Stepping out of your comfort zone is not a new concept- it is commonly referenced as one of the keys to success. So why do so many students (and adults for that matter) constantly turn down the opportunity to leave their comfort zone?
A lot of research exists on the psychology of stepping out of your comfort zone, but when put simply, the willingness to leave your comfort zone comes down to having two things:
- The courage to take risks
- A willingness to fail
Many of us can draw these connections and rationalize the concept in our mind, but too few of us put this into practice, and many of us that do make an effort to step out of our comfort zone only do so occasionally.
The most successful people in the world are also some of the best in the world at "being comfortable with being uncomfortable." Not only do they take advantage of opportunities to be uncomfortable as they present themselves, they also seek them out with regularity. They know that the more they are outside of their comfort zone, the more (and faster) they grow as a person.
But like most great things in this world, stepping out of your comfort zone is not easy. If it were, everyone would do it and it would not be worth talking or writing about. To do so, you have to have the courage to take risks and the willingness to fail. When you don't leave your comfort zone, it comes down to the fear of uncertainty and the fear of failure. In both cases, the root of inaction is fear.
WHAT IS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF FEAR?
Fear can be one of our most powerful emotions, which unfortunately can result in bad things happening, or great things not happening. Fear of uncertainty, failure, rejection, solitude, and other types of fear can paralyze students and people with even the most noble intentions, which can lead us to take the easy road or to not take any road whatsoever. The prospect of really trying hard to achieve something can alone trigger thoughts of the potential negative social and peer pressure, not to mention the thought of trying hard and failing.
Late last year, I listened to Tim Ferriss' podcast interview with Jamie Foxx, and I thought Jamie had some incredible advice on how to think about fear, for students and adults alike. "What's on the other side of fear?" he asked Tim during their conversation. After a brief pause, he calmly said, "Nothing." Jamie brought this up when talking about how he encourages his kids to try new things, never settle, and go for their dreams.
I firmly believe this is true. While fear can be influenced by external factors, ultimately fear is created and molded in our own heads. And everyone experiences fear, so it doesn't come down to ignoring that feeling in the pit your stomach or getting rid of that doubtful voice in your head. Because everyone has both. It comes down to embracing that feeling and that voice as signals that you're on the right track, that you're doing something you should be doing. When Jamie says “nothing”, he is referring to the fact that nothing happens on the other side of fear that makes not trying worthwhile.
I like to think of your comfort zone as a muscle. To make it grow, you have to feed it, stretch it, and work it out- and harder than you did the last time, which means it will be sore (that's a great sign). And you have to do all of those things consistently. Why so much focus on the comfort zone? Because growth in our comfort zone means we are growing as students and as people.
I personally can attest to the effectiveness of this practice. I attribute the majority of my accomplishments to my willingness to step out of my comfort zone. I have to thank my dad for instilling this willingness in me. From a young age, he would challenge me to solve problems that were a little over my head. Growing up, he was great about making me talk to friends or colleagues of his that I did not know to build my confidence and communication skills. He forced me to learn how to network with adults earlier than most students started. I often did not appreciate these lessons at the time, but this consistent practice allowed me to be a leader in high school sports and extracurriculars, go above and beyond academically, develop strong communication skills, start a leadership camp in college, become president of my 110-man fraternity, graduate business school, help lead a philanthropic junior board, speak on stage in front of 2,000 people, and leave the security and promise of a career in corporate banking to start and build a company with my brother based on our passions. All the while, I have felt extremely comfortable maintaining my values and consistently acting in ways that align with those values because I have not been afraid to go against the grain or do something differently than my peers. It works.
- Have a conversation with your student(s). When is the last time you talked about the concepts of the comfort zone, fear, and failure with your family? Use personal examples and examples of their role models to help facilitate the discussion. This is awesome dinner table talk, and just placing these ideas in their head is an important first step. Although it may not directly translate to action right away, at least they can think about it as they experience the opportunities to make themselves productively uncomfortable.
- Start to tweak their view of Failure. We make it a point to ask all of our students what their definition of and/or perspective is on failure. So many students see failure in such a negative light, and it is because they see failure as an endpoint instead of how they need to see failure: as one of the most critical components of success and achievement. Again, use personal and familiar examples to start these discussions and help them relate those examples to experiences in their own lives.
- Help them practice in a controlled environment. Like my dad did with me, help them experience the out-of-comfort-zone sensation by consistently giving them a gentle push into uncomfortable situations. Start with environments where they are more comfortable, like with your family or in the activities where they thrive. Challenge them to do something differently than what is comfortable or normal to them, and then build on those exercises. And then just a short time before they are fully ready, help them get uncomfortable in other areas of their lives as they continue to grow and develop.
- For you: Activities for you to practice stepping out of your comfort zone. As one of the most important influences for your students, make sure you are walking the walk. Make it a goal for you and your students to do one thing every single day that tests your comfort zone. These can be very small actions, like trying new food or a new activity, talking to someone you haven't talked to in a long time or don't know very well, or sometimes something more extreme like asking for a 10% discount on your coffee or laying down briefly on the floor in the middle of a restaurant or a mall.
The more you practice, the more sore your comfort zone will be and the faster you will grow. Get uncomfortable today!
P.S.- Ironic quote on my Momentum app today: "Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." Neale Donald Walsch