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Why Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone May Be a Bad Idea

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Donald Trump famously said, “Avoid your comfort zone – it’s probably outdated anyway.” It is very good advice for people who are exceptional, but what if you are not exceptional? You probably learned in college that no matter how good you are at something, there are always other people who are better than you.

Are you humble enough to say you are not exceptional? And if so, isn’t it possible that your comfort zone is where you belong? Just because you are in your comfort zone, it doesn’t mean you don’t crave success. Champion boxers never leave their comfort zone to take part-time jobs as a typist. Consider the fact that your comfort zone is the place where you will enjoy the most success.

Why “Comfort Zone” Advice Seems So Correct

Once again, breaking out of your comfort zone may be the right thing to do if you are exceptional. It is especially true for exceptional people because breaking out of their comfort zone is often the only place where they can grow. Yet, that is not the only reason why breaking out of your comfort zone seems like good advice.

The truth is that most people confuse being in a rut with being in their comfort zone. For example, the middle-aged executive who stays in his dead-end job because it is safe, rather than starting a new business selling parachute lessons, is not staying in his comfort zone, he is sticking with his rut. If people tell the middle-aged executive to get out of his comfort zone, they actually mean he should get out of his rut.

However, take the same middle-aged executive who is well respected at work, whose job is not a dead-end one, whose social life thrives because of his job, who’s bringing up children, investing, and who is healthy because of his job. If this same person were to leave his job to start a parachute training company, he would be leaving his comfort zone and most probably be making a great mistake.

Isn’t the Grass Always Greener On The Other Side?

Taking the previous example, what if the middle-aged executive left his job and his parachute training company offered him all the same things his old job offered him except better? Isn’t it always a good idea to try and fail rather than to never try at all?

The question and sentiment is fine, but it is not real life. Ask a person who has tried everything and ask a person who tried a bunch of stuff and then found something he/she enjoyed, and ask which person is happiest. Just because you “Didn’t” try something doesn’t mean you are missing out.

“The grass isn’t always greener on the other side!” – Ricky Gervais

What About People Who Broke Out of Their Comfort Zone?

There is an old “Will & Grace” episode from 2002 called, “Went to a Garden Potty.” In it an old man says a line that goes, “I’m Stan’s old partner. We started the mattress store together, then he wanted to branch out into other businesses but I said, no I’ll just not take any chances, so now I’ve got the one little store and he’s worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The mattress store story sounds familiar doesn’t it? You have read about similar stories in motivational books, but what you rarely read about are people who didn’t take risks and still became successful millionaires. A book called, “The Millionaire Next Door” addresses this discrepancy by featuring people who became millionaires by selling caravans and by being dentists. It shows how people who work the same job their entire lives are not schmucks, and that their unexciting success stories are still success stories.

Do not confuse taking risks with being outside of your comfort zone. In the “Will & Grace” example, the character Stan felt outside of his comfort zone with just one store. Stan’s comfort zone was taking risks. Stan didn’t leave his comfort zone when he went off making millions of dollars, he entered his comfort zone in order to do it.

The people who risk it all on a penny-share company are not doing it to break out of their comfort zone, they are doing it because they feel uncomfortable if they are not taking risks.

“Unexceptional” People Can Be “Exceptionally” Successful in Their Comfort Zone

I don’t like to be out of my comfort zone, which is about a half an inch wide.” That line is a quote from Larry David, the guy who wrote “Curb your Enthusiasm” and “Seinfeld” and he is worth $400 million.

Stephen King was 27 when he sold his first book, and he was writing long before that. King hasn’t left his comfort zone since he was out of college, and he is worth $400 million. One could even say that Stephen King rarely leaves his comfort zone creatively since his stories almost always feature a middle aged man, and many times the middle-aged man has a creative career such as being a writer, painter, etc.

Danica Patrick, when asked how she became the best female racer in the world responded with, “I never do anything out of my comfort zone.” Does that mean this woman, who is worth $60 million, never takes risks? You would know the answer if you had ever watched her race.

Do not forget the psychological damage that repeated failure can do to a person. People who say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” have clearly never gone through a terrible time because terrible times often make you weaker.

Repeatedly trying to break out of your comfort zone, only to be kicked back and stomped into the ground (metaphorically speaking) takes its toll and will often sap your enthusiasm to keep going forwards.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie

Conclusion – He Will Be Back

Have you considered that exceptional people do not have a comfort zone? Take Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose last name has found its way into every spell checker program on the planet. He was a world-class bodybuilder, a record breaking actor, married a Kennedy, and became a US governor.

Some people say he was so successful because he never became comfortable being the best at just one thing. Maybe that is the reason for his success, maybe he wasn’t trying to break from his comfort zone…maybe he was trying to find it.

What are your thoughts on being able to succeed while staying your comfort zone? Share your opinions and stories below!

Life

5 Simple Hacks to Help You Develop the Habit That Will Transform Your Life

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It’s excruciating when we know what’s killing us but we can’t do anything about it because as you know, it is not easy to pull the brake on a high way. According to Napoleon Hill, “remember this always – the best (and one might say the only) way in which old habits may be removed is to form new habits to counteract and replace the undesirable ones”. (more…)

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Why Do We Have An Unconscious Bias and How Can We Manage It?

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When I hear someone using my name once in a while throughout the conversation we are having, I cannot stop myself thinking “this person must have read Dale Carnegie’s books or must have been influenced by someone who read them…” Have you just recalled a similar moment and it felt nice?

