A lot of clients start a coaching session saying they want to “step outside their comfort zone.” It’s a worthy goal with clear benefits and upsides and a few tricky patches along the way.
What are the upsides? For starters, trying new things is thrilling. Thinking new thoughts leads to creative and groundbreaking solutions. New experiences open your mind and body, which feels great. As for rewards, how does greater fulfillment in work and life, being tapped for a promotion, getting a raise, feeling exhilarated, having deeper and more fulfilling relationships, the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve accomplished your life’s purpose, and/or achieving inner peace grab ya?
Sounds pretty good right?
It is good. Getting out of your comfort zone really does give you a fresh perspective, new skills, deeper relationships, greater self-awareness, and all sorts of other valuable benefits. I wholeheartedly recommend it to all my clients and friends.
AND… (here comes the tricky part…)
Stepping outside your comfort zone is like taking off one of those puffy winter coats. You’re suddenly chilly and exposed. When you bump into hard objects, it hurts. It’s, well, uncomfortable. As in, the opposite of comfortable. You left your comfort zone, remember? That cozy, quilted, padded cocoon of what you know how to do and know that works.
This is the part that trips people up. They are all excited to get the many rewards that come with stepping outside their comfort zone. They make a big leap toward their goal and it’s so exhilarating and fun, and then, uh oh, they start to feel discomfort seeping in. And that’s when they often take three giant steps back into their comfort zone, vowing never to leave again. Just for fun, they usually throw in a heaping helping of self-criticism, labeling themselves lazy, cowardly, or a general all-around failure.
If this sounds like a pattern you have cycled through, then remember this: our brains and bodies don’t like pain of any sort. We are hardwired to avoid discomfort. That programming is helpful when it keeps us from putting our hand on a hot stove for the 2nd time but not so very helpful when we are trying to make a change. The feeling of stepping outside our comfort zones, while it triggers all sorts of new ideas pinging around inside our amazing brains and new sensations in our amazing bodies, ALSO triggers anxiety, unrest, and a signal that something isn’t right. Our brains actually “hurt” when we give them new things to do, new ways to think and act, and unfamiliar stuff to learn… and that discomfort and unease can stop us.
So, what’s the solution here? I suggest starting with the eyes-wide-open knowledge that there will be some level of discomfort alongside the exhilaration. That pain, resistance, and/or an overwhelming urge to stop trying to grow and crawl into bed to binge-watch The Crown instead is part of the process. It’s not the end. It’s not a STOP sign. Or a separate, unexpected obstacle that just showed up out of nowhere to thwart you. Nope. It’s simply one more step on the way to getting what you want.
So if you’re trying new things this year like speaking up more in meetings or learning flamenco dancing or having difficult conversations with your direct reports, and you find yourself feeling uncomfortable and wanting to give up, take heart. You can congratulate yourself on the fact that you’re on the right path. You are exactly where you need to be AND you’re already making progress. Let the resistance you feel be your guide. Let it show you just how much you’re changing, striving, and doing it!
Now, it’s your turn. What “puffy coat” are you willing to shed? What are the rewards you hope to get by doing so? And how will you greet the inevitable resistance that shows up?