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The Discomfort Zone

Every one of us tries to avoid being uncomfortable. Discomfort is something we wouldn’t naturally choose. Yet, deliberately experiencing discomfort by reaching beyond what you think you could do by doing something you have never done before like speaking before a large audience, negotiating a large contract, taking risk on a new product or service, can be one of the most stretching and invaluable experiences of your life.In an increasingly competitive, cautious and fast-paced world, those who are willing to take risks, step out of their comfort zone and into the discomfort of uncertainty will be those who will reap the biggest rewards. Throughout our lives we must continually assess whether we are letting our dislike of discomfort, our fear of failure or losing face keep us from taking the actions, and engaging in the conversations, that will move us forward and make the impact we want.Over and over again, we have to make decisions that impact our comfort, and then our leadership.

  • Do I keep doing what’s always been done, or challenge old assumptions and try new approaches to problems?

  • Do I proactively seek new challenges or just manage those I already have?

  • Do I risk being exposed and vulnerable, or act to protect my pride and power?

  • Do I ask for what I really want, or just for what I think others want to give me?

  • Do I speak up to ensure others know what I'm capable of, or just hope my efforts will be noticed?

  • Do I speak my mind appropriately or just bite my lip, fearful of criticism or making someone angry?

Of course, we all know that being willing to be uncomfortable, being willing to take a risk doesn’t mean everything you try will work out. As John F. Kennedy once said, "Nothing worthwhile has ever been accomplished with a guarantee of success." Nothing ever will be.Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology said, “It’s not our failures that determine our future success, but how we explain them to ourselves.” Can you explain it to yourself as a learning, research experience? If you knew that no matter what happened, you could handle it, what actions would you take that you aren’t taking now? What conversations would you engage in that you’ve been putting off? Where would you step more fully and boldly in your own life – opening the possibility for new opportunities, new relationships, new ideas to flourish?Margie Warren from Forbes Business Magazine suggests, “Picture yourself ten years from now and think about the life you want to be living then. What do you want to be doing? With whom? Who do you want to have become in the process?”One things we know for sure, the people we look to as successful role models in the future will not be people who have stayed in their comfort zone. They will be people who have continued to stretch themselves, to grow even when there was no pressing reason to change, and who have been willing to risk failure or looking foolish, knowing that the biggest risk they take is not taking any risks at all. In our ever more cautious and competitive world, there is little security in playing safe. Being willing to give up the comfort of the known and embrace the discomfort that comes from being outside your safety zone is increasingly crucial to your success in work and life. Everything you’ve ever wanted is one step outside your comfort-zone.Growth is an inherent part of the natural world. As human beings, our growth will come to an end by our early 20s. Many of us stop other forms of growth as well, whether consciously or not. We settle into a comfortable life, working primarily for stability and security in our jobs, relationships, and homes. We have a routine, we feel at home, and we’re living largely on autopilot.Comfort is wonderful, and can give us a feeling of safety and stability, confidence, and a sense of being in control. We have habits and rules in place to deal with everything, and minimize stress. But comfort can also bring with it stagnation, frustration, and feeling stuck. Comfort will limit you!So, what does growth require? Focus. Motivation. Desire. Willingness to move away from your comfort zone. To become extraordinary, you must exceed the standard, and even progressively out-work your OWN standards. Do not fear the unknown or failures. Remember, the unknown can only remain unknown if you do not step into it and failure can only remain failure if you stop trying.Seeking comfort is a game for the mediocre. An Old English proverb once, “A smooth sea never made for a skilled sailor. If you want to be great, realize that the waves that you face make you stronger and better prepared in life. If you have a goal, there will be obstacles and hits along the way. Take them—you’ll eventually have a big win to celebrate! Learn to love all of the adventure, not just the safe and easy part. The people who leave mighty footprints in the world don’t run from the stress, anxiety, and fear, and they certainly don’t prioritize chasing comfort.The old statement, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is great advice for machinery. But when it comes to personal growth and success, staying within the comfort zone of “what works” when there is room for improvement is a sure way to lose.You can be greater than you know. But it will require willingness to look awkward, to make mistakes, to be uncomfortable, and just take it. Discomfort leads to new thoughts, new ideas, and new creativity. Chances are, you will love the adventure just a few steps in.

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