When you think about your career trajectory thus far, do you feel proud of what you have accomplished? Do you believe that you are on a positive path forward? If not, it is possible that you have fallen into the dreaded comfort zone.
This is a frequent problem that prevents potentially accomplished individuals from reaching their full potential. It is not only damaging from the standpoint of career success but can also have significant emotional effects.
Ready to step outside your comfort zone? Keep reading to learn why it exists and what you can do to break free.
What Is the Comfort Zone in Psychology?
The comfort zone is a widely known concept that has its roots in psychology and has been a topic of interest for well over a century. In the early 1900s, psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson revealed the compelling nature of this state of mind with a series of experiments. They realized that mice were happy to navigate mazes under a certain amount of stress but would start hiding if their anxiety became too great.
Nearly a century later, management consultant Judith Bardwick, PhD, examined this concept in detail in her influential book Danger in the Comfort Zone, referring to the comfort zone as a common state of mind in which we operate from an “anxiety-neutral” position. This zone allows us to function in a predictable fashion with minimal stress. This lack of stress may seem desirable. However, it can be limiting.
Why Is It Hard to Leave Your Comfort Zone?
The comfort zone represents safety and security — or, at least, the perception thereof. Humans naturally crave stability, so we feel more at ease when our daily functions seem effortless.
Any attempt to get out of our comfort zone represents increased stress, and when we are accustomed to the anxiety-neutral mindset, this can feel overwhelming. At work, the natural desire to stay gainfully employed may amplify these fears.
Benefits of Leaving the Comfort Zone at Work
The comfort zone may feel safe, but it may not be beneficial over time. This is where there may be people who grow mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually stagnant while often maintaining habits or practices that are actively harmful.
This concept is easier to understand when compared to common personal life issues, such as the struggle to implement healthy habits.
For example: after years of physical inactivity, spending time on the couch could feel like a personal comfort zone, while the gym may seem threatening. In this situation, the comfort zone feels safe but could lead to a range of long-term health issues, such as a lack of muscle tone, high blood pressure, or osteoporosis.
In the workplace, the comfort zone can be just as problematic. A particular position or industry might feel familiar, but that does not mean it is desirable. If a career path fails to spark personal passion or does not provide a sufficient income, staying in that role — no matter how comfortable it may feel — would not be a wise choice.
The Risks of Staying in Your Comfort Zone at Work
If you neglect to leave your comfort zone, you risk both personal and professional stagnation. A variety of issues could begin to appear, with these problems potentially accelerating over time. Common concerns include:
- Lack of confidence. The fewer risks you take, the fewer workplace successes you are likely to achieve. These success stories have a way of boosting your confidence, so this could be heavily lacking if you never give yourself the chance to score a personal breakthrough.
- Diminishing passion. No matter how enthusiastic you feel about your work at the outset, this is bound to decrease over time. Spend long enough in any position, and tasks that once seemed compelling start to feel routine or even downright dreary. Often, the fastest way to reignite your passion is to pursue a new challenge — and in most cases, this means getting out of your comfort zone at work.
- Stagnating wages. Leaving your comfort zone is frequently crucial for moving up the career ladder. The shift away from entry-level work, for example, could be difficult, but it represents an opportunity to dramatically increase your earning power. Yes, you may score the occasional merit or cost-of-living raise, but this will come nowhere close to the potential increase that could accompany a more dramatic career shift.
How to Get More Comfortable Leaving Your Comfort Zone
It may seem counterintuitive, but it takes a certain level of comfort to leave your comfort zone. To use the fitness analogy, this is a muscle that needs exercising on a regular basis. In the gym, mild physical strain feels worse when you are new to lifting weights but starts to seem more manageable (or even downright inviting) the more often you commit to productive sweat sessions.
Similarly, the first time you stretch your wings and move beyond your comfort zone at work, you may feel intimidated — but you will also get a major confidence boost, knowing that you can manage far more than you previously assumed.
It sounds cliche, but simply taking that first step toward your new reality will prove the most difficult and impactful. From there, you could find yourself on a positive trajectory, encouraged to continue making discernible progress.
As with any big challenge, it helps to break your goal into baby steps. First, define how and why you want to move beyond your comfort zone —and describe what a successful leap might look like.
From there, you can find small ways to stretch yourself that do not feel so overwhelming. Often, this is accomplished by practicing in your personal life before you transition to executing this mindset at work. Changes such as pursuing new hobbies or adjusting your fitness regimen should convince you that you can try something new.
