After months of waking before dawn, hiking Sydney’s finest bushland (laden with dung bells), black toes and too many blisters to mention, my husband is currently knee deep in mud trekking the Kokoda Trail. While he’s a fit man this challenge has pushed him to new levels both mentally and physically. Enduring such grim conditions for 11 days (leeches, humidity, dehydration, exhaustion) I know he will be reflecting on the feet that trod before him, the fallen soldiers who endured hardship beyond our comprehension. And while there will be times where he asks himself why on earth he is pushing himself so hard, his sense of achievement will be immense when he makes it to the final memorial on Anzac day.
And so, I find myself thinking about the importance of pushing oneself out of our comfort zone. It’s never an entirely comfortable experience but I can honestly say some of the best outcomes in my life have been a result of pushing myself – taking a risk and committing to it. What’s more, irrespective of whether you need to stretch yourself physically, emotionally or professionally, evidence suggests it is good to give those boundaries a nudge on a regular basis.
Andy Molinsky is a Professor of Organizational Behavior and Psychology at Brandeis University, and the author of the new book Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge and Build Confidence.
In this interview with Forbes Dan Schawbel, he talks about how we can more successfully step outside our personal and professional comfort zones.
DS: Why should professionals step outside of their comfort zone? Is it worth the effort?
Andy Molinsky: In an ideal world, no one would have to stretch beyond their comfort zone to succeed at work, and all the tasks and responsibilities we need to perform would fit perfectly with our personalities. But unfortunately, this isn’t usually the case. Conflict-avoidant managers need to embrace conflict—or at least learn to tolerate it. Timid entrepreneurs need to be able to pitch and promote themselves. . . introverts need to network . . . self-conscious executives need to deliver speeches . . . and people pleasers need to deliver bad news. As we grow and learn in our jobs and in our careers, we’re constantly faced with situations where we need to adapt our behavior. And without the skill and courage to take the leap, we can miss out on important opportunities for personal growth and career advancement.
DS: What are the five key challenges underlying our avoidance tendencies as outlined in your book?
Molinsky: The first challenge is what I call the authenticity challenge, which occurs when acting outside your comfort zone feels fake, foreign, and false. The second challenge—the likeability challenge—occurs when, as a result of the behavioral stretch you have to make, you fear others won’t like you. The third challenge—the competence challenge—occurs when you feel you don’t actually have the skills or knowledge to perform the new task successfully. The fourth challenge—the resentment challenge—happens when you feel frustrated and annoyed that you have to adapt behavior in the first place. Finally, the fifth challenge is the morality challenge: the feeling—logical or illogical—that when stretching your behavior, you will feel inappropriate or perhaps even unethical. As you can imagine, any one of these challenges can be burdensome when attempting to reach outside your comfort zone. But when you experience more than one challenge, which is often the case, it can be paralyzing.
DS: How can your three C’s help bridge the gap in these tendencies?
Molinsky: In my research, I found that people used three tools to step outside their comfort zones successfully. The first was conviction: the deep sense of purpose that it’s actually worth it to do the hard work entailed in stepping outside your comfort zone (and where conviction came from was very different for each person). The second resource was customization: the ability to tweak or adjust in an often slight, but meaningful way how you perform a task to make it feel more comfortable and natural. Finally, the third critical resource was clarity: the ability to develop an even-handed, reasonable perspective on the challenges you face; In other words, to not succumb to the distorted and exaggerated thinking so many of us do in very stressful situations.
DS: What are the first steps that people can take to fight their fear of discomfort?
Molinsky: The first steps, I believe, should be small and doable. Instead of jumping right into speaking at an industry event, sign up for a public speaking class. Instead of speaking up in the boardroom, start by speaking up in smaller meetings with peers to see how it feels. You may stumble, but that’s OK. In fact, it’s the only way you’ll learn, especially if you can appreciate that missteps are an inevitable — and in fact essential — part of the learning process.
What are your top three pieces of career advice?
- Don’t be boxed in by conventional career paths and choices. I never thought that I’d be a Professor, author, keynote speaker and consultant. Frankly, I didn’t know that combination existed.
- Don’t worry about finding the one perfect mentor. However, do look for mentor-ing wherever you can find it.
- Say yes. You’ll be offered opportunities, especially early on, that might feel outside your comfort zone – where “no” might be a perfectly reasonable answer. But instead of saying no – try yes instead, despite how uncomfortable it feels. You’ll be surprised by the results.
Andy Molinsky’s first book, Global Dexterity, received the Axiom Award for Best Business Book in International Business & Globalization and has been used widely in organizations around the world. He is a columnist for Inc.com, a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review and Psychology Today, and was recently named one of Linkedin’s Top Voices for 2016.
Dan Schawbel is a keynote speaker and the New York Times bestselling author of Promote Yourself and Me 2.0.