Early in life, you probably had some very big dreams. Then you graduated from college, got your first job, started making some money and living a comfortable life, and somehow forgot all about your big dreams.

It’s not like you stopped caring about these dreams, because they certainly cross your mind every now and then, but you simply never took any steps to go after these dreams because you felt that doing so could potentially upend the life you have built so far.

It is human nature to prefer routines. They are stable and comforting because of their predictability.

If you stick to what you are doing, you can predict what you will be doing a month or two from today, or how much money you will make two months from today, and so on.

This can be very comforting, and most people do not want to give up this comfort zone.

Unfortunately, sticking inside your comfort zone becomes confining over time. It keeps you from growing.

Guys like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg did not found billion dollar companies by sticking to their comfort zones. They were not willing to settle for the comfort and stability of an ordinary job sitting in an office.

They were willing to take risks to go after their dreams. Zuckerberg had to drop out from Harvard to focus on building Facebook.

This was a huge risk. If it didn’t work out, he’d be jobless with no college degree. Similarly, Steve Jobs took huge risks to build Apple.

At some point, he was even ousted from his own company. None of this is comfortable, yet great success came from it.

Similarly, if you want to grow, you need to be willing to be willing to step out of your comfort zone, push your boundaries and take risks that could turn out to be defining for your life and career.

But what exactly is this comfort zone? Why does it kill your success? And most importantly, how can you step out of it?

Below, let’s take a look at these three questions.

WHAT IS THE COMFORT ZONE?

The simply definition of the comfort zone is the behavioral space where you have created a routine and pattern for your behaviors and activities that ensures minimal risk and stress.

Within your comfort zone, everything is familiar. There are no uncertainties or hidden alleyways. There are no challenges within the comfort zone.

As a result, the comfort zone provides a state of mental security. When you are within your comfort zone, there is reduced stress, low anxiety, and regular happiness. Everything is easy and comfortable.

The comfort zone is a product of fear.

As we go through life, we slowly discover the things we can do with great ease, and the areas we are skilled at.

We feel good when we do these things, and we get the rewards that come with excelling in this areas. This acts as a reinforcement for these activities, and therefore we tend to do more of them.

At the same time, we also discover things that we are not very good at. More often than not, attempting these things leads to failure.

Since we have already created images of ourselves that we are good at what we do (the things we are skilled at), we start avoiding doing the things we are not good at or attempting new things because we are afraid of failure and the embarrassment that comes with it.

Therefore, we retreat to what we are familiar with, what we feel comfortable with – the comfort zone.

Unfortunately, retreating back to what we are familiar with and being afraid of trying anything new means that we get stuck with what we know today.

We miss the opportunities to learn new things and gain new skills because we are not willing to try things that are not familiar to us.

We miss opportunities to grow because we are not challenging ourselves, and therefore we remain in the same place and watch as our dreams disappear over the horizon.

The concept of the comfort zone is nothing new. It has been studied by psychologists for more than a century, though the term “comfort zone” was first used Judith Bardwick’s 1991 book, Danger in the Comfort Zone.

In one of the classic psychology experiments, psychologists John D. Dodson and Robert M. Yerkes in 1908 explained that a steady level of performance leads to a state of relative comfort.

They further explained that performance can only be maximized when people are in a state of relative anxiety – a space where they experience slightly higher than normal level of stress.

This space, which is just outside the confines of our comfort zone, is referred to as “optimal anxiety.” If the anxiety becomes too much, people become too stressed, and their performance takes a sharp decline.

Source: ResearchGate

Source: ResearchGate

This explanation views the comfort zone as an anxiety-neutral state where a person uses a limited set of behaviors or actions to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without any sense of risk.

The implication here is that, provided the level of anxiety or the set of behaviors/actions does not change, then performance will remain constant.

However, a change in the level of anxiety or the set of behaviors/actions will lead to a change – either negative or positive – in the level of performance.

This idea of optimal anxiety is not new either. Think about when someone is learning something potentially dangerous, such as performing stunts on a motorbike.

Such a person learns by pushing themselves to do something that is just slightly above what they are comfortable with.

Once a new skill has become part of their comfort zone, they then push themselves just slightly. By applying this optimal anxiety, they eventually learn how to perform even the most amazing stunts.

However, if they push themselves too hard, trying something that is way beyond what they are comfortable with, they are more likely to achieve a negative result.

There’s a chance that they’ll injure themselves badly, which will then reinforce the belief that stepping out of your comfort zone is a bad thing.

REASONS WHY YOUR COMFORT ZONE IS KILLING YOUR SUCCESS

Everywhere you turn, you’ll find people encouraging you to step out of your comfort zone. There are numerous articles and YouTube videos about the same.

