It’s entirely too easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to work. We get in the habit of waking up the same way every day, heading to the office, punching out what’s needed, heading home, and then repeating it all exactly the same way the next day. We stop looking for new ideas and opportunities because we’re so busy “doing our thing.”
But staying in a rut is the worst thing you can do for your career and your life. It’s much more important to look for ways to get out of your comfort zone and explore new possibilities.
Benefits of Being Outside Your Comfort Zone
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” —Neale Donald Walsch, author of Conversations with God
When you go outside of your comfort zone, that’s when you grow and engage in new challenges. Research says that it’s this “stepping out” that is responsible for greatly increasing your productivity, creativity, and ability to cope with change. In fact, there’s a place of “optimal anxiety” where your performance is enhanced dramatically, and that only happens when you get out of your comfort zone.
“We need a place of productive discomfort,” said Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Riverhead, 2009). “If you’re too comfortable, you’re not productive. And if you’re too uncomfortable, you’re not productive. Like Goldilocks, we can’t be too hot or too cold.”
So, how do you break free at work and become your best professional self? It’s not as difficult as you think.
5 Steps to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Getting outside your comfort zone is something you have to actively work toward on a regular basis. As humans, we prefer to be comfortable and in a steady state of performance, but it’s not what’s best for us. Instead, we have to actively take steps every day to stop the rut.
Below are five steps to get out of your comfort zone.
Step 1: Start Small
Deciding you want to climb Everest before you’ve set foot on your first mountain isn’t going to get you anywhere. You need to take small, daily steps to reach any of the huge successes that you want. By breaking down your big goals into small, accomplishable steps that are much easier to achieve, you actually give yourself a plan for success. It also allows you to focus on each day as it comes, making it the best that it can be.
“A lot of research is showing us that we do much better when we focus on incremental change, on little bits of improvement,” Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy told Business Insider. “Eventually, in aggregate, you get there. You may not even realize it, until one day you turn around say, ‘Wow, this thing is much easier for me now than it was a year ago.'”
Step 2: Ask for New Things
If you don’t know where to start to get out of your comfort zone, don’t be afraid to ask. Ask your boss for new responsibilities at work.
The goal isn’t to pack your schedule and increase your stress. Instead, you want to challenge the norm and break up your routine in such a way that you think differently. Look for a new initiative or project that interests you but isn’t something that you would feel completely comfortable accomplishing. Then, don’t be afraid to say “yes.”
Step 3: Get a Handle on Your Fears
We’re all afraid of something, and it’s in our nature to be afraid of being uncomfortable. But to get outside your comfort zone, you have to recognize your fears, get a handle on them, and focus on being confident.
When was the last time you felt uncomfortable? How did it feel? When you gain a clear idea of what it feels like to get out of your comfort zone and how it manifests in your body, you make it easier to notice when it happens. Then, you can do what’s needed to replace your fearful thought with a more empowering perspective.
As Executive Coach Janet Ioli told Forbes, “Repeating the mantra, ‘I am fearless’ over and over again and envisioning yourself successfully doing or achieving what you fear can help you reprogram your disempowering thought habit and move forward.”
Also read: Defining Confidence: What Does Professional Confidence Look Like? (Part 1) | Your Best Professional Self Series
Step 4: Scare Yourself Daily
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
Now that you know and understand your fears, to get out of your comfort zone, you need to be willing to scare yourself. Good things happen when you do the things that fill your stomach with butterflies. You’re moving forward.
Challenge yourself and do something that makes you scared. Whether it’s something as small as meeting someone new or big like asking for a promotion, doing something that scares you is the fourth step toward achieving your goals and going outside your comfort zone.
Step 5: Be Curious
Finally, it’s vital that you never lose your curiosity. Curiosity is not just for kids. Even as adults and working professionals, we need to be curious about the world and ready to learn new things and experience new opportunities.
To get out of your comfort zone, you need to shift your focus away from the mundane and start becoming intensely curious about the world. And it doesn’t have to be work-related. Becoming curious about cooking could transfer skills to your job. Becoming curious about learning anything new can make you a better leader.
As Gina Rometty, the CEO of IBM said at the Forbes’ 2013 Most Powerful Women Summit, “The most important thing for any of us to be in our jobs is curious.”
Going outside your comfort zone is a lifelong learning process. If you don’t take steps forward every single day, you’ll easily fall back into your usual routine and become stagnant.
Instead, take just an hour every day at the office to be uncomfortable and learn something new about your job, yourself, or life. Once you physically and emotionally embody this ideal, you’ll discover that your comfort zone isn’t so comfortable after all.
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