How to get out of your comfort zone

Accepting challenges and taking on risks enables professional growth but fear holds many back
by Fred Heritage 


From speaking at an industry event to confronting a team member, everyone occasionally faces uncomfortable and challenging situations at work, and needs to decide how to handle them.

It’s often easier to avoid uncomfortable situations when they arise. After all, why choose to put yourself in an environment you find stressful if you don’t have to? However, pressure in small doses can drive us to succeed, and uncomfortable tasks sometimes need completing for people to move forward in their careers.

How can we stop avoiding situations or tasks that make us feel anxious or uncomfortable, but that we know would help us progress? How can we learn to put fear aside and face discomfort when we know it’s in our best interests, professionally?

Be honest with yourself

According to Andy Molinsky, an author and professor of organisational behaviour and management at Brandeis University, leaving our respective comfort zones involves first being honest about our excuses, then recognising our strengths (and taking advantage of them) and being proactive.

In an article in Harvard Business Review, Molinsky says “you’ll never be able to overcome inaction without being honest about your motives in the first place”. He encourages those who want to get out of their professional comfort zones to “take an inventory of the excuses [they] tend to make about avoiding [uncomfortable] situations [and] ask [themselves] if they are truly legitimate”.

He says: “When you turned down that opportunity to speak at a big industry conference, was it really because you didn’t have the time, or were you scared to step on a stage and present? And when you didn’t confront that co-worker who had been undermining you, was it really because you felt [they] would eventually stop, or was it because you were terrified of conflict?”

Understand the challenge ahead

A good way to overcome your fears of a difficult task or situation is by finding out more about what to expect, then strategising about how to handle that situation ahead of time, according to an article for “Start by identifying the major obstacles you’ll encounter … and what you’ll do to overcome them. Then, write down each step you’ll take to get out of your comfort zone, starting with the easiest task. You can also create benchmarks or mini goals to track your progress.”

The article uses the example of how someone might get over their fear of cold-calling a client. “Create a plan for overcoming [the fear],” it says. “Present your sales pitch to your friends and acquaintances first to practise your technique, then slowly progress to calling the toughest prospects.”

Take small steps

When stepping outside your professional comfort zone, it’s a good idea to “take small steps” at first, writes Cylon George in an article for Lifehack. “If you want to do public speaking, start by taking every opportunity to speak to small groups of people. You can even practice with family and friends.”

The article also advocates small steps, saying that, for example, if you want to apply for a new job as a marketing manager, “find out the role requirements as well as how the salary range aligns with your long-term professional goals”, before trying to “meet those requirements one step at a time”.

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Published: 13 May 2022
  • Training, Competence and Culture
  • Soft Skills
  • networking
  • presentation
  • career development
  • Productivity
  • confidence
  • teamwork

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