Why you need to leave your comfort zone to achieve personal growth

  • Living
  • Friday, 14 Apr 2023

Comfort is, by all means, a good thing. And if you are in your own comfort zone at work, you can often work well in it. Photo: Christin Klose/dpa

Whether it's sitting on a sofa or staying in a hotel, who doesn't like to feel comfortable? The same goes for situations in general: Being in your "comfort zone" is pleasant, including at your job.

"Most people probably associate it with their own personal feel-good zone – a kind of mental housing, so to speak," says Matthias Blattmann, a German businessman and author of a book whose title translates as You're Now Leaving the Comfort Zone. Steps to Success.

At their job, it's typically taken to mean what they're accustomed to doing and do well, says business psychologist Florian Becker, author of a book on how to effectively motivate employees. This can be quite important, particularly in occupations with high safety risks and requiring top performance, such as surgeon.

There's an emotional level as well.

"Then the comfort zone is where you have no fear and feel secure," Becker says.Sounds good. So why are we always hearing that we should leave our comfort zone?

"Because if we remain there too often, we're trading future happiness for current pleasure," he explains. "If you're never in a position to leave your comfort zone, you'll never enter what we call the growth zone."

Only there is development possible – personal, occupational and also societal, Becker says.

What's more, by staying in your comfort zone, you forgo satisfaction and important learning achievements, according to Blattmann.

"You miss out on insights enabling you to master unforeseen situations in your life," he says.

Blattmann, who's 50, began his career as a dance instructor and now manages several companies throughout Germany. He says he still finds it exciting to take on new challenges and learn new things.

Children are the best illustration of personal growth through challenges.

"They've got something that many adults lose," says Becker.

That is, they're constantly striving to expand their sphere of activity, expose themselves to uncomfortable situations, fall down, get back up, and go to the limit.In other words, they leave their comfort zone. And by doing so, every day they acquire skills, knowledge, self-confidence and opportunities – all things that are also useful in the workplace.

This childhood spirit of adventure often increasingly wanes with age. The problem, though, is that by staying in your comfort zone, you're not only neglecting your future prospects and remaining at a standstill, but will ultimately even regress.

"The comfort zone of people who never push their limits becomes smaller instead of larger," remarks Becker.

How can you overcome personal inertia?

"It's important to face the music and consider where you'll end up in five, 10 or 20 years if you go on as usual," he says. Picturing that in your mind can be jolting and serve as motivation for change.Simple solutions are hard to come by, however.

"People who seemingly made an about-face out of nowhere had a certain constellation of circumstances enabling them to leave their comfort zone," Blattmann says.

Becker agrees that it's not only fear or laziness that keeps people in their comfort zone. It has a lot to do with their personality, he says.

"Some people are too introverted, and others simply don't like change," he notes.

It's difficult for them to approach people for something, ask for a raise or seek challenging tasks. Those who succeed in entering the growth zone often have the personality trait of "being open to new things".

"You've got to exert yourself though, and for that you need energy," says Blattmann, adding that to summon it you have to be aware of two things: what holds you back and what drives you forward.

"And then you've got to tap your personal mental fuel" to propel you. It could be wanting to relive the pride you've felt after a notable achievement, curiosity, worthy goals or a strong desire to live your life meaningfully.

It also helps, Blattmann says, to immerse yourself in inspirational books, meet new people and simply try things you've never done before.

"The more unaccustomed the activities are, the more our brain is stimulated to think."Can it be dangerous to take too big a chance?

"It's good to take the plunge on occasion, of course," Becker says, "but if you go from the growth zone into a panic zone, you hit an ice sheet instead of water and really hurt yourself."

To put it somewhat hyperbolically, you surely won't be doing yourself a favour by trying to cross the Alps by bicycle if you don't ride one all year, points out Becker, who says reasonable, healthy growth is better.

"A certain amount of self-assessment is definitely required as well if you want to venture into something new," Blattmann says. But, he adds, you actually have nothing to lose: "You always gain something somehow, even if it's only experience." – dpa

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