If insanity is defined as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” and you aspire to be the best version of yourself at work, you should think about changing things up.
The muscle memory of doing things the same way, all the time is what keeps you in your “comfort zone” at work (and in life). If you’re not looking for new approaches, behaviors or perspectives in your work and leadership, you are likely in your comfort zone. Why does this happen? You’re either consciously avoiding “risky” experiences that may challenge you in some way, or you're subconsciously in routine autopilot because “it just works.”
In the professional world, it’s easy to stay in your comfort zone out of fear of rejection, convenience or simply lack of motivation or reason to find a new way. Maybe this looks like:
- Offering to just put the presentation together. What about asking to present some of the slides?
- Eating lunch alone in your office or at your desk. What about inviting team members to get lunch together? (Major employee engagement points for team and people managers.)
- Re-doing the work of someone else that wasn’t up to par. What about having an honest feedback or coaching conversation with them?
You aren’t learning, growing, evolving, failing or succeeding if you’re stuck in your comfort zone. Like a muscle that hasn’t been worked out in a while, you’re atrophying.
The good news is it’s easy to get “back into the gym” and doing so can create new potential and success.
Here are 5 easy steps to identifying the comfort zone and breaking out:
Step 1: Identify your rote, routine ways. The first step is to be aware of where in your day-to-day work or leadership you need to change things up. Key places to look at are: where things feel okay but you’re operating on auto-pilot, where you feel yourself avoiding risk, or where you’re bored.
Step 2: Face the fear factor. Identify the fears that are stopping you and then think of the potential risks of trying something new. Ask yourself “how severe are the consequences?” You will find - probably not very severe. Be willing to give up some control over knowing the outcome as you enter new and different territory. This is the place of creativity and growth.
Step 3: Consider 3 “uncomfortable” alternatives. Putting fear, convenience and avoidance to the side, what are 3 new, different and potentially challenging ways you could handle the “situation”? One of my clients and I would brainstorm a handful of new ways to approach the challenge, and she would inevitably pick the most uncomfortable one just to flex that muscle. This led her to a stretch role and, ultimately, a promotion.
Step 4: Pick one and just...do...it. This is perhaps the simplest yet hardest step. It’s important here to remind yourself why you’re pushing out of your comfort zone and ignore sabotaging thoughts. Maybe it’s the need to break an old habit, to engage your team in a new way or to feel challenged. Now choose one of these alternatives and go for it. Be ready for the potential to fail, to make a mistake or to feel uncomfortable. That is, after all, the point and where the growth happens.
Step 5: Reflect and thank yourself. Anything worth going after involves some risk, or at least a little hard work. Whether it went amazingly, well, ok or poorly - thank yourself, take your lessons from it, give yourself the credit you deserve and move forward.
Where are you fully lounging in your comfort zone?
If you want results that will open up new opportunities and successes, it’s time to disrupt your routine.