This is because confining yourself in your comfort zone is not good for you. Below are some reasons why your comfort zone could be stifling your success.

It Keeps You from Growth

In life, if you are not growing, you are dying. Think about companies like Nokia or Kodak. At one point, they were the leading companies in their respective industries.

However, instead of looking for ways to continue growing, they chose to sit in the comfort of their perceived success. Today, both of these companies are as good as dead.

The key to a happy and successful life lies in progress. Actually, positive psychologist Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage defines happiness as the joy someone feels as they move towards their potential.

To achieve your potential in life, you need to be growing, you need to be progressing. However, as we saw earlier, there is no growth in the comfort zone.

In the comfort zone, you keep delivering the same level of performance, which will keep you in the same place you are right now.

If you want to achieve success, you need to grow, and that means stepping out of your comfort zone.

It Keeps You from Trying New Things

Think about all the things you take for granted today that you did not know how to do at one time. Riding a bicycle, driving a car, cooking, asking out someone you are interested in, and so on. You could even learn to start an online business.

You learnt all these things by attempting them, despite the risk of failure, until you were pretty confident in your ability to do them.

Ironically, as we grow into adulthood, most of us become uncomfortable with trying new things. We are afraid of failure and embarrassment, and therefore stick with the things we already know.

Unfortunately, by not trying new things, you miss opportunities to learn about things you might be good at, or things you might turn out to be passionate about. Not only does this stifle your success, it also keeps you from being truly happy.

If you want to live your life to the fullest, you need to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and experiment with new things.

In addition to helping you discover what you like and don’t like, trying new things will also help you acquire new skills and gain new knowledge.

It Conditions You to Settle

This is one of the greatest disadvantages of remaining in your comfort zone – it conditions you to settle for the life you have today.

For instance, let’s assume you are a young person who is in a relatively well-paying job and who has just started a family.

While you might have even bigger dreams, knowing that you have a steady paycheck and can therefore provide for your young family puts you in a comfortable place.

Even when opportunities come your way, you let them pass because going after them could possibly threaten what you have now.

For example, given the chance between remaining in employment and starting your business, you might opt to remain in employment, which is stable and predictable, as opposed to going into business, which is full of uncertainties and unpredictability.

Eventually, you end up settling for a life you are not happy with because you are afraid of leaving your comfort zone.

ADVANTAGES OF BREAKING OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE

Having seen some reasons why your comfort zone could be stifling your success, let’s flip the coin and see what you stand to gain by stepping out of your comfort zone. When you break out of your comfort zone, you:

Become More Productive

Comfort is one of the greatest killers of productivity.

When you get comfortable, you lose the drive and ambition to learn new things and do more than is required of you.

You start doing the bare minimum that is required for you to get by. You avoid new responsibilities and new things.

When you step out of your comfort zone, on the other hand, you are willing to get more done, you try new things, find smarter, more efficient ways of doing your work, and so on.

Not only does this make you more productive, it also increases your chances of growing faster in your career.

Find It Easier to Deal With Change

Stepping out of your comfort zone is all about leaving the predictability of what you are familiar with and challenging yourself to do things that involve some level of uncertainty.

The good thing with this is that over time, you get comfortable with dealing with uncertainty and new things.

This feeling of comfort with uncertainty can make it easier for you to deal with new and unexpected changes in all areas of your life.

Find It Easier to Push Your Boundaries in Future

Stepping out of your comfort zone is difficult for most people because it involves some level of risk.

However, the more you do it, the easier it gets. After doing it a couple of times, you get used to pushing your boundaries and challenging yourself. As this NYT article puts it, you become accustomed to being in a state of optimal anxiety.

Find It Easier to Tap Into Your Creativity

One of the best way of harnessing your creativity and opening the door to new ideas is to seek new experiences that inspire us and learn new skills.

Whenever we get new experiences and new knowledge, this new knowledge clashes with our old ideas and inspires us to seek even more knowledge to challenge our confirmation bias.

Seeking new experiences and learning new skills requires that we leave the safety of our comfort zone and embrace the uncertainty and challenges that come with doing or learning something new.

Uncover New Skills

Stepping out of the comfort zone also allows you to discover new skills you might have a knack for.

For instance, if you are a designer whose main focus is graphics and animations, stepping out of your safety zone and trying other design related tasks might lead to the discovery that you are also good at something like video editing or UX design.

Might Fall In Love with Your Job

We have already seen that pushing your boundaries and breaking out of your comfort zone might help you uncover new skills or new passions.

However, this will not happen every time. Sometime, you might realize that you don’t like the new thing, something that might help you rekindle your passion for your old job.

