Do you often feel that you’re performing your tasks by rote, without thinking about them or questioning precisely what it is you are doing? Are you afraid to take a step outside of your routine, even if it could lead to exciting developments in your career? These are characteristics of people who are stuck in their comfort zone, a state in which professionals prefer to preserve themselves, keeping anxieties at a tolerable level and their performance at a stable, though not optimal, level.
Consequently, it is common to see professionals obsessed with the idea of avoiding the expenditure of too much energy. But enthusiastic and hard-working employees also have an advantage. In this article, the American boxer and writer Ed Latimore describes his contention that hard work is more important than talent (1% inspiration, 99% perspiration) and that the primary skill that any professional needs is the willingness to work harder than anybody else.” There’s always a high demand for people willing to do what others won’t,” he says. It’s this kind of predisposition that keeps people consistently out of their comfort zone.
A feeling of complacency is quite common and almost inevitable at some (or several) points in life. To get out of this overly comfortable environment – or to get an employee out of it – you must face your fears and rediscover goals. In this interview about corporate cultures (in Portuguese) the Brazilian sociologist, leadership consultant and writer Odino Marcondes argues that most companies lack an inspiring vision, which results in tedious environments in which professionals do the minimum, and that’s it. To change this paradigm from one in which employees do not feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves, the company itself needs to commit to leaving its own comfort zone. The first step in getting everyone out of such a professional morass is a reformulation of your company’s mantras.
Neither good nor bad
In 1908, the psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson defined the comfort zone as a state of relative comfort in which a steady level of performance is maintained. To get everyone out of that rut, and spur them to reach the next level, we need to create a state of relative anxiety – a space where our stress levels are slightly above average.
On the other hand, it is also important to note that we cannot force people out of their comfort zone because our natural tendency is to return to a neutral level of anxiety. So, the idea of a complacent environment is not a good thing, nor a bad thing. Leaving it means increased risk and stress, which can have both positive and negative results. Risk, however, is needed to achieve better results. We all need an inner space where we are less anxious and stressed so we can see and understand the benefits of leaving it.
Remember that each person’s comfort zone is different. Think of the metaphor: while some see meditation as a way out of their comfort zone, for others it means bungee jumping. One’s goal shouldn’t be to become an adrenaline junkie but rather to learn what each person is really capable of by escaping from this feeling of safety and complacency. Then you return to a state of comfort just to relax. And as you begin to enjoy a feeling of reassurance again, you can remember the inspiring, creative, productive, and uncomfortable moments that you experienced when you stepped outside your comfort zone.
That would be enough if you don’t have more significant ambitions: many moments of relaxation and a few moments of tension. But if you want more, you can only get to where you dream if you leave your comfort zone for good. And now, a long way away and near attaining the full scope of your dreams, this will then be your new comfort zone. What you should do, Derek Sivers, entrepreneur, programmer and musician, asks in this amusing article, is to go over and over the following questions: What scares you now? What’s intimidating? Where do you want to be? They can be a guide to your next step. Things that used to intimidate you will then start to feel as comfortable as your own home.
Start with small steps and then dive in
“Getting out of your comfort zone is giving yourself the opportunity to grow, learn and expand your professional repertoire,” Andy Molinsky, professor of International Management and Organizational Behavior at Brandeis International Business School, writes in this article for the Harvard Business Review.
To illustrate, he uses a fairly common situation: you want to expand your network, but don’t like talking to strangers, or talking in public. In general, people with this type of difficulty prefer to avoid any chance of exposure. But the problem is that this ability is needed in most professions. As we grow and learn in our jobs and careers, we are continually confronted with situations in which we need to adapt our behavior. “Without the skill and courage to make the leap, we can miss important opportunities for advancement,” he explains.
In order to overcome situations that prevent this kind of growth, Molinsky suggests that, first of all, we must be honest with ourselves and think of the excuses we’ve used to remain in the comfort zone. Take stock of these justifications and ask if they are indeed legitimate. Then recognize opportunities and take advantage of them. But how? He points towards a path that can be summarized in three steps:
Step 1: Get your feet wet
There is always a way to make the tasks that we are afraid of doing easier to accomplish. If you hate talking in public or at events, but feel a little more comfortable in small groups, look for opportunities to speak to smaller groups. Instead of jumping straight into a big event or a meeting with senior executives, start by speaking in smaller meetings to get an idea of what your fears are. Another tip is to look for a friend or colleague willing to offer advice and encouragement before you find yourself in a challenging situation.
Step 2: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
One of the best ways to learn is by making mistakes. We don’t always understand that errors are an inevitable – and indeed essential – part of the learning process. In the end, even though we may feel powerless in situations outside our comfort zone, we have more power than we think.
