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Business Tips: Comfort zone--how to master it

For Business Success, Fulfillment--Get out of Your Comfort Zone

By Larry Wilson, founder of Pecos River Learning Centers .

The lust for comfort--that stealthy thing that enters the house as a guest, and then becomes a host and then the master.--Kahil Gibran

(ARA)--This is about the joys--okay, call it the necessity of being comfortable being uncomfortable. At Pecos River, we are in the business of making people--our valued clients--uncomfortable. We have been accused, usually tongue in cheek, of daily plotting new ways to make individuals uncomfortable.

Of course, any fresh out-of-school MBA would tell you that making clients uncomfortable is a recipe for business disaster--but it's worked well for us, because there is a method to the madness, a vital lesson that is learned in the throes of being uncomfortable.

The lesson is simple and clearly articulated in our latest book, "Play to Win": In business today, success and fulfillment will go to those who thrive being uncomfortable, who are completely at home in our "Permanent Whitewater" world--a term coined by Peter Vaill of Georgetown University.

An example

I recently had the opportunity to counsel a friend going through tremendous career change. He was in his fifties and had been in one company for twenty years. Now, because of a potential merger, his job looked threatened and he was terrified. What would he do? How could he handle this change that seemed more like an impending death than the loss of a job?

While I couldn't counsel my friend on career moves, financial strategies or the politics of surviving a merger, I did suggest to him that at the core of his fear and anxiety was a condition that he held in common with many, many others: He was comfortable. In fact, he had become addicted to comfort and habit.

Well, you might ask, so what? What is wrong with being comfortable? Isn't a large part of why we work so hard to be comfortable?

Here's the problem: We are, to a great extent, creatures of comfort. We seek comfort not only in material things, but also in habit and in our thinking. After years and years of embracing comfort, of sinking into habit like a comfy chair, we wake up one day at 45 or 50 noticing that we've gotten exactly what we've wanted! We've driven to work the same way for 20 years, made the same decisions, had the same conversations, worn the same kinds of clothes, and held the same opinions seemingly forever.

Why is this cause for caution? You know the answer: The unintended but direct consequence is that we become such slaves of habit and comfort that we calcify. Our curiosity and creativity wither, our courage--if courage to simply try new things--atrophies, and our ability to change and adapt dies.

This doesn't happen overnight, it is an insidiously slow process until one day we are habit bound and comfortable--and not even aware of how calcified we've become. Then along come the consequences of our permanent whitewater times: We are fired or downsized. A huge, risky opportunity emerges. Our net worth vanishes overnight. We are asked to completely rethink our job and propose a new plan in the morning. Fundamental, often gut twisting stuff. Yet we cannot handle it well because we've unknowingly traded in our courage and creativity for habit and comfort.

What I suggested to my friend is that he relearn the key competency of being comfortable being uncomfortable, learning to enjoy being outside his comfort zone. In the name of growth, in the name of thriving through change, he needed to relearn that being uncomfortable wouldn't kill him. In fact, even losing his job wouldn't kill him.

I didn't say this was easy or convenient; I didn't say it would be fun. But comfortable, fun and easy are not what life seems to be about--especially now in the global market, in the hyper-competitive business world we work in. Life, work, families and careers continually hand us challenges, we either rise to them or we don't. If we choose to rise to the challenges, we often need to let go of comfort and be willing to accept risk, a little pain and even some fear in order to grow.

But enough of the soapbox. How do you do that? How do you learn to be more comfortable being uncomfortable?

We recommend a simple three-step, common sense process to prepare you. (Simple doesn't necessarily mean easy to do, it's just simple to remember) First, assess how much a creature of habit you are. Second, practice getting outside of your comfort zone with small steps. Finally, learn and remember how you react to "uncomfortable" situations--what you say to your self and how you feel. This will help you be more aware and make better choices when you run up against uncomfortable situations in the future.

1. Assess your comfort addiction: Take some time to think. Reflect on how habit and comfort drive your life. What are you avoiding, choosing not to do simply because it would be uncomfortable?

2. Practice being uncomfortable. Try doing things that break your habits, that feel weird and unnatural. Important safety tip: Trying new things that move you out of your comfort zone will not kill you. For example, (as every actor and salesperson learns) auditioning and being told "no," asking for the order and being told "no," might be uncomfortable, but it will not kill you. You can go into the experiential part of this endeavor with confidence that you will survive and learn.

Start small. For example:

- Wear you watch on your other wrist (or don't wear a watch).

- Buy a completely different kind of outfit (not just the same clothes in different colors).

- Drive or commute to work a new way.

- Try new foods at an ethnic restaurant you've never been to.

- Talk to people you normally avoid at work.

- Talk to people on elevators--strike up conversations with strangers.

- Do the opposite of--or least something radically different--than you normally would. (When your Significant Other asks you to go to the theatre, but you normally complain that you'd rather see a movie--go to the theatre.) Respond differently than your habit craves.

At work, do one thing out of your comfort zone every day. Get in the habit of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone:

- Call a client you haven't heard from or a client who's upset.

- Try, for the experience, making a cold call.

- Ask your boss to give you feedback on how you are doing--and tell him or her to "be brutal."

- Ask your co-workers for feedback.

- Volunteer for projects that are not "safe," where there is risk of failing.

- Try talking openly about your mistakes and what you learned from them.

- Speak up at meetings, risk being controversial, risk disagreeing with your boss. (A tip: Most, but not all, managers value employees who challenge them, more than the folks who just agree all the time because they are terrified of upsetting the boss).

- Float some off-the-wall ideas, risk being wrong or appearing like you don't have all the answers.

- Ask more questions--risk appearing like you're not the expert.

3. Learn how to choose being uncomfortable: As you go through this list, or your own list, the important step is to observe yourself.

- What do you tell yourself in uncomfortable situations? (If I call that client, he'll yell at me, and I will die!) What is a more rational prediction?

- What does it feel like when you are uncomfortable? What are the emotions--embarrassment, anxiety, fear, and anxiousness--that stop you from trying new or uncomfortable actions?

- How do you tend to avoid uncomfortable situations? What are the uncomfortable situations that you do avoid?

- Are you making conscious choices for yourself, or are you continually doing the same things over and over again out of habit?

Of course, the point of this three-step process isn't to prove that you can wear your watch on your left hand, or drive to work three different ways. The point is to use these small exercises to embrace being uncomfortable and to alert you to how comfort and habit--even over the inconsequential things--might be driving your life.

Then the real task before each of us is to understand how comfort and convenience may drive our big decisions, our big choices around our life and work. Do we make those choices out of a sense of who we are and who we want to be, or do we base them primarily on wanting to avoid actions that might be uncomfortable?

The goal in the small amount of time we have been given, is to become fully ourselves, to push the limits of who we could be or who God intended us to become. That takes courage. But we can start small. Tomorrow, do one thing that nudges you out of your comfort zone. Learn from it. And the next day, begin again. One thing. Courage is granted to those who are willing to take small steps.

About the author: A world-renowned entrepreneur, speaker and facilitator, Larry Wilson is the founder of Wilson Learning Corporation and Pecos River Learning Centers and co-author of "Play to Win--Choosing Growth Over Fear in Work and Life" (Bard Press), available at your local bookstore. He is currently vice chairman of Pecos River Change Management, a division of Aon Consulting, a worldwide leader in corporate training, development and consulting.

Courtesy of Article Resource Association,


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