Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone

As accountants, doing what’s familiar, what seems logical, and what appears safe, is often what leads us to an accounting career in the first place.  Most of us did well in subjects like Math, enjoying the structure, the ability to solve problems, and the good feeling when a problem was eventually solved.

If you think about it, you didn’t choose a more riskier career path for a reason.  Like a lot of the accountants I work with and coach, you might have been leaning towards some other area of study –  maybe you considered being a lawyer, a doctor, or a teacher.

But something made you gravitate towards accounting; something made you either choose it early on, or switch gears and choose it after trying something else.  No matter what your reasons were, you made various decisions that led you to where you are today.

But what happens for a lot of accountants is that we gravitate towards, and can often get stuck in,  comfort zones that can make it challenging to grow and evolve.  We become so comfortable in what’s familiar that we forget to question whether we’re really fulfilled, and then we convince ourselves that “here” is better than some unknown “there”.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this in many different ways, where it’s the “devil you know” that keeps you in a relationship, a job, or a situation that’s not ideal, but you convince yourself to stay because at least it’s familiar.  Maybe you stayed in a marriage longer than you really wanted because you convinced yourself it wasn’t that bad; maybe you’re currently in a job that doesn't value your worth or your time, but you stay because it’s where you’ve been for so long that the thought of leaving scares you.

We all have comfort zones that seem to make sense on the surface, but unfortunately they are often what’s holding us back.  At first glance it makes sense that we don’t want to end that relationship, leave that job to become an entrepreneur, or get that bold new haircut, because stepping out of our comfort zone can be uncomfortable.

You also may have found that the older you get, the more you want to exist and operate in your comfort zone.  You were probably more willing to do unfamiliar things when you were younger, but now that you’re older and you’ve had various life experiences, you may not even realize how much time you spend in your comfort zone.

There’s nothing wrong with having a comfort zone, however, when you consistently live within it, the size of that comfort zone begins to shrink.  In essence you start out doing a lot of things, then you begin doing less, and eventually what feels comfortable becomes less and less.

If this past year or so of the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that life can be incredibly unpredictable, which is why we might be gravitating even more to our comfort zones. It’s relatively predictable and safe, so we don’t have to worry about threats and unpleasant surprises all the time.

The issue is that, if you don’t take an honest look at your comfort zones every now and then, consider how they might be holding you back, and how to step out of them, you are going to wake up 5, 10 or 20 years from now and wish you had done something differently.  Hopefully this episode will teach you that stepping out of your comfort zone does not need to be such a scary thing and that it’s possible to do things that are unfamiliar.

Interestingly, if you look back, many of your best experiences were times you were outside of your comfort zone.  Even things like something new you did on vacation, a new recipe you were willing to try, or just new ideas you were open to learning from; there have probably been many times that you benefited from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and didn’t realize it.

This week I’m going to discuss where your comfort zone comes from and why it exists, as well as why it’s important to step out of your comfort zone and how.

 

Where your comfort zone comes from and why it exists

No matter where your comfort zone lies, whether it’s in the work you do, the relationships you’re in, the clothes you wear, or even in the way you get ready in the morning, comfort zones exist because of one important reason – you have a primitive part of your brain that thrives on sameness.  This part of your brain has a very important job, and that job is to keep you alive.

It keeps you alive by sending up warning flares, in the form of stress hormones, whenever you think about something that’s unfamiliar.  For example, when you get frustrated at your job and consider leaving, your primitive brain is what offers you thoughts like:

  • It’s really not that bad
  • You have no idea how much worse it can be somewhere else
  • You’re not qualified to do something else

To the primitive brain, anything that’s familiar is safe, even if it’s not helpful to you in the long term.  Your primitive brain is completely risk averse and is all about immediate reward, which means if it’s not immediately pleasurable, that part of your brain is not on board, especially if the reward or the pleasure might take awhile.

The interesting thing though is that the drive for growth is innate in us as humans.  Think about it – everything we’ve done, created and advanced over tens of thousands of years is because we have an intrinsic desire to expand and to push ourselves to be, do and have more.

So what happens for most of us, is that we wind up having a battle between our innate need to grow and evolve as a human and our primitive brain’s desire for sameness.  The issue when it comes to staying in our comfort zone for too long is that when we’re not growing, we wind up being grumpy, dissatisfied, and discontent because we’re actually not tapping into our full potential.

On the one hand your primitive brain thinks it’s protecting you from danger, and that the safest place for you to be is in your comfort zone.  But on the other hand your inherent desire to not stay the same, to do, be, or have other things, can create a big, confusing, sometimes exhausting tug-of-war.

It’s important to understand that as an accountant, a lack of personal growth can often be a huge reason why you are dissatisfied professionally.  You may have all the professional credentials and take all the CPE courses, but still be unhappy with the direction your accounting career is going.

This is also one of the reasons why a lot of accountants consider leaving the profession – you’re not focusing on personal growth as much as you could, opting for the more comfortable path of focusing on professional growth, and having a tug-of-war between your innate desire to evolve and your primitive brain’s desire to not step out of your comfort zone.  Thankfully, there is a way to manage it all.

So my challenge to you is to apply the tools I’m going to teach you, WHILE you are in your current comfort zone, and then from THAT place, make a decision about what you want to do next.

 

Why it’s important to step out of your comfort zone and how

First let me share my personal journey with pushing myself out of my comfort zone so that you might be able to relate to my struggle:

My early childhood entailed a lot of upheaval and drama, so once I was encouraged to study accounting in high school, and was told that accounting was a great career for a woman, I loved the idea of having a straight and steady path to take.  I liked believing “If this, then this” that math and accounting seemed to offer; I found comfort in the idea that I could find the answer to math problems.

