A key leadership job is to take intelligent risks while assessing where limiting beliefs, old habits, and overused behaviors have you stuck.
That place described above is your comfort zone. It’s where you go to feel safe and in the know.
Here’s the conundrum – no successful business leader or entrepreneur gets to their desired goals by remaining in the comfort zone. Growth requires risking. Intelligent risks balance strategy with self-awareness. That is why it is imperative that you become aware of where you may be stuck in what is known, preventing that which is desired.
Secret Number One: You have been led to believe that your comfort zone is impenetrable and difficult to bust through. In reality, it’s a bubble. Imagine your comfort zone as a nice bubble of protection, a good barrier to keep you safe from the outside world. You rest on familiar furniture, surrounded by the books you like to read and the TV shows you like to watch.
You know how to do things competently with relatively little stress. You know which rules to bend and those you must keep. You are confident that what you think and believe is true. You feel successful and secure. You don’t have to second-guess or question your choices or behavior.
Along with your thoughts and patterns and beliefs, you will find familiar people. Your family, your pets, your spouse, your partner, your kids, your neighborhood, the people from the school that you went to are all around you. You are safe.
Is it wrong to be there? No, not at all. Is it self-limiting to stay there? Yes
Secret Number Two: If you want to grow as a leader and as an emotionally intelligent human being, you must navigate to the outer perimeter and, finally, out of the bubble of protection. Staying in your comfort zone too long creates stagnation and procrastination and sometimes depression.
What happens when you stay in your bubble too long? You find yourself moving closer and closer to the edge, but not leaping into that unknown area outside of the sphere. You may feel frustrated or stifled.
Your world starts to feel small. You may find yourself becoming angry with the people who were enjoying this space with you. You get to the boundary of the sphere and the itch to leap gets stronger and stronger.
Think back on a time when you wanted to take a big risk – to go to college, get married, start your business, or take on a more important role in a company for which you didn’t feel ready. You bumped up against the edge of safety, the boundary of your comfort zone. It’s natural to question yourself during these times. Taking that risk means you have to change and be different. You have to do new and unfamiliar things which takes you to an unknown place. You are no longer safe.
The protection of the comfort zone is palpable and, faced with a perceived lack of safety that comes with a big risk, many people choose to remain inside the comfort zone, not moving or growing until they need to. Until it becomes painful.
“Don’t live the same life every year for 75 years. That’s no life.”
Secret Number Three: Leap. There is a way out. You will have a desire that becomes strong. When you are ready, and not quite there, here is what you are likely to experience: You feel nervous. With sweaty hands or butterflies in your stomach, you don’t know if what you’re feeling is fear or excitement. You question things and experience doubt. Soon you begin to hear the voices of the “itty bitty shitty committee” (yes, it’s real and, yes, I did just write “shitty”) saying, “You are too old. You don’t have enough education. Stay safe. Don’t go. Stay here with us. You know what you know here. You don’t know what you don’t know out there. We don’t do it that way in our family.”
Anxiety and uncertainty collide with your desire to jump. And those awful voices keep getting louder with their admonitions urging you to stay put. You feel that it’s probably better just to stay where you are. It’s not.
Here’s the truth: Somewhere outside the comfort zone is a risk worth taking. It’s a North Star for you. That star is blinking at you, tempting you with that thing you want or that person you desire to become. Maybe you want to pursue a master’s degree or purchase a new house or commit to a relationship. It’s there; it’s blinking at you. You are tormented by the “should I or shouldn’t I?” internal debate. You stand at the precipice and your anxiety turns into a feeling of fear, of uncertainty coupled with thoughts that urge you to stay put.
Again, you are tempted to just stay where you are.
When that worthy goal or outcome just out of your comfort zone calls to you, find a way to leap. Even taking one tiny step towards it creates momentum and expansion.
The Result? You did it! How do you feel? Do you feel proud? Maybe a little scared and nervous as well? You got to the edge of the comfort zone and experienced all the feelings and negative voices that come with it, and still you stepped forward. Your expansion creates a higher level of self-confidence and self-assuredness.
With your step, you have created a bigger comfort zone. You know what that means! With the next step forward, you will face yet another barrier of self-doubt, fear, and the voices once again. However, you have proven to yourself that forward movement is possible because you did it once before. Even though the next step causes discomfort, you have rewired your brain from the reptilian position of fight, flight, or freeze to the leadership brain of expansion. Expansion becomes desirable and you are willing to suffer a little discomfort to have it.
Every time you take a risk, your horizons expand.
Rinse and repeat – You’ve got this!
Mary Pat Knight is CEO of Leaders Inspired – an executive coaching and consulting agency devoted to the development of emotionally intelligent leaders. She is also the author of the Amazon #1 International Best Selling book, The Humanized Leader.