Comfort Zone Discomfort – Finding the edge and taking a step beyond

What makes some of us comfortable experiencing the dis-comfort of stepping outside our comfort zone and others who see this zone as a definitive boundary beyond which lies stupidity and foolishness? This question has continued to intrigue me as I seek in my coaching work to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

I have the good fortune to coach several leaders who I consider are courageous and many who are highly eloquent in expressing their doubts and their fears and often these conflicting attributes can be found in the same person!

I am a believer in the quote attributed to the late Henry Ford ‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, either way you will be right’  This is a pragmatic and some would say simplistic summary of what people experience at the edge of their comfort zone. Is it all about belief though? I sometimes think there is more to it than that.

I have used rational arguments to get people to try our something new, making lists of the benefits, listing and then mitigating the risks, all very rational and safe. However, if the resistance to step beyond is emotive much of this thinking has no effect at all. Stepping beyond your comfort zone barrier is a matter of confidence not intelligence. You have to want to do it.

The question that intrigues me is where does this desire come from and how can you generate it if it is not present?

I think syntax helps. I was listening to Simon Hartley share some of the insights in his excellent book ‘Master Mental Toughness’ the other day. He talked about the power of the word ‘Yet’. He suggested we attached it to all the sentences that suggested we can’t do something. For example, ‘I can’t see myself presenting to the whole workforce….yet’ This will encourage us to realise that all we need to do is to learn how and learning how is something we have been doing literally since the day we were born, so we are pretty good at this process. If we want to be that is….

If we don’t want to learn how, then the motivation for staying in the comfort zone needs to be put under the spotlight. Consider how you feel as the comfort zone horizon approaches. Listen carefully to the fears that surface and see what they tell you about yourself. This ‘spotlight’ activity can help surface underlying, usually subconscious thoughts and concerns that can shrivel and simply disappear when put under the spotlight of your conscious mind.

Check your motivation levels, in Simon’s book he suggests there are 3 levels of motivation to consider, in ascending order of desire to act:

#1 Should do this = weak desire easily deflected and rationalised away;

#2 Need to do this = stronger but externally controlled the external need may go away and desire to act will fall quickly as a result.

#3 Want to do this = the strongest motivation as this an internal driver that will persist until sated.

Going to the edge of your comfort zone and then keep on walking requires at least level #2 preferably level #3 motivation.

Once you have established the right levels of motivation it is a great idea to build in ‘quit points’ into your journey forward. In his book Simon tells a story of how he decided to sign up for a charity challenge to run 100 km in 24 hours. He set his route so he passed his house at least 10 times during the run so he built in 10 ‘quit points’ and this helped motivate him to step into the challenge. He of course did not quit, but the thought that he could, helped get him over the comfort zone line.

I have used the ‘just pretend you can’ technique on several occasions. When confronted with someone who has convinced themselves that they cannot do something I simple suggest OK that’s fine, just fake it and see what happens. It doesn’t work all the time but it’s worth giving it a go.

Your Comfort Zone needs to flex for growth to occur. I empathise when the boundary is reached but as a coach I cannot sympathise, I have to ‘nudge and catch’. This is a skill we can all learn to do to ourselves in time and can be fun trying.

Good luck and if you need any help then contact me I will push and catch!

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