Leaving your comfort zone – What happens at the edge?
Staying in your comfort zone may seem like a great idea. It feels really comfortable and familiar. The thing is, humans are wired to grow and develop. And although we all love some comfort, we can also have too much of good thing. If we never exercise our risk muscles, try something new, always think the same way about the same things, life soon starts to feel stale. Turn around and you suddenly realise you’re in a rut.
When you avoid moving out of your comfort zone you soon notice the lack of challenge and start experiencing Rustout, while moving out too quickly, constantly pushing forward without rest or reflection, can lead to Burnout. Neither is helpful, and both can make you feel awful.
It isn’t easy to leave your comfort zone
For most people poised to start a new job opportunity, big learning challenge, phase or career, change can feel risky. You’re teetering right on the edge, looking out into the unknown, and taking that first step into a brand new landscape can feel like a leap too far. You might be drawn to the it and enticed by it. At the same time a complex mix of other emotions come into play to hold you back: fear, reluctance, paralysis, upset, a crisis in confidence, even sadness.
Moving out of your comfort zone is not easy, and while there are ways to manage it more effectively, there’s no such things as a blueprint or quick fix. There will always be some anxiety. You might even experience fear of failure and be worrying about what the next step entails, along with plenty of excitement and hope at the new possibilities opening up for you.
Will you stay or will you go?
Photo by Christina Kirschnerova
At this sharp edge, this decision edge, you ask yourself, “Shall I stay or go, say yes or no?” Many people find their inner critic becomes particularly loud at such times, pulling out those old, ‘shoulds and oughts’ and reaffirming parental messages that kept you safe in the past. These safety stories you tell yourself can keep you from moving out of your comfort zone, increasing the wait.
Too much anxiety can also though, push you to go too far, too fast, and demand too much. When this happens there is an extreme sense of urgency generated and you may feel overly compelled to move. This is a sign to counter intuitively slow down – just for a while. Considering your options more slowly.
If crossing over into the unknown puts you on high alert and you’re experiencing a different more debilitating anxiety, it’s a sign you don’t have the support you need – yet. It may indicate you need to think through your decision and pin down why you’re moving out of your comfort zone at this particular time. Perhaps you are finding yourself too isolated and need help in building your confidence to take the first few steps . Asking yourself what resources you need that are not already in place or finding somebody you trust, who can offer you some additional personal support onwards. This can often make a big difference.
Over-confidence can be equally unhelpful at the edge
The opposite attitude is can also be unhelpful. When you’re constantly fascinated by shiny new things, jumping from one opportunity to another generally, biting off more than you can chew without thinking things through, you don’t learn much. An opportunist attitude, where you simply follow your your instincts unquestioningly, can lead to career dead ends and complete derailments. There’s a balance, a point where attitude meets intent that is well thought through and where there is an awareness of potential consequences. From this point you can then make an informed leap!
Prepare yourself for the excitement!
Having said the all this, the edge of your comfort zone can be and often is a thrilling place, one that moves you into a new transitional space. This space always benefits from some preparation, thought and support, after which residual anxiety can be useful because it helps you stay on your toes. Some stretch is good for us all.
Jenny Blake suggests constant small steps
Jenny Blake, author of the book ‘Pivot’ speaks about moving out from your comfort zone in the video below. She suggests, in a talk given at Google, that working out the immediate next step in our careers is the best way. She believes we can’t plan very far ahead, but we can keep taking small steps and creating small experiments to learn from. Jenny reassures everyone that this way of extending our comfort zone creates Ninja-like agility skills at the edges of our careers, a place that could otherwise seem scary.
Jenny highlights how taking small steps, making safe experiments, getting plenty of practice and learning from our ‘failures’ is the way forward. This can become a way to anchor yourself in today’s fluid, fast-moving world. She suggests that pivoting into the future is the way forward where, in her words, you “Build first and your courage will follow.” She encourages us to be open to changing our own ideas, be adaptive in the learning process, and gain insight from the feedback we get.
The art of being realistic
All this doesn’t mean expecting to get something absolutely right from the start or making an ice-smooth transition into a new, more demanding or very different role. It means being realistic about your own expectations of yourself, and understanding and managing yourself at this vital threshold, right on the edge.
Get it right and you should be able to develop and extend the boundaries of your comfort zone so it becomes a wider, more open, more friendly and welcoming space. A place that’ll potentially keep growing until it becomes the landscape you belong in, no longer foreign, different or strange. Then perhaps, as Jenny Blakes says you will need to push out of that comfort zone with some other small steps, extending the boundaries once more.
Questions to help you manage life at the edge of your comfort zone
Here are some useful suggestions about managing yourself effectively while moving out of your comfort zone. It can help to honestly ask yourself these questions:
- When do you know it is time to move over this edge into new learning?
- What will happen if you stay in this comfort zone too much longer?
- Is this in line with what you want to do? What is your purpose?
- What, exactly, are you moving towards?
- What are you leaving behind?
- Who do you need to support you? Who is fully behind you?
- Who around you will be most affected by you doing this and why?
- What specific resources do you think you will need along the way?
- What is the very next step you need to make to cross the edge?
- How will you pace yourself?
- What will successful outcomes look like at key junctures moving forwards?
- What might suddenly trip you up that you might be able to avoid if you see it now?
- What skills will you be leaning on that you already have – as you step out?
- What are the competency gaps you might need to find help for?
- If you move out of your comfort zone and it works, what will the signs of success be?
Answer all these for yourself and you will have gone through a valuable process of examining and internalising potential change, which makes that next step seem a lot less dramatic and brings a level of familiarity. You can then harness the inevitable anxiety you will experience at the risk involved – moving forward with both care and excitement.
Can we help you step off the edge into an exciting new space?
Perhaps you are right at the edge and want to move out of your comfort zone. The time is right, but you could do with some help with those first steps. Maybe you’ve already stepped off the edge and are finding the landscape a bit much for you. If that sounds like you, do get in touch.