At a glance
By Linda Moon
Many of us dream big, but often live smaller, less satisfying lives than we’re capable of achieving. That is because our neurobiology primes us for caution, explains executive coach Margie Warrell.
“We're wired for safety – to avoid risking failure or loss,” she says. This includes emotional failure such as rejection, wounded pride and bruised ego.
However, in order to develop – whether for professional growth or personal improvement – embracing discomfort is a must.
“Growth and comfort are incompatible,” Warrell says. “It's why, when you look back on your life, the times you’ve grown the most will likely have been the most uncomfortable.”
Comfort is a double-edged sword. People who get stuck don't build skills and ultimately become less confident, Warrell says.
“Sometimes the biggest risk we take is not taking the risk. If you only do what's comfortable, you will never discover what's possible.”
Rik Schnabel, business coach and author of six books on personal and professional transformation, believes most fears come down to loss of the tribe and death. Take the example of public speaking.
“The moment you speak publicly, you are connecting to a very ancient part of you,” he says.
“In the Dark Ages, if you stood up and said something that didn't build rapport with your audience, you could be labelled a heretic, wizard or bad person, and ostracised from the community … We all connect to this, regardless of how intelligent we are.”
Typically, it is either pleasure or pain that motivates us to leave “the known”, he says. “People who don't risk, don't get rewarded.”
Here are some tools for breaking out of your comfort zone.
Train the brave
Warrell suggests starting small when branching out beyond our comfort zone – attend a networking event or invite someone for coffee.
“Courage is a muscle,” she says. “You build it every time you do something a bit uncomfortable.”
The good news is that the more we do what scares us, the less scared we become.
Doubt your doubts
Our self-talk often stops us trying things, Warrell says. “Challenge those negative noises in your head. The story they’re spinning might be holding you back.”
We’re also prone to focus on potential losses over gains. “Most times, the odds are better than we think,” she says.
“Even when we don’t land our ideal outcome, we’re always better off from what we’ve learnt in the process.”
Fear of failure holds many of us back, but “the path to success is failure,” Schnabel says. “You cannot succeed without failing.”
He advises against basing your identity around whether something works or not.
“You have to be bigger than the failure. You're a newbie going through the journey. You've got to be OK to look like a fool now and then.”
Follow your heart
There is an ancient idea that our values and passions reside in our heart, Schnabel says.
“To actually follow your heart can be scary – the frequency of passion and fear in your heart is the same heartbeat.”
All great dreams should be about 80 per cent excitement and 20 per cent fear, he says.
Break free of patterns
Our comfort zone is not a line we cross, but a metaphor for the patterns we live in, explains Schnabel. “We get up and go to bed around the same time; we eat similar things for dinner.”
Our core beliefs and values, including about ourselves, are also part of this pattern.
“These are the reasons that we keep going through the same cycle,” Schnabel says.
“Don't wait until you're 100 per cent sure you can’t fail,” Warrell says. “Get out there and give yourself permission to learn as you go.”
Schnabel agrees: “We're out of sequence, expecting to be confident or courageous before we do something. You only get it as a reward when you do the thing that scares you.”
Forge a new self-identity
Our biggest challenges typically occur during transitions, like when a graduate accountant moves into becoming a practitioner or an individual contributor moves into a leadership role.
Because humans don’t like lying, we avoid pretending to be someone we don’t really believe we are and fear being exposed as a fraud, Schnabel says.
We have to believe we can allow ourselves to be.
Enlist the help of others
We tend to talk about growth as an individual journey. In reality, our growth is assisted by many other individuals, Schnabel says – mentors, educators, family members, therapists, colleagues.
He suggests enlisting professionals and friends to validate us or hold us accountable.
Find a higher purpose
A higher purpose is a powerful driver that helps us overcome our fear of putting ourselves out there, Schnabel says.
Most of us live reactively, as if we’re in a game of pinball, he says.
“We go from bumper to bumper, being triggered by things and shooting all around our universe.”
Meditation can help us listen to our inner purpose, he says. “Growth is what we're here for.”