A while back I took an improv comedy class to step out of my comfort zone and in the moment, we had to choose an object that started with the first letter of our name and create a gesture to go along with it. I chose Rubberband Robert ...
Although it was a random choice, it got me thinking about the rubber band.
It is simple and useful.
It costs almost nothing.
It can be used in many ways.
It also reminds me of The Law of the Rubber Band by leadership coach John Maxwell. Like rubber bands, we work better when we are stretched. He emphasizes that growth comes from "the tension between where we are and where we want to be."
To unlock your full potential, it's important to keep stepping out of your comfort zone. This can be counterintuitive because when most people imagine being at their best, they typically envision life going smoothly and success coming easily to them.
You may want others to perceive a calm, cool and collected "you" performing effortlessly but to become extraordinary and to keep fulfilling your potential, you want to find the struggle and surf the edge of your comfort zone. The first step is to recognize when you are at the edge of your comfort zone.
So how do you know when you're there?
Your feelings will tell you.
You're at the edge of your comfort zone when:
You want to back out
If you've ever signed up for something that you knew was good for you and find yourself wanting to back out, you're on the right track. Keep at it despite the tons of great and reasonable excuses for why it'll be ok to back out.
You feel this way because you're not sure how you'll perform and it makes you nervous. Many times, it doesn't seem worth the trouble or worry. This is exactly where you want to be. If you knew how you'll do, you would be in your comfort zone.
In this situation, commit to the activity and because you'll want to do well, you'll end up spending a good amount of time preparing. You will grow from this preparation and your confidence will increase when you do well. If things don't go as well as you expected, you can learn from it and tweak your preparation next time. With one experience under your belt, it only gets easier.
The next time you get nervous anticipating a new task or situation, remind yourself that you are now officially out of your comfort zone and get ready to improve yourself.
You are bad at it
The first time is the worst time - everything is typically hardest the first time around. If you find that you're pretty good at an activity and it doesn't humble you much, then you're probably still within your comfort zone.
Based on your interests and passions, seek out activities and challenges that are relevant to your goals but you aren't awesome at (yet). Be honest with the challenges you might be avoiding. Perhaps it's having a difficult conversation with your spouse, being the keynote speaker at a conference or making small talk at a dinner party.
Look at what you're bad at or have failed at for clues.
You don't want other people to see you
No one wants to look bad in front of other people. That's why we edit and revise our work and hide our struggles.
If there is an activity that you are embarrassed to do in front of others, then it's probably a good growth area for you. You don't have to invite an audience to watch you. The fact that you don't want an audience means you're on the right track and the skill or activity you're doing is something you should continue to work on.
If you're comfortable, you're probably not growing. Remember that the comfort zone is the enemy of achievement.
"Ships in harbor are safe, but that's not what ships are built for."
- John Shedd, American Author and Professor
When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone?
Photo by thisisbossi
Robert Chen is the founder of Embrace Possibility and author of The Dreams to Reality Fieldbook. He helps people who feel stuck move forward by guiding them to see other possibilities for their lives. He specializes in working with high performers get to the next level. If you're going through a tough time right now, check out Robert's article on How to Feel Better Right Away and if you're having trouble getting what you want out of life, check out How to Always Achieve Your Goals.