside of your comfort zone
Whatever goal you’re trying to achieve — whether business or personal — there’s no doubt at some stage you’ll have to make a move that feels uncomfortable at some point.
There are plenty of ways to step outside of your comfort zone and extend your boundaries. Here are some ways you can do so to help yourself become more productive and escape whatever has been holding you back:
Change your daily routine
Most of us have a set daily routine, by making small changes to this we can push ourselves to step outside of our comfort zone. You don’t have to make huge changes, small subtle differences in your day-to-day routine can be enough to change your perspective.
If you run everyday, you could push yourself to go an extra mile tomorrow. If you get a coffee every morning before work, why not try a new flavour or get a fresh fruit juice instead.
If you’re tying to grow your business try pushing yourself to make one or two extra sales calls each day.
Think big, but take small steps
Maybe you want to start your own business, quit your day job to pursue your passions or hit your next big growth milestone. These may seem like unattainable goals, but if approached in small steps you can slowly push the boundaries of what you feel is possible.
As Lewis Howes explains in this Forbes article, “If your goal is to “start a business” — change it to “interview one business owner.” By taking an initial step outside your comfort zone will help you move towards your greater goal.
In my case, when I came up with the idea for my startup I took the smallest possible step to launching it and gradually kept taking small steps along the way to until I had a product to launch.
Look forward to the outcome, whatever happens
Fear of failure can be a big reason we stay within our comfort zones. If you want to achieve something go for it, if you dream of building a business, then give it a try.
Noah Kagan explains in his interview with Internet Marketing Party, “Roughly 86 percent of what we do fails. But eventually the 14 percent works, and that’s what everyone else sees.”
Leaving your comfort zone isn’t about getting something right first time, it’s about extending your horizons and allowing yourself to grow — no matter what the initial results may be.
Try new things
Over at Physcology Today, Alex Lickerman explains, “New things or a new way of thinking is often frightening. But if you think about it, most of the things we fear don’t actually come to pass. What’s more, we’re often unable to anticipate the good things that do occur as a result of our trying something new.”
Trying new things can be as simple as new foods or bigger things like travelling to new places, taking a new class or learning a new language. When it comes to building a business, leaving your comfort zone is essential. Almost everyday you’ll be pushed into new situations and unfamiliar surroundings.
What have you done that’s taken you outside of your comfort zone?
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