The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it. ~ Michelangelo.
Taking risks and stepping out of our comfort zone is closely connected with our capacity to achieve personal growth.
The term Comfort Zone refers to any context we are familiar with, no matter if it’s a positive or a negative situation. Simply, it’s a state of mental security. Yet, if there is no space for adventure or risks, over time you might feel overwhelmed and trapped by boredom and fear.
Allowing our professional life to get stuck in our comfort zone is a real danger. Not only will it prevent us from growing but it will also make us obsolete!
Outside the Comfort Zone lies the Learning Zone. It’s considered an extension of the Comfort Zone where we are willing to experiment and change. Then, there is the Panic Zone, which contains all the aspects of our lives we are not willing to change or even discuss. The closer you are to the Panic Zone (and further away from your Comfort Zone), the more stress is generated.
When it comes to the professional life, most people tend to stay in the Comfort Zone. This is mainly related to the fear of being obsolete and losing the job. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens to those who hold onto their comfort zone!
The role of Managers and Leaders is to help people get out of their professional Comfort Zone. The important thing is to be careful about the stress levels this will create (keep your employees out of the Panic Zone).
Always keep in mind that each one of us is different and that there are no fixed rules. In this article, I will only cover the professional aspects of the topic, but we must remember an important thing: employees’ lives outside of the office are an important variable in the equation, one that is often unknown to managers.
The First Step: Get Informed
Before I go on, let me point out that comfort zone is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s there to protect us, especially from more stress and anxiety. The problem happens when we stay in it for too long because that’s what keeps us from learning and experiencing new things.
In our world of ever-evolving strategy and technology, employees are compelled to keep up and evolve themselves. But sometimes change can bring employees discomfort and lead them directly into the Panic Zone (for example having to master working with a new software).
In short, when facing the change, we tend to feel “not ready” or “inadequate”. As always, the best antidote for fear is information!
If we make it a habit to feed our mind with knowledge through a continuous information exchange, we will start gaining new skills, ones that we will use and integrate into our daily life. Being open-minded and willing to be more daring will quickly bring you benefits and change basically every aspect of your life! That’s one of the easiest and most fun ways to grow continuously.
On the other side, management is responsible for providing the correct information, training and/or guidance to cope with the change. As a leader, helping your team members develop new skills can bring many benefits such as better work results and greater commitment. This will lead to employees’ gradual transition from their Comfort Zone to Learning Zone and in the expansion of the latter. This will reassure them so they don’t feel the stress of going into the Panic Zone.
Change Leads to Personal Growth
Setting goals is an essential part of your personal growth path. The way those goals are set or given to you may determine your success or failure. When setting goals, the main risk lies in the fact that the task is too complex (again, it will take us into the Panic Zone) or in a distant future. Setting your goal too far away may be a way to indulge in your comfort zone. By doing this we will not allow the transition to happen in our mind. In the end, we will be stressed by our own lack of time and skills.
It doesn’t matter if the objectives are assigned to us by a manager or if they are our own, we must always consider a progressive learning curve as well as measurable milestones.
If you take a little break, spend a few minutes and visualise your personal goals, you will be more open to the idea of taking risks. Imagining your success and setting goals will help you focus and motivate yourself to get some results!
However, sometimes your work won’t get you the results you’ve expected. This is why the milestones are important. But, be smart about using them! The trick is to break your milestone completion into phases so you can pin down needed improvements but also use your achievements for motivation even if you don’t succeed reaching 100% of your goal. Let me explain: if you only have two possible scenarios – failure or success – with no in-between status, you may get demotivated if all the work you invested was “all for nothing” in the case you don’t reach your goal. Not breaking your goal down prevents you from knowing to which extent the milestone is reached and most importantly – what needs fixing!
I like to break my final objective into a couple of phases (usually three). That way, if I fail to complete the final step while the previous ones are achieved, I will feel less frustrated because it won’t be a complete failure and it will be easier for me to adjust the situation and transform it into a full success. In fact, what I’m doing is gradually moving from my Comfort Zone to my Learning Zone, growing a little at each iteration and moving to the next phase. Even in the case of failure, I will not slide into the Panic Zone.
Don’t let the fear keep you from growing! Let go of your expectations and accept the results of your actions. Each loss will teach you how to accept the circumstances and help you be better the next time. Look forward to the outcome, whatever it is.
Why Is the Pain Worth the Gain
The most obvious downside of holding onto your comfort zone is that it’s holding you back. Maybe you don’t feel that way right now, but eventually, you definitely will. You’ll start experiencing boredom, self-criticism, envy. These are the signs you’ve grown out of your comfort zone.
Most people avoid making big decisions because they dread facing stress and anxiety. Stress is our body’s response to challenges coming from our environment. Even though it can make you feel frustrated, angry or anxious, but stress is a normal part of life; it pushes us forward and helps us be more productive. One way or another, you must face these feelings and decide if the stress is going to be the factor of your anxiety or motivation. The role of a good leader is to help people transit from the comfort zone to learning zone.
Letting go of the notion of achieving perfection is a powerful, liberating thing! Realising that nothing and nobody is flawless, will free you from unnecessary pressure and hesitation that have held you back. You will feel encouraged and willing to take risks, break and remove barriers.
Stepping out of your comfort zone will not only lead to your personal growth but will also inspire your team members. You will be a role-model for them, inspiring them to work on themselves and constantly improve.
Learning is always easier when you have company. Being confronted with people that have more knowledge or information than you, may generate insecurity, reducing Comfort and Learning Zone. On the other hand, being with people that are on the same level and struggle like you, will expand those zones. Each small success will make you stronger. This is why, when it comes to professional environments, correct training and information exchange are key factors to reducing employee stress.
Teaming up will help you do a better job and it will bring you valuable experience. Working together reinforces the most important aspects of the team, serves as a form of teambuilding on some level and helps leader and his team to get more comfortable in a better working atmosphere.
In 1965 Bruce Tuckman created a development theory from a behavioural point of view regarding the group work. He developed four phases, based on the stages from inception to performance: forming, storming, norming and performing. Later he added the fifth phase – adjourning. Further researches showed the most common problem is the norming phase. In this phase, group rejects the old methods and develops new ones. Lack of insecurity and self-confidence in team members can create an illusion of the perfect performance, but the evidence that group is out of comfort zone is actually little. As a leader, you can set clear goals and strategy to move your members from old performance to the new one. Encouraging, building confidence and monitoring are crucial to empowering your team members.
Every great leader pushes his/her team members to step outside of their comfort zone. If you encourage and support your team members, it will motivate them to accomplish their assignments better.
Most people don’t want to stretch beyond their boundaries, especially if it involves risking their current position. Encouraging and believing in them, will give them the opportunity to go beyond the boundaries of the status quo. Many learn and develop new skills by doing certain assignments. For example, when you give your team members tasks, make sure you let them know (why) you think they can handle it.
Pointing out great work that they’ve done in a similar area, or talking about strengths you’ve observed in that person, will help to do a better job, develop new skills or bring the old ones at a higher level. It’s important to use a gradual approach. For instance, talk with your members about task ups and downs, advise them how to manage the process of work and look over their plan giving them your feedback afterwards.
Depending on situations in your life, it’s up to you how far you will push the boundaries. The key is to maintain the balance between Comfort Zone and Performance Zone and avoid generating the stress of the Panic Zone.