There’s a reason you hear the phrase “Break out of your comfort zone” a lot. Because – as comfortable as that “zone” can be – after a while, it begins to grow bars around it (and not the good kind). Whether it’s a job we think we can’t leave or a way of doing business that’s no longer innovative (but has become habit), all of us can fall into a rut that we like to call “stability.” It’s completely expected from an evolutionary point of view. We have a drive to find food, shelter and security, and once we have it, we want to keep it.
The problem is that we’re no longer living in caves in danger of being eaten by wild animals, and it’s unlikely that our homes will be raided by a thieving horde of bandits. It’s the 21st century and we’re living in a world that moves quickly. Comfort zones were meant to protect us, but if we maintain a prehistoric mindset, comfort becomes our enemy and we cease to grow. We need to change, adapt, grow – all the time – and be thoughtful about the moves we make in our lives and businesses. The beginning of that growth begins squarely outside of your comfort zone.
So, how can we take that first step into discomfort and continue to grow as humans? How do we improve the way we do business and evolve as leaders? Here are four ways you can shake up your routine and keep yourself just uncomfortable enough to thrive:
Take regular (calculated) risks.
Whether it’s something small, like having a difficult conversation, or something big, like planning to sell your company, make sure to practice risk-taking in everyday life. Risks should be calculated (and preferably not life-threatening), but they’re necessary components to success. As a business leader, you’re familiar with risks, but the more you gain, the more you might want to hold onto what you’ve got. I’m not suggesting you put everything on the line every day, but don’t be afraid of a few losses. If you’ve weighed your possible outcomes, even if things don’t work out the first time around, you’ve learned something, and you’re better off than if you hadn’t risked anything at all.
There’s no motivator greater than the fear of public embarrassment, right? Well, that may be true, but the glory of public success can be a great motivator as well. Set goals and make them known. Maybe you’re literally competing in front of a crowd, such as playing a friendly game of softball, or perhaps you’re involved in a challenge at work with a prize attached to it. Make it a public endeavor. It will give you accountability to rise up to the challenge and will likely compel you to exceed expectations.
Test your limits.
If you’re like me, you spend several days a week at the gym. Even if you don’t, you’ve probably heard about plateaus. Once you’ve been working out at a certain level for a given amount of time, your body gets used to the activity – whether it’s weight-lifting or running miles – and stops progressing. When that happens, you need to switch up and step up your regimen. That same tactic applies to every area of life. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect to improve. At work and at home, change up your routine. Look beyond what you “think” you can do and test your limits. It’s the only way to really find out what you’re made of.
Don’t be a know-it-all, and learn as much as you can.
I say this a lot – mostly because it’s something every successful person needs to remember: No person is an island; you can’t succeed without other people. It can be a friend, a coworker or a coach, or a combination, but make sure to seek out advice and remain open to other opinions as you explore life outside your comfort zone. If something is uncomfortable to you, it’s likely unfamiliar as well. Use the resources around you to learn as much as you can every day.
Sounds easy, right? Well, if it was, we would all would live life outside our comfort zones. The truth is we need to keep ourselves in check. Don’t get too comfortable. Don’t rest on your laurels. There’s a difference between taking time to smell the roses and just taking a nap in the shade at the foot of the bush. Keep moving, keep learning and your “discomfort zone” might just become your best friend.
This article originally appeared on Huffington Post.