There are plenty of good reasons to remain inside your comfort zone. After all, that’s where you’ll find ease and reliability, the people who love you, your favorite ice cream, your cat, and your 800-thread count sheets. It’s where you rest and lick your wounds, and do things that don’t require all that much effort. It’s a very nice place, indeed.
And while we all have a comfort zone, staying in it presents a bigger risk than you realize.
In a recent post on Harvard Business Review, Brandeis professor Andy Molinsky, author of Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge , and Build Confidence says that staying too comfy means that you don’t give yourself the opportunity to adapt to new challenges—and can miss out on far more as a result.
“As we grow and learn in our jobs and in our careers, we’re constantly faced with situations where we need to adapt our behavior,” he writes. “It’s simply a reality of the world we work in today. And without the skill and courage to take the leap, we can miss out on important opportunities for advancement.”
How many times have you said you couldn’t do a thing, and had a perfectly good reason (you’re busy, you’re tired, you should go to the gym). That excuse probably came in very handy indeed—since it has likely gotten you out of countless speaking gigs, networking events, cocktail parties, you name it.
Fact is, excuses are a forged doctor’s note. Seems legit, but if upon closer inspection, you see they’re phonies. And they’re causing you to miss out on far more than just mild discomfort.
Here are a few ways to start stepping out of your comfort zone today:
Be honest with yourself. Look, we all feel fear—just not about the same things. And the risk of buying your own excuses is that you will scare yourself stagnant. Or worse: You’ll blame other people for why your career or even your life hasn’t turned out the way you wanted.
You’re better than that. Next time you feel a fear-flavored excuse popping up to intercept a decision and steer you back toward comfort, call it out for what it is. Name it. When you expose it, you are no longer under its spell, and can make decisions you’re in control of, instead of submitting to.
Change how you see the comfort zone. Rather than think of your choices in terms of staying in the comfort zone (ease) versus leaving it (discomfort), you’d be far better served to think of it in terms of today-you versus future-you. Today-you, for instance, would rather take a right turn and head home after work than make a left and head into some crowded networking event to sip room-temp chardonnay and talk to strangers. But what today-you doesn’t know is that future-you is so glad you went, because that’s where you met Monica, whom you not only like and will share many sushi lunches with, but who will introduce you to a fantastic candidate for a job you’re looking to fill on your team. And that THAT person, whom you don’t even know exists yet, will change your work life in incalculable ways.
Don’t compare. It’s easy to look at someone else and say, well obviously SHE will have no problem doing this or that brave thing. But this isn’t about anyone else. Molinsky writes, “I’ve worked with people struggling to step outside their comfort zones at work and in everyday life, and what I’ve found is that we often have much more leeway than we believe to make these tasks feel less loathsome. We can often find a way to tweak what we have to do to make it palatable enough to perform by sculpting situations in a way that minimizes discomfort.”
Does it mean every single uncomfortable thing you do will lead to fame and fortune? Nope. But every time you do something that runs counter to: habit, ease, predictability, comfort, you strengthen the very muscle you need to open up more and more doors.
Comfort will always be there waiting—by design it should be a place you return to, over and over, because, well, you’ve been out.