I’ve had the post “getting outside of your comfort zone” for quite a while on my list of topic ideas.
Then the other day, I was listening to some short reflections on the Waking Up app, and I heard a poem called “Just Beyond Yourself” by David Whyte.
Now I’m not one for poetry generally, but on this occasion I sat and listened.
The poem (which you can read here) speaks to going just beyond yourself. That is – stretching your boundaries and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
In the reflection, David explained the origins of the poem, a story where his friend challenged him to “go against yourself” when he was playing it safe.
It’s an excellent reminder that to grow and develop, we need to push ourselves, at least a little. And that’s what this post is about.
Why Should We Get Out of Our Comfort Zone?
It’s an interesting question. Why should anybody push themselves out of their comfort zone?
After all, it’s super comfortable.
In the comfort zone, we are in control. We know what to do, we’ve done it before and there is little chance of things going wrong.
Unfortunately, this means there is little chance of learning anything new, either.
Remember a time when you struggled, and then succeeded at something. Chances are, you were operating outside of your comfort zone.
That is until you became more comfortable, because you’d done it before.
You could look back on your previous experience and remember that you did it last time, so you can do it again.
Pushing Yourself vs. Being Pushed
There is a distinction I’d like to make here.
Sometimes, we are put into situations where we are pushed outside of our comfort zone. When someone gives us a difficult project, or there is a company restructure, or when a team member challenges us.
These are times when something external is pushing us out of our comfort zone. This will naturally happen to us as we go about our work and life.
While this is useful, I don’t believe it’s the best situation to be in.
Far better, in my opinion, is to push ourselves out of our comfort zone.
This means we initiate the push, rather than having it land on us unexpectedly. This means we can identify the times when we feel it is most valuable to push ourselves, instead of it being left to chance.
Pushing ourselves means we can target the areas where we need (or would like to) improve, and to be able to prepare for the upcoming discomfort.
Over time, your comfort zone will grow. It will now include all the experiences you’ve had before, as well as the new ones you push yourself into.
Eventually, you will have experienced more, and you’ll feel more comfortable in a greater variety of situations.
When to Push Outside Your Comfort Zone
The question remains, when should we push ourselves? And when should we take it easy?
For me, it’s all about targeting the areas where we feel the least comfortable, that we feel will add the most value.
I personally don’t find much value in constantly pushing ourselves. Moderation is useful. It’s exhausting feeling like you’re out of your depth all the time.
However, here are some situations where I recommend you think about taking the leap.
1. Trusting Your Team Members
Over my career, I found that there were occasions where I felt less-than-confident about the abilities of my team members to get the job done.
This isn’t necessarily because they were bad team members – it was often my own personal insecurities that led to this feeling.
I often hear the phrases “fail fast” and “be comfortable with failure” spoken in organisations, but I don’t necessarily see this actually happen in practice.
The first thing to notice are any occasions where you feel uncomfortable either delegating work, or letting your team members take the lead on something. These are key signs that you may benefit from pushing yourself in this area.
This might mean stopping yourself from checking in on their progress for the second time today, or stopping yourself from doing the work yourself.
Trust works both ways, and trust breeds trust.
Take a breath, let go and show your team members that you trust them. Over time, you (and they) will feel more comfortable trusting each other and your team will be more likely to show proactive behaviour.
It might feel uncomfortable at first, but don’t give up.
2. Pushing Back
Leaders don’t do their best work when they are stressed, overwhelmed or overcommitted.
This is a challenging area to navigate, because we naturally feel compelled to prove ourselves and to be helpful by being a “hard worker”. Many leaders also take pride in taking pressure off their teams and shouldering the workload burden.
Saying No or negotiating your workload is uncomfortable. People want us to say “Yes” to help them out, so when we do the opposite, it can cause some tension.
However, by taking this short-term action, you’re creating a more sustainable long-term outcome.
Instead of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone by taking on more work, consider pushing yourself by negotiating it.
You might find that saying “No” is more stressful than “Yes”.
So “No” might be where you need to be.
Learn More: 5 Ways to Say No Without Getting Fired.
3. Flexing Your Personal Style
We all have our own personal style. Some of us are outgoing and talkative, and others are on the quieter side.
Whatever the case, we often find ourselves in situations where we could benefit by being a little louder or quieter than usual.
When you’re quiet, speaking up with your opinion in a room full of loud people can be very uncomfortable.
When you’re loud, turning yourself down and listening more can feel uncomfortable for the opposite reason.
However, flexing your style can help you to be heard, or to help others find their voice.
And changing your style temporarily to match someone else can be a good way to build rapport, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.
Over time, you’ll be able to adapt your style more easily when the need arises, as you broaden your comfort zone.
4. Being More Visible
One of the areas many leaders find challenging is raising their visibility in the workplace.
This doesn’t necessarily mean telling everyone how good you are. It might simply be about helping people understand more about the work that you and your team do.
A question that comes up here is often:
“Can’t I just do a good job?”
While of course doing a good job is an excellent start, leaders can often benefit from raising their visibility in the workplace.
I’ve found that leaders who are more visible are:
- Offered more opportunities (because people know who they are)
- Able to navigate the workplace more effectively (through the relationships they build); and
- Able to wield more influence with their stakeholders.
But, raising your profile is often uncomfortable. After all, it feels like we need to go around telling everybody how good we are.
You might instead try:
- Sharing your knowledge – by speaking at an event or town hall meeting, or engaging in an industry panel discussion
- Acting as a mentor to more junior people in your organisation
- Joining various internal clubs or volunteer groups within your company (or starting one); or
- Initiating meetings (coffee catchups, lunch) to build your internal network with colleagues or senior managers in your organisation.
If you’re doing a good job, being more visible is never a bad thing. But it might just mean you need to stretch out of your comfort zone.
Not Sure Where to Start? Focus On Your Limitations
Many people talk about focusing on strengths. This is good advice.
However, our areas of greatest discomfort will be those areas where we have limitations. Perhaps we are scared of public speaking, networking or dealing with certain people, for example.
Watch for the areas of discomfort in your leadership role. They’ll be the areas where you find yourself avoiding things, holding yourself back or worrying excessively.
In my experience, these are the areas where you’ll get the most bang for your buck.
Where you’ll gain the most benefit from pushing out of your comfort zone, and therefore growing it.
As David Whyte tells us: Just beyond yourself. It’s where you need to be.
Where have you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone? Share your experience with me and all the thoughtful leaders in the comments below!