This week systemic coach Zita Tulyahikayo and barrister James Pereira QC discuss the benefits of stepping outside the comfort zone to discover your true abilities – and why many people choose not to do so.
Being afraid is something we all experience at some point in our day-to-day lives; it is the proof that we are at the edge of our comfort zone. Pushing through the fear boundary is where growth and learning happens. So although there is a certain security and confidence we feel when we are in our comfort zone, sadly, nothing particularly spectacular ever happens there. So why do so many people choose to live their lives within their comfort zone, rather than striving to overcome their fears and experience the growth and learning that follows?
The fear of looking inside
Most of us were raised to believe that the world is simply divided into right and wrong, good and bad, and from here often stems the belief that if we were to lift the lid and look a little more closely at ourselves we would discover that we were made up of rights and wrongs, good and bad things waiting to happen. We most likely would also have to contend with our inner voice telling us about things we did not do, should have done, would not or could not do. We might even discover that we possess skills, talents and abilities that we would never be able to fulfil.
For many more people there is the belief that what they don’t know about themselves can’t hurt them: better to let pain, sorrow, grief and fear influence the outcome of their lives than actually address them. As absurd as it may seem, this is how most people live their lives.
In reality however, we can make the choice to live actively and purposefully by looking at ourselves in a new way. It is possible to give space, opportunity and nourishment to the parts of ourselves we may be too afraid to explore, so that we might give them a chance to grow and transform us.
Finding your place of maximum performance
So in order to fulfil our potential leaving the comfort zone is necessary. In order to reach maximum performance we need to reach a state of relative anxiety – a space where our stress levels seem slightly higher than normal. This space sits between excitement and fear. From this place we have the ability to moderate our response through our breath. When you feel scared or anxious, if you breathe a little you will feel excitement. Hold your breath, and you will feel fear again. Given how easy this is, we really have no reason to reside permanently in our comfort zone and leave a wealth of skills and talents unexplored.
The benefits of leaving your comfort zone
In the professional arena, one of the noticeable benefits of self-exploration, of leaving the comfort zone, includes increased productivity as deadlines, high expectations and demands can push us through the tension they create. People who push their personal boundaries discover pretty quickly that they can get much more work done in much less time once they are willing to look a little deeper at who they are and what they are really capable of. They hit their stride and work smarter, not harder. Of course, this is something quite different to falling into the trap of feigning busy as a way to stay in the comfort zone.
“We need a place of productive discomfort,” says Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Riverhead, 2009). “If you’re too comfortable, you’re not productive. And if you’re too uncomfortable, you’re not productive. Like Goldilocks, we can’t be too hot or too cold.” The goal is to reach that ideal. Ideally we can adapt to productive discomfort and diminish our fear of trying new things in the future.
Making the choice to leave your comfort zone
A recent conversation with a man in his mid-40s revealed that he had recently made a significant decision, to take a giant step out of his comfort zone. He resigned from his job as a partner at a corporate law firm to write a book. A husband and father of three school aged children; he had no publisher or agent. He had simply decided to pursue something he had always wanted to do.
The interesting thing he discovered was that his leap out of his comfort zone made other people more uncomfortable than it did him. Why? Because he became a mirror to others. As he chose to do something different, it highlighted to others that they had made the choice to continue to do the same as always.
So the choice to leave our comfort zone is truly challenging. However, being forced out of our comfort zone can feel catastrophic. And in a world that is changing rapidly, a world where jobs and careers are literally disappearing as the digital world changes our professional, social and political landscape overnight, adaptability has never been more vital to our wellbeing and survival. To know your abilities before you are forced to discover what they need to be can at the very least raise your game and improve your confidence and faith in the emerging future.
When we speak of the comfort zone it is important to be cognizant that for humans with all their complexities come certain contradictions, often being miserable and depressed is their comfort zone. The idea of being happy, loved, wholly accepted and successful would be a step beyond the boundaries of their comfort zone. We all know people who are happy being unhappy. We all know people who complain and worry constantly about something, yet never do anything proactive to change it, other than to blame a veritable variety of external causes.
Step out, step back in
Whichever way we look at it, being slightly uncomfortable by making a choice or not can push us to achieve goals we never thought we could, and in so doing discover the endless possibilities that life has to offer. The ideal is to have the courage to feel the fear, breathe into the excitement and consciously choose to step outside of your comfort zone, while knowing that at other times it is just as good to relax, and step back into it.
The authors welcome feedback from anyone concerned with the issues raised in their writing, and are also interested in hearing from anyone with suggestions for future articles.