Know What to Expect When Leaving Your Comfort Zone
Often, the appeal of the comfort zone lies in familiarity. Never let fear of the unknown hold you back. With a little research, you can get a stronger sense of what leaving your comfort zone might involve and how you can make the transition easier.
This could be as simple as chatting with somebody who has been on a similar journey. If you are unable to find someone to talk with in person, look on YouTube or TikTok for insight from relevant influencers. There may be ‘day in the life’ videos that should help prepare you for your journey.
Reframe Your Stress And Discomfort
Sometimes, a simple change in mentality can make all the difference. What you perceive as stress may also involve an element of excitement.
Acknowledge your trepidation but also be mindful of any positive emotions you may have. Make a conscious effort to shift your thought process and soon, you will automatically think of mild stress in the context of anticipation or other desirable feelings.
Move From a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset
The concept of a fixed mindset holds much in common with the idea of the comfort zone. With a fixed mindset, you regard your skills and knowledge as stable over time and may even assume that it is impossible to change substantially. This, in turn, could keep you in your comfort zone, as you might assume that any effort to move out of this zone would be pointless.
With a growth mindset, you believe that everything — from your intelligence to your skill set and even your personality — can be adapted, so you are more willing to emerge from your comfort zone to pursue those changes over time.
To promote this mindset, take a clear look at what you have accomplished in the past and how you have changed. You may be surprised to discover that you have made considerable progress in areas of your life. Now, determine how to apply this momentum to new frontiers, such as the workplace.
Consider the Worst-Case Scenario
Positive thinking can be helpful in certain situations, but it is also important to be realistic. Often, this can be a relief. Instead of letting a nebulous disaster scenarios loom large in your mind, think carefully about what exactly would happen if your efforts to leave your comfort zone fell through. You may be surprised to discover that the downsides are not as significant as you have been imagining.
A relevant example in both academia and the professional world? Pursuing a new degree or certification in hopes of landing a job that better aligns with your interests. In this situation, the worst-case scenario could be that you do not immediately find a new job in that field — or that once you do, the passion you anticipated is lacking.
This would be disappointing, of course, but take a more comprehensive look at the situation. Chances are, you would still emerge equipped with new skills and a new credential that you could leverage to find work in another, more in-demand (or more satisfying) area.
If you feel a slight twinge of mental or emotional discomfort upon taking on a new challenge, remember that this means you are on the right track. Lean into this feeling, and before long, you will discover that it is perfectly tolerable — or that it dissipates entirely.
Outline the basic steps you can take to bring a mild but completely manageable amount of stress into your life. This could be as simple as signing up for your first 5K race or joining a book club that discusses works outside your typical genres.
Ideas to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone at Work
If you like the idea of emerging from your comfort zone but still are not quite sure how to put this into practice within a workplace context, you can take comfort in knowing this: any effort you dedicate to emerging from the comfort zone in your personal life will translate to how you handle this important transition at work. Still, there are specific practices you can put into place to broaden your horizons and step up your game.
Ask for New and Different Responsibilities
Does your supervisor or manager know that you are looking to move beyond your comfort zone? If you never communicate this, you may never get the chance to pursue this goal.
By asking for new responsibilities, you can convey that you are ready for professional growth while also taking a manageable step in the right direction.
Face Your Fears
We have already highlighted the value of defining the worst-case scenario, but what happens if you are still afraid of that situation? Conversely, you might feel okay about your long-term prospects, but the baby steps along the way may cause trepidation.
In either situation, the solution is simultaneously simple and complex: you need to face your fears. The simple act of dealing with the very circumstances that frighten you can be empowering.
Start small, with something minor that prompts an excessive fear response. It might be as simple as asking someone from a different department to lunch — especially if you are typically worried about interacting with people outside of your work bubble. Following a successful outing, you will be more inclined to ramp up your networking in the future.
Learn a New Skill
You love your current position and do not feel a strong need to change now. If you are content with your current job and do not anticipate that this will change any time soon, there is nothing wrong with maintaining the status quo, at least in a professional capacity. Still, that should not prevent you from gaining new skills.
Targeted training is key. When possible, seek a new certification or enroll in a degree program that encourages you to develop a variety of soft and technical skills. Even if this does not immediately translate to a new job or different responsibilities, you may be surprised to discover the extent to which these additional skills help you improve your performance in your current role.
Move Beyond Your Comfort Zone With an Inspiring Degree Program
Do you feel newly motivated to step outside your comfort zone? With a little guidance, you could emerge from this stifling space and take on compelling yet achievable challenges.
At Post, we offer opportunities to expand your skill set as you increase your confidence. Our offerings include a range of continuing education courses and degree programs. Reach out today to learn more.
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