I thought about writing about growth, since it’s spring, and growth is something that happens when you stretch outside your comfort zone. (I did write about growth for the 4/16 issue of the newsletter in case you missed that one!) But the flip side of the positive growth that comes when you stretch outside your comfort zone is the discomfort, even fear, that often comes with that stretch. Professionally, the stretch might look like this reader question about the discomfort around networking with executives two to three levels above and outside your area. Personally, I’m dealing with a stretch of my own as I’ll be starting a performance residency at Broadway Comedy Club this week and guesting in eight pro shows over the next three weeks (Yikes, this was supposed to be a fun hobby!).
Having to take my own coaching advice and work through the fear reminded me that when you stretch outside your comfort zone, even if you’ve done it with other situations, doesn’t make this particular time any easier. I didn’t just try to motivate myself out of the discomfort (after all, when you’re paralyzed by fear, motivation goes out the window!). Instead I relied on techniques that have worked for me before, and hopefully they’ll work for you too:
Schedule your worry
This was a game-changer tip for me from my friend and amazing coaching colleague, Renita Kalhorn of Step Up Your Game. The tip is exactly as it sounds — Renita recommends putting a date and time on the calendar for a worry session. When that date and time comes, you do all the freaking out you want. But till that date and time comes, when you find anxiety or worry coming over you, you table it for the appointed slot. It’s a simple mental trick but I have found it really lets me move on when the fear creeps up.
Get ideas from how others have coped
I am a big fan of non-fiction reading – business, finance, personal development, etc. Many books provide anecdotes of people overcoming challenges or turning around a bad situation, and along the way, I have collected strategies and even just inspiration from these stories. There are also specific books on overcoming fear. Most recently, the book Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge and Build Confidence by Brandeis professor Andy Molinsky specifically offers some great advice on how to stretch outside your comfort zone.
Revisit your go-to relaxation triggers
For me, exercise, journaling and meditation are my three go-to productivity habits to get back my focus when I am out of sorts. Think back to how you recharge and get back into focus, and build these activities into your calendar when you’re going through a stretch. These relaxation triggers are often the first things to get pushed off the schedule because you think you don’t have time for them, but you actually save more time than you lose.
Doing something, anything is often enough to calm your nerves. For me and my comedy stretch, I just started writing down all of my jokes in a list – I didn’t worry about editing or order or transitions. I just started to make a list, and that data dump was enough to get me moving again on editing, order, transitions, and everything else that is still important but that I was too overwhelmed to tackle at the time. I’m still overwhelmed and not feeling where I’d like to be three days to the first show, but I’m still moving forward. Starting somewhere, anywhere is the best way to break out of the paralysis.
Set it and forget it
Just like you can’t rely on motivation to quell your worry (hence scheduling it, as in tip #1), you also can’t rely on motivation to move forward. Once you have a plan of action, set appointments in your calendar to do the work. The benefits are twofold: 1) by blocking time off for next steps now, you don’t overbook yourself with other things; and 2) by scheduling appointments you get regular reminders to move forward on your stretch. You don’t have to “find” the time or motivation – the activities show up for you.
I don’t know that following this formula will mean that I have good sets for my comedy residency, but at least I have a plan that keeps me moving and props me up when I can’t do it myself.
How about you? What works for you when you need to face the fear to stretch outside your comfort zone?
Update to original post: I blog about my career change after 40 and how stretching outside my comfort zone led me to Costa Rica.