Last week, I spent a few days with our team in Chile. And they mentioned to me how they had all gone horse riding through steep terrain during a recent off-site. While they were initially very nervous, they found the experience very exhilarating. Many of our other team members have also tried to push themselves. Sunil used to be afraid of heights for a long time and conquered his fear by bungee jumping and other activities. Rakesh, Parveen, Sunita, Lee and Shashank regularly run marathons. And we all very well know that Anand is the epitome of pushing his personal boundaries by walking for hours, climbing mountains, going on 3 month long detox diets and mastering difficult yoga moves.
Stepping out of our comfort zone at work is equally critical. If you want to learn, grow and stay ahead, you need to continually challenge yourself, acquire new skills and seek new experiences. So, in my message today, I want to urge you to not remain stuck in the status-quo. Get out of your comfort zone.
The challenge is that our natural instinct is to do what makes us comfortable. That is why many of us tend to enjoy food we grew up on (and it’s called “comfort food” for that reason), hang out with people who are similar to us and generally feel more secure in familiar surroundings. We all become creatures of habit. Slowly but surely, the more comfortable we get, the less willing we become to trying new things. Anything very different can actually make us fearful and stressful.
Seeking comfort, however, does not enable growth. The process of learning requires a certain level of discomfort. And given the rate at which things are changing, if you are not willing to push yourself and learn new skills, you could fall behind. But if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone, you will find that you can achieve goals that you thought were not possible.
So, how do you step out of your comfort zone? As you probably already know, there is no formula for this. There is no way of knowing just where comfort leaves off and real learning starts. You will need to figure that out for yourself. It won’t be easy either; but here are some tips on how you could go about it.
How to start stepping out of your comfort zone
1. Create your bucket list
To start, make a list of everything that you have been avoiding. This could include things that you always wanted to do, but didn’t; big and small. It could even draw from feedback that you have received and haven’t worked on. Perhaps you need to explore being a better listener, which means stepping back, letting go and involving other people in your decision making processes. Or you need to start seriously considering that move to another geography that you were offered, but you declined because you have never lived away from home. Put them all down and then choose a few to work on seriously.
2. Have a plan; break it up
Stepping out of your comfort zone can be very inhibiting, so make this as comfortable as you can for yourself. Create a game plan – what is it that you want to achieve, what do you think will be most difficult and what you can leverage to achieve this. Break up your bigger plan into smaller, bite sized steps. And take them one at a time. Not only will this make it easier, but you will also have a series of smaller wins along the way to urge you on.
Andy Molinsky, in his article Get Out of Your Comfort Zone: A Guide for the Terrified, highlights how you can find ways to make the transition easier, so that you don’t feel like you are changing completely in the process. There is no one way of getting it right. Tailor an approach that works for your personal style. So, for example, if mixing with large groups of people is something that you would rather avoid, instead of cancelling on plans, find a midway solution. You could just start with talking to a couple of people who you think you are more likely to be compatible with, rather than everyone. The idea is to take control of the situation and work around it, rather than letting it overwhelm you.
3. Go for more
You need to stop being satisfied with the status quo. Sure, you’re probably doing well where you are. That is what the comfort zone allows for. But what next? How do you make the next big jump? Reach for more. Look for ways to constantly improve. Build this hunger to learn and improve in your team members as well, so that you can push each other. Put new measures of success in place and ramp up your personal targets.
We will soon be detailing our plans for the year ahead. Many of these planning discussions tend to inevitably degenerate into a negotiation. They become about challenges and constraints and not the opportunities; lower targets and higher budgets. Let’s change this and be much more positive. Sure, we will have our set of challenges and the environment will never be easy. However, we need to think about the exciting possibilities and what we can do to up our game and build on our great strengths. Amazing things can truly happen if we believe in ourselves; if we are willing to stretch and step out of our comfort zone.
4. Stop rationalising your reluctance
Molinsky points out the importance of recognising when you’re tricking yourself. Chances are that you come up with plenty of excuses to rationalise away your discomfort, like “Networking isn’t that important; it’s the quality of your work,” or “People who network are slimy or full of themselves, and I’m not like that”. While this could be true, what you are really avoiding is the fact that networking makes you uncomfortable; you don’t want to spend time getting to know a bunch of people. This is why you need to be completely honest with yourself. Stop rationalising and instead, ask yourself, if anxiety aside, this would be something that you would want to do? And that would it help you grow? If the answer is yes, then start using your ability to rationalise for, instead of against you.
5. Develop an appetite for risk
One of the biggest reasons why you probably shy away from trying something new, is because of the uncertainty that comes with it. You just don’t know if you will be good at it. But no one can get it right all the time, so don’t hold yourself to such exacting standards. It is much more important and much more fulfilling if you grow. And to grow, you need to step out of your comfort zone and try things that you haven’t. Be okay with taking risks. Sure, you could fail. But that comes with trying. Learning to embrace failure is one of the most powerful learnings you will have as a leader.
6. Find a mentor
Ask for help when you need it. Having a good sounding board; someone who is familiar with what you are trying to achieve; who will share real feedback with you, encourage you to keep going and call you out when you aren’t making enough of an effort; can be quite invaluable. Find the right mentor and invest in this relationship.
Given how fast things around us are changing – how we want to become more global while retaining our multi-local differentiator, develop a deep appreciation of the diversity of thought and ideas across our different team members, push to reimagine ourselves as a company, innovate better and faster – it is almost impossible to be an effective leader without being open to change. And to grow or change, you will, by definition, need to broaden your perspective and step out of your comfort zone. Safe and familiar won’t cut it here. You need to be open to constantly learning something new.
Because whether it is the products we will need to create to delight our consumers, or the people we will need to hire to lead our teams, or the networks and systems we will need to navigate – most of this may not even exist today. So, if the things we are trying to build towards or solve for are so new, then there is little question about why we need to be ready to learn and do things that we aren’t already doing today.
As leaders in our company, I ask you to lead the way. How we act and react has a marked impact on our teams. How open and willing we are to learn and change will define to a very extent, how motivated our teams are to do the same. Remember that your team members are watching you. If you step out of your comfort zone, your team members will also be more inclined to do so.
So, spend some time and introspect on this when you get a chance. Ask yourself what holds you back and what you can do differently. If there is anything that you have learned from or found particularly helpful along this journey, do share it with us.