A Coaching Power Tool Created by Anna Lundberg
(Business Coach, UNITED KINGDOM)
Everything you’ve ever wanted is one step outside your comfort-zone.
Growth is an inherent part of the natural world, whether it’s the development of a seed into a shoot to eventually become a tall oak tree, or the transformation of a caterpillar into a cocoon and finally into a beautiful butterfly. The same is true for human beings, as we advance through the different stages of development from fetus to baby, toddler to child, adolescent to adult.
Physically, our growth will come to an end by our early 20s. Many of us take this as a sign to stop other forms of growth as well, whether consciously or not, as we settle into a comfortable life of working in a stable job, living with a committed partner, and staying in a city where we know how everything works and we have a network of friends. We have a routine, we feel at home, and we’re living largely on autopilot.
The comfort of such a life can give us a feeling of safety and stability, confidence, and a sense of being in control. Stress and anxiety are minimal as we’ve already mastered the problems that exist in this world, we know what’s coming next, and we have habits and rules in place to deal with everything.
However, this comfort can also bring with it stagnation, frustration, and feeling stuck as our comfort zone inevitably shrinks around us. And in fact, although it feels real, this “comfort zone” is an artificial construct, a mental concept that has no physical manifestation in the real world: it’s a boundary we’ve created that exists only in our minds.
There are many reasons why we prefer to stay within this imagined comfort zone rather than stepping outside. We may be afraid of failure, of making mistakes, of looking foolish; we may worry about what other people might think or say; we may not think we’re good enough, or perhaps we feel we don’t deserve anything more than what we currently have. We may be overwhelmed by all the options, unsure of where to start; we may simply be lazy. On the other hand, it may be the very possibility of success that we’re afraid of, the power we have to change our lives and the responsibility that comes with it. We may be avoiding that responsibility by procrastinating, putting off action until tomorrow while telling ourselves, and others, “Yes, but…”, “First I need to…”, “I’ll do it when…”
Growth requires that we say YES and take that step despite whatever fears we may have. It comes from exploration and experimentation, pushing our boundaries, taking risks – and that means getting out of our comfort zone, opening ourselves up, and possibly or rather inevitably making mistakes. The fumbling, the vulnerability, is a necessary part of the process. In continuing to move forwards despite that discomfort, we are making the statement that our goal is more important than the fears and obstacles that stand in our way. And it’s the achievement of those goals, and all the little wins along the way, that ultimately allows us to build a fulfilling life and become everything that we can become.
- Applying for a promotion at work
- Quitting your job to launch your own business
- Separating from a long-term partner
- Going on a first date when you’ve been single (or married) for a long time
- Trying a new activity e.g. surfing, playing an instrument, learning a language
- Signing up for a marathon when you’ve never run further than 5k
- Skiing down a steep slope that causes your heart to race
Focusing on growth rather than comfort can be an incredibly empowering perspective. A perspective of growth gives us a more positive outlook as even the worst situations offer opportunities to grow; it’s future focused, as every new situation is a fresh opportunity and our past doesn’t have to determine our future; and it means that we are taking responsibility for our own experiences, creating the life we want with each opportunity that we grasp.
The butterfly could remain in the cocoon, never knowing what life is like outside or if its wings will ever work – or it can choose to break out of its comfortable little home and give it a go!
All this being said, stepping outside of our comfort zone does not mean being reckless. We can step too far, too soon, without any kind of plan or support system in place, leading to crippling stress levels and to our feeling overwhelmed and disempowered. This is especially true when we do not choose to leave our comfort zone but some external force or event obliges us to do so. Our partners may leave us unexpectedly. We may be affected by illness or death among our loved ones. Something, someone, may force us to confront a new identity and we may find ourselves suddenly alone or in an otherwise unfamiliar situation, having to cope with something that we never would have actively chosen for ourselves. Although we have not chosen this new situation, however, we do have the power to choose what to do from now on.
As we take active ownership of our own decisions, our own actions, we become stronger and more confident. Action begets action in what becomes a virtuous circle. With each step outside our comfort zone, as we realise that we not only survive but we actually thrive out there, we are reassured and the next time is easier as our comfort zone expands along with our actions. When we think about it, everything that is now within our comfort zone started out outside of it. This expansion of our comfort zone is a process, a continuous balancing act of pushing outwards and staying there for a moment or even retreating back to safety to gather our strength for another push. We are constantly striving for the right balance between pushing our boundaries and feeling safe.
Pushing the boundaries doesn’t have to mean taking those huge leaps of faith, either: we can take just a small step outside our comfort zone. We can simply do something a bit differently, instead of our usual routine. Taking a different route to work, going to a different coffee shop, trying something new on the menu. Something seemingly small can be enough to give us a new perspective, get us meeting new people or build our confidence to do something bigger next time. Doing something new brings with it an element of uncertainty – and who knows what may happen!
