Have you ever looked back at your life accomplishments? Did you find periods of quick progress and then periods of stagnation? Chances are you did. We all have our ups and downs, we have times when things seem to be working great for us and times when we just cannot get a break. Funnily, it is the times when we struggle that gives us the push necessary for the periods of growth.
I recently read a short book Living with a Seal: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet by Jesse Itzler. It is a funny diary detailing Jesse’s 31 days getting a physical training with a SEAL soldier. If you are bored on a long flights this is a book to read and think about. It sends the same message our CEO likes to say “Dare to be uncomfortable.”
If you want to grow and lead, dare to be uncomfortable
To grow you need to be able to embrace discomfort. As I wrote in 6 Fears Of Leadership, do you remember when did you learn to ride a bike or a car? Do you remember the first time you tried any new activity? It felt awkward, you was unsure on what you are doing, nervous, uncomfortable. But the results were worth the discomfort. You learned a new skill and grew! And now for some advice on how to get uncomfortable:
- Start before you think you are ready – when you keep waiting for “being ready” chances are it will take ages and you will either never be ready or will just start too late
- Share your thoughts on a topic even when you don’t feel like the biggest expert – it will force you to step out of your comfort zone and take a stand
- Learn to give feedback and own it – giving honest feedback is very often rather uncomfortable thing to do unless you realize that you are doing the other person a service. Your ego or needs should play no role in it. That is the reason why I’m not a big fan of anonymous feedback. If I’m asked to provide feedback in 360s or similar surveys I always give my best to be as honest as possible and I sign it so the recipient can put it into context and come for clarifications. I’m ready to stand by my words.
- Normalize the discomfort – be very upfront about it with your team. When you want to create open, feedback based culture you need to empathize with everyone and acknowledge that at times things will be uncomfortable and that it is by design so the whole team can grow. These little pieces of discomfort will in long-term benefit everyone and will stop being awkward in time.
- Keep looking out for discomfort and step in – one of the main purposes of a leader is to seek discomfort in others and help them through it. It doesn’t mean taking all the uncomfortable tasks on your shoulders but it means being there to help so the level of discomfort in others is not paralyzing but is bearable enough so they can cope with it and grow from the experience.
- Leadership is about going fast – fast enough to be slightly uncomfortable. If you are comfortable, you know you are not going fast enough and you are missing on growth opportunity.
- Understand why you are doing it – you probably don’t want to be uncomfortable all the time in all aspects of your life so be strategic about it. Understand what skill you are trying to grow and focus on it while having other areas with enough comfort so you can recharge.
- Celebrate small wins – it may be very difficult to keep going when doing something uncomfortable so aside of having a reason you should also learn to keep a positive mindset and celebrate small wins.
I like the quote by Mark Zuckerberg, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking any risks.”
How do I know whether I’m in my comfort zone?
That is always a tricky question but you can start by asking some of these questions to find out whether you truly dare to be uncomfortable or whether you are set in your comfort zone unwilling to step out:
- Do I rely on what I have always done or do I try new approaches to old problems?
- Do I raise my hand and volunteer for new challenges or do I just react on those pushed on me?
- Do I care about my pride and ego enough to worry about being ridiculed for doing some unexpected?
- Do I wait for others to speak up to formulate and express my thoughts or am I the one who always expresses his opinion even if not popular one?
- Do I ask for what I want or just sit back and wait for others to figure it out and give it to me?
Routines are good, but…
As I wrote in Tough Choice: The Art Of Decision Making I’m a big believer in setting up routines to limit the distractions and limiting decision making fatigue. So how does it works with the need to get out of your comfort zone and do something new? Very nicely in fact. I’m advocating routine in the mundane daily tasks where you don’t really need or want to grow. This gives you the energy and mental power to dare to be more uncomfortable in the areas of your life where you want to make a meaningful change and grow. Keep in mind that this may not be necessarily only in your professional career. You may want to get out of your comfort zone when learning new sport, getting a date, raising a family or just becoming a better person by caring about others.
So what is the message you should take away from this article? It is quite simple: “The foolproof way to stop growing is to get comfortable.”
And if you want couple more statements to get you thinking here are my top 10 (some of them adapted from the work of Jesse Itzler) that you should embrace when you are, or want to be, in a leadership position. Most of it of course applies to pretty much any aspect of your life and to any profession:
- Make it a point to do your job every day a bit better than you did yesterday
- Every day do something that takes you out from your comfort zone
- Know what is important to you and focus on it
- If you can’t do the basics, you can’t do anything
- The tougher the condition the bigger the opportunity to grow
- Train and prepare for the unexpected to remove being paralyzed by unknown
- Never get too comfortable since you may like it
- If you don’t challenge yourself you don’t know what you are capable of
- Don’t stop when you are tired, but stop when you are done
- Celebrate victories but learn from failures
What do you do to ensure continuous growth? What is your recipe for future success? How often do you feel you operate outside of your comfort zone?
Originally posted at LinkedIn.