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Last Updated on March 19, 2019

Is It Really Better to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone?

Is It Really Better to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone?

Fear is a valuable thing. It keeps people safe and encourages caution when caution is due. But Fear can also be a limiting factor because not everything you’re afraid of should really be feared.

Have you ever been faced with a situation where you were afraid of making a decision, making a change or taking a risk?

Did you end up taking that risk or making that decision? Or, did you just stay put and left things as they were? If you did, are you happy with how things have turned out?

It’s in our nature to like feeling safe–to be in comfort and away from danger. This has always been the case since the beginning of time, when the first humans only knew how to prioritize survival. Even today, many still choose to play it safe and avoid taking risks or taking leaps of faith when it comes to their choices in life.

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The Realist and the Dreamer

To put it simply, there are two kinds of people: the realists and the dreamers. The realists are the logical and cautious type of individuals who always think and weigh out the pros and cons before making any decisions–especially the big, life changing ones. Whether it was deciding on what to major in at University, what career path to take, whether or not to purchase that house or car, to go on that holiday, or to splurge on that new watch, the realist thinks long and hard before making a decision, if they even decide. Realists stick to the “what’s next?” plan for the future and may not abstractly consider different possibilities for where life can lead. This is usually because of the confidence they have already devoted to an accepted plan.

Realists have dreams too, but these are more so rooted in ambition, drive and determination. They are goals that have been enumerated for some time. Realists understand that progress requires more than ambition and drive, but also, connections. They feel that life is never worry-free because of survival, responsibility and…paying a rent or a mortgage. As a result, they tend to make safe choices and stick to their comfort of knowing what’s best for themselves.

Now let’s look at the dreamers. The dreamers are well, dreamers. They have big lofty ambitions, are risk takers, sometimes over impulsive, but they often always challenge the norms of society and dare to think outside the box. This is not to say that they do not have plans or a path that they want to follow. But they are more likely to change the course of their journey through time, experience and by following their heart.

Dreamers derive their inspiration from within. No one else’s perspectives weigh in greatly enough to shift a dreamer’s drive. Dreamers don’t allow their fears to consume them. They may fail from time to time, but they never give up on life or love.

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Embrace Fear

So which of the two do you think you are? And is one better than the other? In life, balance is always key. I’m sure you would have heard the saying: “everything in moderation”. Likewise, being a realist isn’t any better than being a dreamer. Both come with their challenges. But what I do know, is that no matter where you are in life, fear should always be seen as a way of pushing you towards becoming a better you.

Stepping outside of your comfort zone is a type of fear that should be embraced. If you see yourself as a dreamer, then great! Chances are, stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t new to you. Whether it’s deciding to drop out of University to start your own business, moving to a new country on your own, taking that step to ask someone out on a date despite thinking they’re way out of your league, or deciding to quit your high paying job of 10 years to become a DJ. You chose to do that because you knew that you would most likely regret the ‘what ifs’ more than the mistakes (if any) of those decisions.

But if you’ve always been more of a cautious individual (nearing towards being a realist), then I hope you’ll give more thought to embracing the act of stepping out more! Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to start making hasty or bold decisions such as the ones mentioned. It just means opening your mind to the acceptance that stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t a bad thing, it’s not something to be hesitant or afraid of.

Managing Fear

In times of stress or discomfort, remember that some of the best things happen when you’re afraid or put in an uncomfortable situation. These experiences can both challenge you and help you grow. Commit to giving the situation a try with your best effort, and keep expectations low to reduce additional pressure. Living outside of one’s comfort zone is by definition uncomfortable. Therefore, the best habit you can foster within yourself is the practice of becoming familiar with discomfort.

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You may be at a crossroad in life and feeling undecided about something, or you may feel like you’re not happy with where you’re at right now. It could be a job that you’re not happy with, a relationship you’re not happy in, or even just knowing that you’re too comfortable with where you’re at that you don’t feel challenged. All of this uncertainty can be traced back to your intentions. What is it that you want? What is it that you’re looking for?

So, What Are You Looking For?

If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut or know that you need some sort of change, but you’re just not sure how to take that step towards the change, why not subscribe to our newsletter? Our daily inspiration will help you embark on a journey, and will allow you to find that light at the end of the tunnel you’re searching for.

At Lifehack, we’re dedicated to helping you find the ideal solutions to your problems, and with over 15 years of experience in coaching, we have condensed our knowledge and practices into a highly effective transformational model that you can use to not only help you out of your rut, but to also help you find new and bigger meaning to your life.

Stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t always the easiest, but we’re here to make it easier for you to realize your true potential. The time to act is now!

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Take on the life-transforming journey with us here!

Featured photo credit: Maher El Aridi via unsplash.com

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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