10 ways to step out of your comfort zone

Man working at desk

What steps are you taking to get out of your comfort zone?

I read a LinkedIn post recently by Paul Lanigan on why it’s important to step out of your comfort zone if you want to be successful (“Are you smothering your own success?”). His piece had lots to say to me and perhaps others who find themselves blocked at times, not by lack of intelligence, talent or energy, but by their own insecurities and fears.

As a certified Introvert on the Myers-Brigg personality type indicator, I often find myself way out of my comfort zone. I’d say I’ve been out of my comfort zone since at least third grade. Why third grade? Because I can still remember when Ms. Mullins asked me to read aloud a story I had written. I don’t remember the story, just the class staring at me as I stumbled over my own words.

I recovered, of course, and I learned the truth of Lanigan’s main takeaway: “Everything you’ve ever wanted is just one step outside your comfort zone.”

Whenever I pushed myself, whenever I took on something that seemed way beyond my ability, whenever I raised my hand, stepped up or sometimes just showed up, it invariably led to something better. It seemed the more discomfort I was willing to endure, the more I was rewarded.

As Lanigan puts it, “Your discomfort tolerance is the number one determinant of your success. To get what others don’t, you have to do what others won’t.”

Imagine a shy, tongue-tied high school kid terrified of public speaking. What would possess him to join the debate team of all things? I’m not sure why I did, but my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner! The experience of arguing a case, and learning the rules of evidence, how to research issues and be succinct, helped me later in life to be a more persuasive writer and make key points in op-eds and columns.

We all have stories of being drawn out of our comfort zone. Sometimes it’s a step we’ve taken on our own, or maybe it’s a teacher or friend who’s nudged us a bit. Whether you’re a parent, a volunteer, an employee or a CEO, you need to step out from time to time. Here is some good advice from Lanigan on how to do it:

  1. Ask yourself if the discomfort that you’re feeling is a price worth paying for achieving your goal.

  2. Stop looking for new. This is usually an indication that you don’t want to acknowledge you haven’t mastered the old, but you want to kid yourself that you are doing something useful.

  3. Form an accountability group with like-minded people. Don’t allow excuses.

  4. Stop taking the short cut – growth is uncomfortable. There are no silver bullets.

  5. Identify the times and moments where you typically wimp out, then plan and rehearse an alternative course of action.

  6. Detach yourself from your emotions.

  7. Ask yourself – what is the worst thing that can happen – can you live with the worst case?

  8. Set clear goals that give you a clear sense of purpose.

  9. Push through your comfort zone in other areas of your life. If you are afraid of heights – tackle that fear and you will feel better about yourself immediately. You will also carry the courage it took to overcome your fear into other spheres. Courage is contagious.

  10. Make a to-do list every day and order the tasks by comfort level – not priority because overcoming discomfort should be your number one priority.

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