Who doesn’t love a bean bag?
It’s cozy, comfy, attractive, and it sucks you right in. The deeper you go, the more comfortable you get AND the harder it becomes to get back up.
But why even bother getting up if you are comfortable, right?
And yet, here’s the problem with bean bags: while nothing will happen to you today or tomorrow, if you sit on one for an extended period of time, every single day, in a few years you will damage your back in a way that’ll be hard to recover from.
The same can be said for the “Comfort Zone” – that place, physical and emotional, where you feel safe, secure and without stress.
Like a great bean bag, the Comfort Zone feels great in the short-term but, stay in one long enough, and they can do irreparable harm.
As fuzzy and cozy as the Comfort Zone may be, the lack of stress, strain or anxiety will, over time, stunt your personal and professional growth and hold you back from realizing your full potential.
So how can you make sure that you don’t stop growing? How do you continuously push yourself past the Comfort Zone?
The first step is to identify why getting out of the Comfort Zone is so hard to do.
What Is Holding You Back?
Why is it so hard to get out of the Comfort Zone?
In a word: fear.
Fear of failure, fear of disappointing others, fear of disappointing ourselves, fear of embarrassing ourselves, fear of the uncertainty and anxiety that often accompanies growth.
Personal growth guru Tim Ferriss, himself once trapped in the Comfort Zone, created a simple practice to help him identify the fear that holds him back and work through it.
He calls the approach “Fear-Setting” and, as he explained his TED Talk on the subject, the practice allows him to define the fear that is holding him back and then practically and intentionally move past it.
Fear-Setting: Three Steps
Here’s how the process works.
First, take a piece of paper and divide it into three columns.
In the first column, write this question:
What is the worst that could happen if [insert Comfort Zone escaping activity]…?
In the early 2000s, Ferriss had built a successful small business but became, as he described it, “trapped in a machine of my own making.”
He desperately needed to take some time off from work, but was terrified of what might happen if he did. So he asked: “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I took a month off from my small business?”
Among the “worst-case” scenarios he pro-actively identified:
- I’ll go to London, it’ll be rainy, I’ll get depressed, the whole thing will be a huge waste of time.
- I’ll miss a letter from the IRS, and I’ll get audited or raided or shut down.
The secret to doing this exercise well is to be thorough – make your list of “worst-cases” as comprehensive as possible.
Next, in column two, consider: What can I do to prevent each of the worst-case scenarios from happening?
This step is where the magic of the process starts to emerge.
As Ferriss reflected on what he needed to do to avoid an audit, he quickly realized that he could simply forward his mail directly to his accountant ensuring that IRS inquiries would be handled in a timely manner.
And if London’s weather became too depressing, he realized that he could always take a vacation from his vacation – in Spain – where some warmth and sunshine would help him get out of his “funk.”
For Ferriss, as it is for most smart men and women, resolving these perceived “worst-case” conditions is often easy – so long as we approach the problem analytically, as opposed to emotionally.
In the last column on the page, a final question: What will I do in the event that a “worst-case” scenario does happen?
In other words, how could you repair the damage?
Ferriss likes to ask himself this hypothetical question: “Has anyone else ever lived recovered from this type of worst-case scenario?”
Chances are, they have.
Once you’ve completed the three-column brainstorming exercise, the next step is to consider the upside of trying. In other words, “what might be the benefit of an attempt, or partial success?”
In this step, says Ferriss, we take a conservative view of the upside of trying. “If you attempted whatever you’re considering, might you build confidence or develop skills…emotionally or financially?”
And then, the final consideration: The Cost Of Inaction.
According to Ferriss, “Humans are very good at considering what might go wrong if we try something new, say “asking for a raise.” What we don’t often consider is the atrocious cost of the status quo; not changing anything.”
In this reflection ask, “If I avoid this action or decision, what might my life look like? In three months, six months, twelve months?”
How will you feel when you wake up? How will feel when you walk into work in the morning? How will it affect your relationships with your spouse and/or children?
For many, this is the most important step in the process. Once we fully realize the cost of not doing anything – of staying in the Comfort Zone – the fears and risks associated with action seem minor.
As Ferriss described on the TED stage:
“When I did this, it painted a terrifying picture. I was self-medicating, my business was going to implode at any moment at all times, if I didn’t step away. My relationships were fraying or failing. And I realized that inaction was no longer an option for me.”
The Only Way Out Of The Comfort Zone
The Stoic philosopher Seneca said that “we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
It’s very hard to think our way out of the Comfort Zone. We must take action.
The practice of Fear-Setting is a simple, structured first step that you can take to escape the Comfort Zone and move your life forward.
It doesn’t mean that your path forward will be easy, or that you’ll be able to accurately predict everything that may happen to you along the way, but you can be sure of one thing: you will never regret having not tried.
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”