For instance, you might step out of your comfort zone by quitting your job to start a business, but somewhere along the way, you realize that business is not your thing, and that your old job is your true calling.

This eye-opener will make you recommit to your old job with more vigor and passion, without the nagging “what ifs?” that you had before you broke out of your comfort zone.

Grow in Your Career and Life

Ultimately, regardless of where you end up after pushing yourself and expanding your boundaries, you can be certain of one thing – you will grow both as an employee/entrepreneur and as a person.

Shaking up the monotony of your old life will provide you with new experiences and new lessons that will infuse you with a fresh, renewed outlook, both in your career and in your life.

Actually, some employers prefer employees who have a wide range of experiences compared to those who have done the same thing for years, because the former is more likely to be more creative and adaptable when it comes to approaching various challenges at work.

HOW TO BREAK OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE

So far, it is evident that breaking out of your comfort zone is good both for your career and for your life. Question is, how do you go about it?

The truth is that breaking out of your comfort zone is not easy. Trying new things is not easy. Taking risks and facing possible failure is not easy. If it were easy, everyone would have done it. At the same time, you also need to be careful when pushing your boundaries.

It’s about getting into a state of optimal anxiety.

Remember, too much of it is a bad thing.

If you tip the scales too far, the results will be the complete opposite of what you expected, and this can make you paralyzed and prevent you from ever trying to break out of your comfort zone again.

Below are some tips on how you can break out of and expand your comfort zone, while at the same time ensuring that you do not challenge yourself excessively.

Start Doing Everything Differently

Your comfort zone is built by routine. If you do keep doing the same things every day, your brain gets comfortable with the predictability of this routine and starts avoiding anything that deviates from the routine because deviation from the routine brings along uncertainty.

If you want to have an easy time pushing your boundaries and stepping out of your comfort zone, you should make a habit of doing things differently every day.

Use a different route home, use a new operating system, try a new diet, try a new restaurant, attend an event you have never attended before, and so on.

Whether the difference is huge or small, the point here is that you should get your mind comfortable with change and uncertainty.

Take Your Time Making Decisions

Very often, we make decisions without thinking because we have created a routine for that decision.

How many times have you gone to a restaurant and ordered the same thing you ordered last week without thinking?

Unfortunately, this kind of mindless decision making reinforces the routine and keeps us doing what is familiar.

Instead of making mindless decisions out of routine, how about you take your time, consider the situation and make a decision based on your interpretation of the situation?

By doing this, you might realize that your routine decision is not actually the best decision, and taking the time to make an informed decision might be just what you need to help push you out of your comfort zone.

Do Everything in Small Steps

Don’t try to make huge strides out of your comfort zone. Babies don’t stand up and start walking one day.

They try standing while supporting themselves on something, then try walking while supporting themselves, then try to take one or two steps without support, until they can eventually walk and run comfortably. The same applies to breaking out of your comfort zone.

Don’t push yourself too much. Remember, it is all about optimal anxiety.

Just identify what you want to achieve that is outside your comfort zone, then figure out the steps you need to take to get there, and then start taking them one by one.

Surround Yourself with People with Different Opinions

If you only surround yourself with people who form an echo chamber around you, people who hold the same beliefs and outlooks on life as you, you might not even realize that you are stuck in your comfort zone.

Sometimes, it takes being around people with different opinions to realize that you want more out of life and that you can only get it by letting go of what you have now.

Surround yourself with people whose ideas challenge you.

Whenever you feel challenged and uncomfortable, this is a sign that you are approaching the edges of your comfort zone.

Don’t Stop When You Leave Work

Stepping out of your comfort zone does not only apply to your professional life.

It also applies to your personal life. Ever noticed that most entrepreneurs are risk takers both in business and in their personal livers? This is not a coincidence.

The same traits that push them in their personal lives are the same ones that push them in their professional lives.

Therefore, you should get in the habit of pushing your boundaries in your career, but also in your life outside work. Learn a new language, meet new people, travel to new places, learn new hobbies, and so on. The point is to make pushing boundaries an ingrained behavior.

WRAPPING UP

If you want to grow and increase your chances of success, both in your career and in your life, you need to break out of your comfort zone.

Breaking out of your comfort zone allows you to know who you are and what you are capable of, and allows you gain new skills and knowledge.

Pushing out of your comfort zone also prevents you from settling for a life you are not happy with.

It’s good to note that pushing out of your comfort zone will not always work in your favor.

Sometimes, it will backfire on you, but even then, you’ll come out of the experience with some great lessons, which you can then apply to push yourself even further.

Ultimately, breaking out of your comfort zone is about taking risks and going after your dreams, even when they seem scary. Remember, you will never know what you can achieve until you try.

Your Comfort Zone Is Killing Your Success

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