I was on an internal company call recently when a presenting co-worker passed along something she tells the exercise classes she teaches in the evenings: “outside your comfort zone is where the magic happens”.
Sometimes a simple phrase will grab me as this one did. It’s not a phrase I haven’t heard before in a number of different settings, and the idea behind is isn’t new. But life sometimes is less about learning new things than it is about re-learning things we haven’t considered in a while. A Thomas Paine quote that captures this is:
“That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only which gives everything its value”.
This idea can be applied to commercial transactions. Sometimes in a bid to jumpstart a market a company will temporarily provide a product or service for free. How hard is it to sell free?
I’ve learned the answer to this: it’s hard.
When sellers use the word “free”, they mean “Wow – what a great deal. You should jump at this!”. What customers hear: “We don’t know if this is valuable, so put this at the bottom of your priority list and get to it when you can”.
One idea, two interpretations. Companies eventually learn that to get customers to value something, you HAVE to charge for it.
But the real interesting point is where this idea intersects with our personal lives.
We humans are like water. We wish to follow the path of least resistance. We like to sleep in, watch TV, and eat cake – in our bathrobes.
Steve Pressfield, in his not-to-be-missed book The War of Art (find it on my books list here), referred to this unseen force of laziness that prevents us working as “The Resistance”:
“Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.”
Regardless what you call it, whether “The Resistance”, your “Comfort Zone”, or whatever, most of us need someone holding us accountable, pushing us, making us replace “easy” with “hard”. In the immortal words of the great philosopher Jimmie Dugan (the baseball manager played by Tom Hanks in the movie “A League of Their Own”):
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”
So, how can YOU push YOU?
Sure, it’s easy to work harder when someone is shouting at you through a megaphone. But we don’t have such people following us round every day (thankfully). How do we push ourselves out of our comfort zone and into the space “where the magic happens”?
- Find an accountability partner. These are friends to whom you regularly self-report your progress toward a certain goal you have written down. Accountability partners can provide mutual accountability. I tell you how I’ve done in my effort to read for 15 minutes every day (for instance) and you tell me how you’re doing (expressed in a measurement) in your effort to drink more water each day.
- Get a habit tracking app. I use mine everyday. Checking off my daily objectives feels great, and I can establish a streak – something social scientists have learned is a powerful motivator for humans. As an example, I’ve been trying to incorporate stretching in to my daily routine. As of this writing, I have stretched once per day (at least) for 105 days without missing a day. Part of the reason why I’ve been so consistent is because I don’t want to mess up my streak. Download a habit tracking app and set up your goals. Start small, set the bar low, and establish a pattern of success.
- Re-cast your identity. This idea comes from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, which I recently read (and may write about later). He made the point that humans perform better when they transform a habit they wish to establish from simply a worthy action to something consistent with their identity. So if you’re trying to improve your physical fitness, focus less on thoughts like “I should work out” and more on thoughts like “I’m the sort of person who is active”. When we incorporate our desired outcomes with our identity, we respond more effectively because the desired action is aligned with our sense of self.
Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone isn’t easy, but the payoff can be huge.
P.S. Both quotes featured in this post are in my e-book on favorite quotes, which is provided to people who sign-up for updates to their email. If you’re not signed up already and would like the book, just go to the bottom of the page, put in your email address, confirm it once an email shows up in your in-box, and you should be then directed to a page to download the e-book.