Do You Want to go Beyond your Comfort Zone this Year?
What do we mean by ‘comfort zone'? – There are some personality types who constantly try out new things, who are not afraid of putting themselves in new situations. They almost don't seem to have a comfort zone. Then there are the rest of us who live much of our time within our comfort zone. There is nothing wrong with this and perhaps we need to do this to reduce the amount of pressure or challenges that we face each day. However, if we never go beyond our comfort zone we don't grow, we lose opportunities for learning, development and may miss out on valuable experiences in life.
Different things can move you out of your comfort zone:
People – One of the benefits of my job is that it brings me into contact with people from all walks of life, with lots of different experiences, values and perspectives on life. There are times when we meet people who take us out of our comfort zone, who challenge our thinking of the world. We can feel threatened and retreat or be curious, ask questions, learn more about them; we still don't have to agree with them, but they will expand our view of the world.
Activities – These might be in the workplace (our first presentation, chairing a meeting or appraisal) or out of work learning new skills, hobbies, pursuits. As a naturally cautious person when it comes to physical activities I have occasionally done things that were definitely outside my comfort zone – some with great enjoyment and success (jet boating in New Zealand with 360 degree turns) others with abject failure (swimming with dolphins out at sea – more like drowning with them!), and others which were scary but I was glad that I did them (heli hiking on a glacier – I had been fearful of the helicopter ride, which I loved, and had not realised how scary the glacial hiking would be!). However I am glad I tried them all, definitely a case of ‘nothing ventured nothing gained.'
Situations – Finding yourself in new situations will expand your comfort zone, whether it is the first time you hire someone or make someone redundant (I am reminded of when I was made redundant, I think my boss was in a worse state about it than I was!!); negotiating contracts/pay rise; setting boundaries with teenagers; going out as a single person following a divorce or bereavement, etc.
Life events – Most major life events, especially if we have not experienced them before, take us out of our comfort zone. From the day we first went to school, moved to secondary school, left home, got our first job, fell in love, became a parent, experienced illness or bereavement, they all involved us in new experiences, feelings and are outside of what we are used to and comfortable with.
Comfort zone and learning – whether we are learning at work to do new tasks, practising new skills or learning new hobbies, we are going beyond what we know and are therefore going outside of our comfort zone.
Sometimes on training courses you see people behaving in defensive or fearful ways, as they are suddenly not feeling comfortable. This is not just because they find themselves back in a learning situation, with perhaps negative past associations but because they are moving outside of their comfort zone.
However, research has shown that a certain level of pressure or even mild anxiety when learning or performing tasks can enhance performance. Alasdair A. K White refers to the ‘Zone of Optimal Performance', where we have the right amount of stimulus or pressure to energise ourselves, stretch ourselves, keep us on our toes. If we go too far outside of our comfort zone (or the Zone of Optimal Performance), anxiety increases to the extent that it interferes with our performance. With too little stimulation, or when we remain within our comfort zone, we can end up feeling demotivated or unchallenged and then stagnate.
Go back to the examples above (people, activities, situations and life events) and think about how you have handled these and learned from them?
‘If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we aren't really living.' RobGail Sheehy
Unexpectedly finding yourself outside your comfort zone. Life events, which might be totally outside of our control frequently throw us outside of our comfort zone. At lunch in a café today I overheard two women talking about being newly bereaved – learning to live alone, do things on their own, realising that there is no one to bring them a cup of tea when they feel ill. They were very much talking about being out of their comfort zone and were having to learn to adapt to their new lives.
There are many unexpected events that might occur throughout our lives. For example, a new client organisation has gone through a restructuring with many individuals having to apply for new jobs when they had not planned to. These managers now have to cope with their new roles in a radically different organisation. Critical illness in a family might throw everyone into a situation that they would rather not be in. A friend, family member or colleague makes life choices that are very different from your own which might push us outside of our comfort zone.
Walking into a different zone. Sometimes we walk into a situation expecting one thing inside our comfort zone, and get something very different. When I was in New Zealand promoting my book I did a talk at the Body, Spirit, Mind festival in Christchurch. I've attended a similar event in the UK but this one was very different – very much focussing on the spiritual or even mystical side of life. Now, I am quite an alternative person but some of the people I met were well beyond what I had experienced before. I realised I was out of my comfort zone and that I needed to keep my mind open, rather than retreat back mentally and perhaps not learn from the experience. When I got curious, asked questions, I found out how people with very different views on the world approached the common problems in life.
What unexpected events have thrown you out of your comfort zone?
‘There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.' John F. Kennedy
What happens when we go outside our comfort zone? – We can feel threatened (either physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually) and therefore become fearful and/or defensive. This can lead us to withdraw physically or mentally. Sometimes we can end up rubbishing other people or not being open to others, their different ideas and cultures. Or we stop doing what we are trying out and lose out on a valuable opportunity to move forward and grow.
Be aware that experiencing negative reactions does not mean that it is not right for you, it is just a sign that you are going beyond your comfort zone, and that you need to do some more of the steps below to support yourself and keep moving forward.
How do you react when you are outside your comfort zone? What is the impact of this reaction on yourself, others and the situation you are in?
‘If you leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition what you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover will be yourself.' Alan Alda
How do we support ourselves in moving outside out comfort zone?
- List out what might be the benefits to you of doing this. Visualise yourself doing the activity, being in the situation, gaining the benefits (click here to email me for a visualisation exercise).
- Notice your reaction when you are going beyond it: what are your thoughts, feelings, how do you behave? How can you stay open to the experience mentally and emotionally?
- Keep an open mind, be aware of your own prejudices or preconceptions that might get in the way of you fully engaging and getting the most from the experience.
- Listen to any fears and concerns that you might have, think about how you can allay your fears. Frequently our fears are unfounded and irrational but if we ignore them they tend to grow and stop us from moving forward.
- If necessary take tiny steps, pace yourself. You don't have to leap in
- Enlist supportive friends or colleagues who will listen non-judgementally to any fears and encourage you to move forward
What people, activities, situations and experiences might you want to explore this year that will take you outside of your comfort zone?
‘Don't be afraid to take a big step. You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps.' David Lloyd GeorgeDo you need training or coaching support? Call me on 01865 377334 or email by click here to discuss this further. For more information about Grovelands visit our website by clicking here.