Why leaving your cozy comfort zone?

 

You know there is this saying: life happens outside of your comfort zone. That is – to be honest – taking it a bit too far because comfort zones are not a bad thing per se. But still, getting out of it can have this devious attraction. When we have to face something challenging, we run back to our comfort zone. When hard things come our way, something we are scared of, it is just so much easier to go back to our comfort zone instead of facing this challenge, whatever it is. So what happens every day is that we can choose between facing a challenge or between going back to where we feel comfortable. And of course, people are tempted to just go back to the second and are therewith missing out on a lot of things which might make their lives so much richer. Therefore you need to be able to step out of your comfort zone in order to make some change and achieve something bigger because changes don’t happen in your comfort zone. Russ Harris, one of the biggest guys in acceptance & commitment therapy calls it the “same old crap zone” and that’s often what it is. My mentor used to say:” While doing the things that scare us the most, that’s when magic start to happen in our lives.”

People often recognize that it is time for a change when we are talking about excuses. We probably all know this situation when we make up excuses for not going to the gym for instance. It is the same with other situations as well, doesn’t matter if it is in our personal or business life. Excuses pop up in our head when we start feeling uncomfortable and when we are finding ourselves in an unpleasant situation. In particular, I help people overcome this negative feelings and emotions.

About the author

Michael is a coach at ComfortZoneCrusher, an American company, which helps its clients to become more confident through stepping out of their comfort zone with playful exercises. He is as well a professional speaker and has already spoken at TEDx   or members of the parliament. Before working as a Comfort Zone Crusher, he has been a character animator working on movies and TV shows like “Kung Fu Panda”. But this was before he realized that helping people to live a meaningful life is much more rewarding than creating Saturday morning cartoons.

Facing your fears is more than showing courage

 

Probably some of you are wondering if it is simply courage that we teach people. I would say that courage is a byproduct of what we do. In the end, courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to act despite your fear. So basically what we teach people is a skill set that helps them to act on what is important to them. Regardless of how they are thinking or how they are feeling. Let me explain that with a metaphor:

Usually, our immediate thoughts and our immediate emotions are sitting in the driver seat of the car which is our life and we ourselves sit on the passenger seat. What happens is that we hope that this driver just thinks or feels the right way and that he or she is going to drive in the direction we want to go. We are sitting in the passenger seat and we just try as hard as we can to make the right thoughts and emotions.

Back to Comfort Zone Crushing, what we teach is how to move yourself to the driver seat and how to make and control the thoughts and emotions now. This means that you can drive wherever you want to and to go for what is important for you in life. Of course, if we are honest, the passenger is still going to be there sometimes but this is not important. The important thing is to sit in the driver seat and to drive towards something, which is important to you.

International leadership development

We must be our own driver to go for what is important to us despite negative feelings and thoughts

Overcoming negative emotions with exposure therapy

 

An old proven and effective method to face your fears and overcome your negative emotions is exposure therapy, which has been researched since the sixties. We probably all know photos or videos of people lying on the sidewalk, high-fiving strangers or howling like a wolf in public. Those exercises are all used in exposure therapy. By confronting your fears in general – or your social fears like in the challenges I’ve mentioned before – you slowly desensitize yourself to the fear of rejection and of embarrassment. My job, as a comfort zone crusher, is to show people that nothing bad will happen even though they don’t feel comfortable in the beginning. No one will judge you, even when you make a fool of yourself. So when we are talking about exposure therapy and its effects, these kind of exercises are only the tip of the iceberg I would say.

Real change happens in the huge hidden part of the iceberg. Let me explain it to you with an example:

What would your reaction be when I am telling you to howl like a wolf in the middle of the street? Probably a lot of excuses and bad emotions would pop up in your head. So when we think of our car metaphor again, the bad emotions and excuses would climb back in the driver seat and take you wherever they want to go. Which time and targeted exercises you can learn to climb back in the driver seat to control your emotions and thoughts yourself. Howling like a wolf might not sound life changing but it will help you in other situations as well.

We all experience unpleasant situations, for instance at work, when we have to do a pitch or speak up in a meeting. And every time we find ourselves in difficult situations like this, all the bad emotions and thoughts will come up. But here is the important thing: when you think back to how you did overcome your fear and howled like a wolf in the street, you know that you can master this situation as well. So transferring the techniques and skills to your everyday life is the important part, not howling like a wolf in the first place. And exactly this is what exposure therapy and stepping out of your comfort zone is really all about.

International leadership development

Making yourself a fool in public might not sound really effective – but exercises like this will help you overcoming your fears in everyday situations

Comfort zone crushing in (virtual) team development

 

So the essential thing about comfort zone crushing is to develop tools and techniques for dealing with unhelpful thoughts and emotions in everyday life situations. Having unhelpful thoughts and emotions often apply to situations at work or within teams. Thus, comfort zone crushing is a good workshop method for teambuilding. When I work with teams it is amazing for me as a coach to see that people not only overcome their fears but that the exercises we do also strengthen the bond between the team members. The teambuilding aspect of comfort zone crushing is very intense because people are going through intense emotional situations together. And this is where bonding happens because they are all in the same situation and support, push and congratulate each other.

But nowadays – in times of digitalization – I have clients, where the team is spread all over the world. Many of you probably wonder if teambuilding and comfort zone crushing actually works with virtual teams as well. According to my experience, I get the impression that people who are working in a virtual team are still able to develop the skills and the psychological flexibility. Unfortunately, they are missing out one thing in my opinion and that’s the team building effect. Going out together, pushing each other and overcoming your fears together really does support the team spirit. But what I see is that people from virtual teams actually text and tell each other before they complete an exercise which has a positive effect on the team spirit as well. So I would say that it works for both teams, face to face is just a little bit easier because of the direct support of the team.

 

Excuse me, can I get a coffee for free, please?

 

To get all that into practice, I would like to give you one challenge, dear reader. The next time you go out for lunch ask the people at the restaurant or take-away place if you can get something for free. It doesn’t matter if it is a coffee, a dessert or only a plastic spoon. The whole thing is not about getting something for free, it is about facing your fears of getting rejected. So when they say no for the first time, probably a lot of negative emotions and thoughts will pop up in your head but here is the thing: don’t let the bad emotions climb into the driver’s seat. Face them and ask the people at the restaurant for the reason etc. It might sound easy and funny now, but you will see, the moment you go there and ask the employee for something free, you will feel uncomfortable. But believe me, afterwards, you will see that it wasn’t so difficult and you will feel so proud and relieved!

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