Each of us will have a different-sized and -shaped comfort zone, largely the result of our early formative years. You may have spent your childhood moving from country to country with your parents and have no problem at all with doing the same now that you’re an adult. You may be an only child and completely at ease with talking to strangers as that’s how you’ve always made friends. You may have had much younger siblings whom you took care of and so when you have your own children you know exactly what to do with them. You may be from an academic or an entrepreneurial background, you’ve grown up in the city or in the countryside, your family is super sporty or more into cultural pursuits. These different experiences will have shaped you and what you deem to be within your comfort zone today.
Understanding where your personal comfort zone lies and striving for continual learning and growth in your own life is essential for you to live your most fulfilling life as well as for you to be a role model for your clients.
- Where do the borders lie around your comfort zone?
- What do you do every day without thinking? What are the areas in your life where you are following certain well-ingrained habits and routines so that you’re essentially moving about on autopilot?
- Think of a time when you ventured outside of your comfort zone – how did you feel?
- Is there something that you’ve been thinking about doing for a long time but where you still haven’t taken action? Is there one small step you can take now to move forwards?
- How can you make sure that you keep pushing the boundaries of your own comfort zone, within the coaching space and in your life more generally?
As a coach you need to be sensitive to the unique comfort zone of each of your clients, a zone that will have been shaped by their individual experiences. In the coaching space, your relationship with the client also requires a certain basic level of comfort: having trust in each other and in the coaching process, feeling safe, feeling free to explore. However, it will also require you as the coach to step outside your own comfort zone at times, and, more importantly, to push your client to do the same.
Explore with your clients ways in which they can focus on continual growth, expanding their horizons and opening up to new possibilities. Underline that it is an on-going process and not just a one-off decision. Some questions you can use might be:
- What exactly are you trying to achieve? (Try digging deeper with “…and what will that get you?” to really understand the underlying values. The Wheel of Life can also be useful in gaining clarity on what the different priorities are.)
- Imagine you’re 80 years old. What advice would you give to your younger self?
- What does success look like? (Visualisation can help to paint a vivid picture here.)
- What does staying in your comfort zone give you?
- Think of a time when you got out of your comfort zone despite your fears. What was the outcome?
- What is the risk involved if you do not act?
- What would someone who is fearless do?
- What’s the worst-case scenario if you do step outside of your comfort zone? What would you do if that worst-case scenario did happen?
- What is stopping you from moving forwards?
- What would it take to make you feel more comfortable about moving forwards with this particular goal?
- How can you keep the goal in sight so that you don’t forget about it?
- What are you willing to give up in order to achieve your goal?
- What could be the first step you take today to move forward? (Once the client has experienced the success of taking that first step, you might move on to co-create an action plan with the different milestones and deadlines.)
Sustaining action and creating accountability
- What are all the obstacles that might get in your way? What can you do to lessen or remove these altogether?
- What structures can you put in place to make this goal easier to achieve?
- How can you hold yourself accountable to this action plan?
- How will you know when this goal is achieved?
- How will you celebrate when you have achieved this goal?
Taking that “one step”, even a teeny tiny baby step, can help by making success inevitable, thus building the client’s confidence in a virtuous spiral towards achieving the ultimate goal. With each step they are moving towards their authentic selves and keeping their own word by holding themselves accountable to their commitments. As coaches we should acknowledge these steps, small or large, and encourage the client to celebrate their wins while continuing the process by taking just one more step forward.
Of course, the client needs to be ready for the transformation that follows, they need to be prepared to let go of whatever has been holding them back. Now may not be the right time, for whatever reason. There may also be competing values at work, and through your discussions you may find that the highest-order values in fact favour staying inside the client’s comfort zone in this particular instance.
If the client is ready, however, then as their coach you can be their champion and cheerleader, and help them to set ambitious goals with the support systems they need to make the transformation as smooth and as comfortable as possible.
- How can helping your clients to shift from a perspective of comfort to a perspective of growth make a difference in their lives?
- How can you support your clients in getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable?
- What structures can your clients put in place to help them choose growth over comfort?
I started reading this after completing my power tool, and found that it resonates very well with this move from comfort to growth. Martha herself was compelled to change direction in her own life because of external forces and she recognises that it’s a difficult process but one that was absolutely transformative. Martha Beck, Finding Your North Star: How to claim the life you were meant to live
This was one of the first books of the genre that I read, at the start of my personal journey out of my own comfort zone. Chris challenges the conventional path and shows that there is another way. His more recent book, The Happiness of Pursuit, is also interesting and is full of personal “quests” where people have set out to pursue their own growth and development. Chris Guillebeau, The Art of Non-Conformity
We all know the story of Icarus, the boy who flew too high. What has been forgotten is that he was also told not to fly too low, and would have faced the same sad fate if he had done so. In using this analogy, Seth Godin argues that our expectations are too low, we settle for too little, and he challenges us to be courageous and unleash our creativity into the world. Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception