Success can have different meanings, depending on your values, education, and past experiences. There isn’t much sense in discussing how to have a successful career if your definition of success is unique, right? And yet, if you possess it, there is one ability that gives you more chance of having success, no matter what you are doing: the ability to step out of your comfort zone.
If you have the possibility of choosing to become better in anything, you should choose that one. Let me explain first what is the comfort zone, and why this ability can help you so much.
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The three psychological states
The “comfort zone,” as most people know, is one of the three psychological states a person can be in, along with the growth zone and the danger zone.
So let’s describe each of these states first and what they involve for your career.
What is the comfort zone?
The comfort zone is where everything looks familiar to a person, to the point that it generates no or very little stress. There is a feeling of controlling most of the things happening there. Therefore, there is no reason to be anxious or fearful of anything.
Because there is no reason to take any risk in the comfort zone, being in a comfort zone for a long time leads to a low to moderate performance.
What are the others zones?
The growth zone
Also called the optimal performance zone, the growth zone is a zone in which people experience more stress since there is some unknown. However, the performance level in this zone increases significantly too. The fact that you do not control everything pushes you to do more than necessary and, therefore, be more productive than in your comfort zone.
The danger zone
The other one is the danger zone. Contrary to the other two zones, this zone is so stressful that your performance decreases to unacceptable levels.
In other words, the center is where you find the routine, while the intermediate area is where you are the most productive and, therefore, the place you should aim for your development. In contrast, the area in the far periphery is an area to be avoided. Consequently, you can expect a steady performance from people in their comfort zone and a better one from those out of it. Unless they are too much out of it, like in the danger zone. In that case, it is urgent to come back to a more comfortable area as soon as possible.
The Yerkes-Dodson law, named after two American psychologists, summarizes the relation between performance and state of mind well. In the following chart, the comfort zone, growth zone and danger zone are shown in yellow, green and red,
How knowing your comfort zone limits can help you remain successful?
The interest in knowing your limits is that you know where are your comfort zones, your optimal performance zones, and your danger zones. Based on your definition of a successful career, you can better target which zone you should aim for:
- If you want a stable career with a defined work/life balance, or if you’re going to take as less risk as possible, you should find your comfort zone and stick to it
- If you are willing to accept more changes, discover new things, or aim for a highly ranked position, the optimal performance zone is your objective
The best choice is probably a mix of a search for comfort and performance. Of course, the balance between these two options depends on your tastes, but in all cases, getting used to stepping outside your comfort zone will help you, whatever your situation. Indeed, you may think that staying in a comfort zone is sufficient. But this approach has a significant risk.
The risk of staying too long in a comfort zone
At the beginning of this post, I said the ability to step out of your comfort zone is a valuable asset to be successful in anything. However, no one can guarantee that a comfort zone will remain within the same limits forever. There will always be external factors susceptible to threatening it. As a result, you may suddenly find yourself in a growth zone, or even worse, in a danger zone.
Examples of such changes include regulations, technology, economic and social environment, and even climate. Here are some examples and how these changes can impact someone’s life.
The technological change: iPhone
Before the iPhone (and, by extension, Android smartphones), phones used to have a physical keyboard. One player was dominant at this time: Nokia. Other significant OEMs included Sony Ericsson, Motorola, Samsung, and later Research In Motion (RIM, the creator of the BlackBerry, a phone widely used among businesses).
When Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone in 2007, the reaction of some of these competitors clearly showed that they failed to realize this newcomer was bringing them out of their comfort zone. As a result, some of them purely disappeared (RIM, Nokia, Motorola). In contrast, others managed to adapt either by catching up (Samsung) or refocusing on other and more profitable business areas (Microsoft).
Here is a sample of the reactions of some protagonists of that time: Padmasree Warrior, then-CTO of Motoral, and Steve Ballmer, then-CEO of Microsoft.
At least the good news is that even the best can be wrong about their comfort zone.
The economic and health changes: Brexit and covid-19
There is no need to repeat the whole story of the UK’s exit from the European Union. This event alone was enough to trigger massive changes in how British and EU businesses had to do business between them. No wonder most companies wanted to vote against it, in other words, remaining in their comfort zone. Still, many companies did suffer from it, and consequently, many employees. Especially in the fishing, agriculture, transport and freight industries…
The Brexit effects compounded with covid-19. Other businesses collapsed, such as Flybe, or sacked a significant part of their workforce, such as P&O. None of these companies could have forecasted the pandemic. However, the effect is still there, which is terrible for the employees.
The climate change: the effects of global warming
You probably would not expect to find climate change among the risk factors in your comfort zone. But, alas, you should better get used to it. More and more natural disasters such as storms, flooding, or drought will happen. Hence, house insurance is more expensive, the likelihood of more important blackouts, allergies are more common, and many other harmful consequences.
And since it is a global phenomenon, there is nowhere you can go to escape these consequences. So, wherever it is, your comfort zone might be impacted by the effects of climate change, leaving you in a danger zone.
How to get used to going out of your comfort zone?
Here are some tips that can help you.
Take action, no matter how
Sometimes, fear can be such that it is enough to inhibit any will of action, just like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car. But, if thinking about your objective leads you to do nothing, or delay any action continuously, the best thing to do is do something. Anything. Even if it is a small thing, it is still better than doing nothing.
As you continuously take actions, even baby steps, you will uncover new paths you would not have considered before. Because even the best planners cannot plan everything, they have to act at some point and learn from their actions. Think that the most outstanding achievements you can think of all started with small steps, with no exception.
Don’t be afraid to fail
We already said about the danger zone that it is a zone you should avoid as much as possible. But unfortunately, trying and failing is typically a shortcut to the danger zone, which is one of the many reasons many people do not even try.
However, not everything is good to throw away in the danger zone. Of course, you won’t see any benefit from being there right now. But in the long run, the experience you gain will bring you one step closer to success than if you had done nothing. Indeed, there are many paths available to you in your career. Knowing which to avoid is also a significant advantage over your competitors, especially compared to knowing nothing.
Choose a proper role model
If you still struggle to move out of your comfort zone, finding someone you can take inspiration from can be helpful—someone who faced a similar issue. No matter how the person did, you can benefit from his experience before doing anything. It doesn’t mean that you should do everything this person did if he were successful, and the contrary if he was not. You still need to adapt that experience to your situation and see what you can do the same and what you should do differently.
The easier you can step out of your comfort zone, the more likely you are to be successful in your career and everything. Unfortunately, this ability is not common among people, so you will definitely step ahead of your competition if you can work on that ability.