As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and the most important sound in any language”. Why did Dale Carnegie highlight the importance of an individual’s name to that person in his “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book published in 1936?

Each and every one of us wants to feel special and unique. I guess he recommends using the person’s name in the conversation because that is one of the easiest ways to grab that person’s attention so that we can enhance the chances of getting our point across. However, I am more interested in this from the other side; hearing our names directly addresses our individuality, our need or desire to feel special and unique.  

Let’s park this one for now and we will come back. 

Categorization is essential to our survival

There is countless scientific research telling us about how our brains recognize similarities and put things into categories, which has been crucial to our survival in evolution and still helps us with a lot of things from learning new things to coping with the continuous influx of massive amounts of information through our senses. 

The continuous influx of information is mostly handled by our subconscious mind rather than conscious. It is estimated that our brains receive about 11 million bits of information every second through our senses, of which only 40-50 bits can be processed by our conscious mind. We process more information than we are aware of. The magic here is the subconscious mind.

An example is when you are at a very loud party where you hear a lot of words flying around without you recognizing each one of them, then suddenly, you immediately catch it when you hear your name. Your subconscious had been processing all of those words, without your awareness, but informed your conscious mind when your name was out there because it was relevant to you.

In order to most effectively process this much information and inform the conscious mind with only the relevant ones, our subconscious employs categorization as one of its strategies.

When our ancestors encountered some deadly predators in the African savanna, their subconscious prompted their conscious mind to immediately fight or flight by categorizing the information gathered through their senses into “predator / life threat / take action”. Most probably we are not descendants of the ones that were frozen rather than fighting or flighting! 

Although it is a completely different situation, the same strategy applied in remembering lists. Let’s look at the below two lists.

  1. lion, eagle, shark, leopard, hawk, whale, panther, falcon and dolphin 
  2. lion, leopard, panther, eagle, hawk, falcon, shark, whale and dolphin

The second list is easy to remember because it is reordered into relevant groups even though the content of the both lists are identical.

Subconsciousness is the magic and categorization is one of its key strategies. It is essential to our survival, learning new skills and processing information as well as bringing back the information we had processed and stored. 

This amazing skill has its drawbacks

As a result of our brains’ categorization strategy, we also categorize people, especially if we don’t know them as well as our closest ones.

Imagine I am sitting at the table next to yours while you are having your favorite coffee and working on your computer or reading your novel at your neighborhood coffee shop. I stand up, very calmly grab your bag, and start walking away. Your reaction might be quite different depending on my outfit. It could be much more vocal and harsh if I have a dirty T-Shirt and a pair of torn jeans on. However, if I have some navy colored, 3-piece suit and well-pressed white button up shirt on, you might even say something like “Excuse me, you might have picked up my bag by mistake”. (There is an experiment done by social psychologists which reported similar results)

Similarly, I would not be surprised to hear that my co-worker’s spouse is very skilled and knowledgeable in English grammar and literature because he is an English teacher. However, I would not expect it from my co-worker herself because she is an outstanding chemical engineer.  

This is defined as unconscious bias or stereotyping, as a result of our subconscious brain’s categorization strategy. The outfit I have at the coffee shop impacts your response to my action, because it puts me into a different category in your mind depending on my outfit. My co-worker’s and her spouse’s backgrounds make me put them into different categories, which might mislead me sometimes.

Just like we categorize things, it is very natural that we categorize people.  

The key question here for me is; how do we truly treat people as individuals so that they feel unique, just like as they would want, while we know that our brains categorize people

We can overcome unconscious bias 

Leonard Mlodinow, in his enlightening book “Subliminal”, suggests that “if we are aware of our bias and motivated to overcome it, we can.” That doesn’t mean that we need to fight our brain’s categorization strategy. We just need to employ our conscious mind more when we are working or dealing with individuals. 

Our unconscious bias might tell us scientists are bunch of technical nerds who cannot understand abstract concepts that marketers are talking about or it might say that marketers are some daydreamers who need to be grounded by scientists to the real world all the time. I am an engineer and I love thinking in abstract terms and I worked with quite a lot of marketers who thought primarily in factual and concrete terms. 

Spending some effort to learn more about individuals will help overcome unconscious bias. Gathering more information and qualities about them will make it easier for us to treat them as individuals rather than a member of the category we put them in our minds. 

The moral of the story here is to recognize the fact that our brains do categorize, and it is essential; but also, to recognize that every individual wants to feel unique. When we appreciate these two and keep reminding them to ourselves, we are one step closer to figuring out our own way to overcome unconscious bias and treat people more like individuals. 

What was the most interesting part of this article for you? Share your thoughts below!

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Life

The Problem Is Not Actually the Problem: Here’s Why

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With my understanding of the Three Principles, which is deepening month-by-month, I’m becoming more curious about whether the ‘problem’ that we think we have, is really a problem. Not for one second am I dismissing a persons’ experience; I’m human after all and I encounter challenges and what I think are ‘problems’ just like the next person. (more…)

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Life

5 Things You Can Do to Fend off Boredom and Stay Focused

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Curiosity is human nature and it’s only natural that humans will lose interest in a topic after a while. This has been a topic that has been extensively explored among children, teenagers and adults by a psychologist with similar results being reported from each of the categories. Human’s minds are therefore prone to boredom, making it important for each professional to spend some time to understand the factors that drive boredom and strategies the individuals needs to use to overcome boredom and focus on their profession and development. (more…)

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