A Comfort Zone (noun): A situation or position in which a person feels secure, comfortable, or in control.
In your comfort zone you can, most likely, be productive because you know what you’re doing, how long it will take you, what you will need to complete the task, etc. In a comfort zone we can do things quickly, with little effort and with great efficiency. For example; when I was commuting to work my routine may have seemed daunting to anyone else:
- Waking at 3:30 am
- Getting ready (makeup, hair, dress, shoes, coat, umbrella…)
- Out the door at 4:20 am
- On the Ferry boat to work by 5:00 am
- Walk 1/2 mile to the office
- At my desk by 6:00 am
But, for me it was a piece of cake. I could do it with my eyes closed. I even took the small annoyance of fog, deer in the road or a late ferry in stride.
Growing in your comfort zone
Growing (noun): Development from a lower or simpler to a higher or more complex form; evolution.
Growing is almost impossible in a comfort zone. One reason is because you know what to expect. Without growth you will never reach your highest potential. In fact, you have little chance of finding out what your greatest potential is.
But, growing is hard! It takes effort to step outside what you know and not only learn something new, but admit that you don’t know anything. You are no longer the expert and you have to not only rely on others but ask them for help. Growing is also scary!
Practice makes Perfect, right? Wrong!
Everyone reaches a plateau. When acquiring a new skill there are three stages:
- cognitive – making mistakes, discovering new strategies to perform it better and consciously focusing on what we’re doing
- associative – make fewer errors and get better at it
- autonomous – I’m ok with how I’m doing with this skill
We all reach o.k. plateau’s in most things we do; driving is a good example.
Breaking the 4 minute mile
No one will run a mile in less than 4 minutes. But in 1954 that barrier was broken and six weeks later someone ran the mile in less time. What happened was that when the 4 minute mile was broken the barrier became a flood gate.
If you want to get better at something it is harder to do it when you are in the autonomous stage. People that are successful at becoming EXPERTS use tools to keep them out of the autonomous stage. Experts tend to operate outside their comfort zone and observe themselves FAILING.
Observe Yourself Failing
Try typing faster than you think you can and observe yourself failing. When you study it you will discover what it is that is holding you back. The best figure skaters in the world do this all the time. They practice jumps that they cannot land. Musicians that become experts practice on the hard parts and deliberate difficult skills.
Becoming an Expert
We can become experts at what we do. It isn’t always about learning a new skill, we can improve our existing skills.
- Walk in the Shoes of Others – One technique is to walk in the shoes of someone who is more competent than they are. Like chess masters who study the games of the masters.
- Seek immediate and constant feedback – Experts crave and thrive on immediate and constant feedback. Finding a way to get that feedback is crucial. For example, I’m trying to become more efficient at my tasks each day because the faster I can do them the more money I can eventually make (right?). So, I’m using an online tool called Yast that allows me to track every task in a day. I’m using that in conjunction with a to do list that sends me updates everyday to let me know how productive I’ve been.
- Treat what you do like a science – Experts collect and analyze data. They create theories and test them. Keeping track of your progress is essential. We tend to think that we are wasting our time when we track what we’re doing or how long it is taking us.
Joshua Foer is an inspiration and his video “Joshua Foer: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone and Study Yourself Failing” greatly influenced my suggestions for how to step outside your comfort zone in this article. You can see his entire video here.