Step 3: Take the plunge
Finally, if you want to get out of your comfort zone, you must act even, especially, if it’s uncomfortable for you. Look for these little mechanisms to force you to take the plunge. In the end, you’ll find out that it’s not so bad.
8 Tips to get your employees out of their comfort zone
When necessary, you can help others escape their comfort zone, respecting their differences. After following the previous three steps to your plunge, check out these tips where you can gradually challenge employees or colleagues to get out of their comfort zones:
1. Diversity in hiring
One way to keep employees engaged and restless is to set up diverse teams. Instead of having people talk to other people who have the same profiles and mindsets, it’s vital that people should be confronted with alternative ideas, backgrounds and references. Consequently, those employees will be challenged to leave their comfort zone as they discover new perspectives. Of course, each employee can keep their own values, and your employees need to be encouraged to disagree in a healthy and constructive way. But a diversity of opinion is also important: whether it is young or experienced employees, dissatisfied customers or fans of your product … all this can bring surprising solutions.
Even if it’s a bit edgy, a bit out of your comfort zone, saying yes means that you will do something new, meet someone new, and make a difference… Yes is what keeps us all young.” Eric Schmidt, President of Alphabet
2. Manage your time
People often use time is an excuse to sabotage their professional growth and remain in their comfort zone. It is the leader’s role to be enthusiastic about innovations and to strive to be productive enough to take care of everything – from day-to-day routines to the unexpected. To this end, everyone needs to manage their time to make life, professional or not, more productive. When we say that someone does an excellent job of administrating their time at work, we are talking about, in essence, someone who does a good job of managing their level of energy. There’s no doubt that this kind of organization will give you a new perspective on your work. Check out some time management tips in this post.
3. Search for new knowledge
Keeping yourself informed solely within the bounds of your area of specialty will not get you out of your comfort zone. But that also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek to perfect your professional skills. We all need to make small daily sacrifices to reach a “second zone of comfort.” Basically, instead of trying to convince yourself of what you already believe, seek out other points of view. At this point, it’s essential to encourage employees to learn about a variety of subjects, and you can encourage them by investing in courses or by booking a time of day for everyone to study a topic.
4. Staying open to change
Laziness can keep a person stuck in one place for years. Want more creativity, agility and proactivity in your employees’ teamwork? It won’t happen if you impose unending routines on your employees. Remember, the fear of change only lasts until the second zone of comfort is reached. But before you demand such openness from the people who work with you, you must instill a spirit of transformation into your corporate culture.
5. Everyone has limitations
Although employees are open to developing new skills and learning about other subjects, you have to understand the limitations of each person, whether they are intellectual or emotional. When an employee comes to your attention who is stuck in their comfort zone, but who also has certain limitations, you can put them in touch with someone who can help them or who understands how to manage their needs so that they are not unnecessarily challenged or frustrated by being forced to leave their comfort zone.
6. Invert Features
Each person needs their own time to make decisions. Some are quick; some take a bit longer. At this stage, it’s important that each professional attempt to do the opposite of what they are accustomed to doing. Slowing down can be important for people who are ordinarily impulsive, taking more time to evaluate any possible ramifications and deciding in a more thought out manner. On the other hand, you should also require professionals who are usually slower to arrive at decisions to make quicker decisions for a period. Just as there are people who thrive on making instant choices, others are more comfortable weighing every possible option repeatedly. Eventually, it is beneficial to mix-up these traits within the team so that people can leave, even if it is momentary, their comfort zone.
7. Courage to restart and innovate
To get out of your comfort zone, people also need to leave their egos aside and become beginners again. It takes a willingness to see things from a new perspective, and so it is so important to be open-minded enough to discuss every possible subject.
Listen to what everyone has to say and encourage this among your colleagues. Whether it’s in person or through a task organizer, you should let everyone have their turn to speak and make their opinions known.
8. Offer periodic challenges
An efficient way to propose leaving a comfortable environment is to create new work processes. Regularly suggest that people learn about the work of other teams. For example, a development professional could spend the day with a sales colleague so that they can pool their knowledge and brainstorm possible new product proposals. In addition to creating a mechanism to join diverse employees and areas into a larger team, you will be able to give your employees a fresh perspective, leading to greater synergies within your company. However, any movements in this sense should be conducted in a highly organized manner so as not to remove your team’s focus from the company’s priorities.
Help the staff get in and out of their comfort zone
A task management system can give you the peace of mind that you and your team need to leave your comfort zone. Whenever a new challenge comes up, and you have to turn your attention to it, your task management system will be there to guide you back to what needs to be done next.
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