Fast forward to 12 years working with the Big 4 and then 12 more years working for smaller firms, my innate human desire for growth was pulling at me.  Just like the carnival game “Whack a Mole”, I kept slapping the desire down, over and over, because my primitive brain was only on board with keeping things the way they were; working as an accountant, raising my children, and taking 2 weeks vacation each year.

But something kept pulling at me to step out of my comfort zone.  There was something nagging at me to be, do, and have more than I was giving myself permission to have, even though it would be uncomfortable to do things that were unfamiliar and possibly risk failure as well.

That’s when the idea of studying to become a life coach and having a coaching practice became apparent to me.  Taking what I already learned being an accountant for decades, building a business from scratch, creating this podcast, being able to speak to hundreds of accountants every week; it all came down to learning how to step out of my comfort zone and step into my possibilities.

But here’s a benefit that I hadn’t really considered about why it’s important to step out of your comfort zone – because you then become much better at handling changes and challenges like we all just experienced this past year with the pandemic.  Experiencing various moments of stress and anxiety as I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, studied to become a coach, and built a coaching business, all made it easier to be more comfortable with things being uncomfortable.

Since most of the listeners of this podcast are moms, consider this analogy – a baby learns to eventually walk by pushing itself past it’s comfort zone.  The fact is that by continually falling and getting up again, a baby strengthens its leg muscles in order for its body to actually hold itself upright and steady in order to perfect the act of walking.

So just like your children, every time you challenge yourself to go out of your comfort zone, whether it’s with big or small things, you’re actually creating evidence for yourself that you can feel scared or uncomfortable, and do something anyway.  You begin to train your primitive brain to see change or growth as doable, by virtue of the fact that you’ve got proof that you survived the discomfort.

Because of the work I had done in order to become a coach and create a coaching business, it was also much easier to say yes when my daughter said she wanted to jump out of a plane with me for her 26th birthday.  Of course there was a mixture of excitement and fear, but I was able to step out of the comfort of staying on land so that I could have the amazing experience of jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet.

So in order to step out of your comfort zone, I first suggest that you start small.  Choose something that is challenging but not totally overwhelming, like changing a daily routine, delegating something you normally do to someone else, or setting a small goal like drinking a specific amount of water each day.

Here’s the next most important step – when you feel uncomfortable with whatever you’re doing that’s out of your comfort zone, ask yourself this question – “Why am I feeling uncomfortable?”  This might sound like a silly question to ask, but it will get you to the heart of the matter.

The only reason you feel uncomfortable is because of a thought, so it’s important to know what that thought is.  Once you know what the thought is, you’re more than halfway to learning how to step out of your comfort zone because you now know what’s causing the fear or discomfort, and more importantly, you can do something about it.

As I’ve shared many times on this podcast, your thoughts are 100% optional, but most of us don’t realize that.  We just go about our lives, having various thoughts and feelings, doing or not doing certain things, and getting results that we believe we have very little power over; basically, we have a thought and automatically believe it’s true.

The good news is that all you have to do is manage your mind better.  You have to sit down and decide on purpose what you want to think, instead of what you’re currently thinking.

For example, what I was originally thinking when my daughter requested that we jump out of a plane was simply “That’s insane.  We’re going to die” which of course created fear and anxiety.  But wanting to step out of my comfort zone and do this with her, I chose the thought “This could be fun.  Plenty of people do this all the time”.

I didn’t judge myself for feeling fear and anxiety, I just let that primitive part of my brain tell me what it’s programmed to tell me in order to keep me safe; it was just doing its job.  Once I understood that, then I chose different thoughts on purpose in order to move past the initial discomfort.

It also helps to look at times when you’ve overcome something in the past so that you can choose feelings like pride, strength, or resilience.  Choosing those feelings on purpose and then choosing thoughts that will create those feelings, is one of the best ways to step out of your comfort zone.

The experience of doing hard things is not as hard when you’re not indulging in mind drama.  When you can understand that your primitive brain is just doing its job, but that you can also use your higher brain to decide to do something unfamiliar, that’s when you grow professionally and personally.

For the next week, think about how you could become a better accountant, a better mom, a better friend, etc.  Are you challenging yourself or are you waiting for someone else to?  Do you think it’s someone else’s job to make your job, your relationships, or your life more satisfying?

Think about something you’d like to do but aren’t sure you can do; something you’re just too afraid to do; something that you feel really uncomfortable when you think about it.  Now decide to do it, fear and all.

The worst thing that can happen is an uncomfortable feeling, and you can totally handle that.  Besides, an uncomfortable feeling like fear is just small chemical reactions in your body; that’s all it is.

It might be uncomfortable at first, but once you practice being comfortable with being uncomfortable, then stepping out of your comfort zone will get easier.  So don’t let your brain’s natural desire for a comfort zone stop you from stepping out of it.  There’s so much to be discovered and experienced outside of it!

 

 

Summary  

  • What happens for a lot of accountants is that we gravitate towards, and can often get stuck in,  comfort zones that can make it challenging to grow and evolve.
  • The issue is that, if you don’t take an honest look at your comfort zones every now and then, consider how they might be holding you back, and how to step out of them, you are going to wake up 5, 10 or 20 years from now and wish you had done something differently.
  • When we’re not growing, we wind up being grumpy, dissatisfied, and discontent because we’re actually not tapping into our full potential.