If you want to expand your reach, gain new skills, stretch yourself and take your writing to the next level, you can dance at the edge of your comfort zone—that place where we have to push ourselves just a little bit to try something new that we’ve been talking about for years.
At the edge of our comfort zone we have to take risks, and taking risks—even small ones—can help us overcome irrational fears and rescue us from settling into the path of least resistance. It can save us from never accomplishing the goals—even the dreams—we’ve never quite had the guts to try.
Experts advise us to step out of our comfort zone and take those risks, because that’s when and where we make personal discoveries and learn we’re capable of more than we ever thought or imagined. It gets us out of our safe spot and out into a place of adrenaline, adventure, and growth.
A few years ago I stepped outside my comfort zone to start coaching, leveraging every bit of experience and knowledge I’ve gained in 25+ years of writing, and with coaching, I’ve discovered work that I love. It taps into almost every skill I’ve acquired all these years. Because I danced on the edges of my comfort zone, I gained a new sweet spot. Coaching allows me to celebrate successes in the lives of my clients, help them overcome hurdles, and I love it. That was worth the risk. What initially felt like a stretch turned out to be a perfect fit—I never would have known if I hadn’t pushed myself and taken the risk.
But here’s a different example. Several years ago I tried a type of writing that could have been lucrative. I worked hard and produced the best I was capable of, but it was outside my comfort zone and my area of strength. I could tell I was not improving and this was not ever going to be a sweet spot, so I stepped away from that work and then I tried to return to a style and genre where I could shine. I’d been doing the other style long enough that I was drained and doubted myself. I’d lost my pizzazz. I didn’t have the confidence that needed to come through in my content. I struggled to get my groove back. It came. Eventually. But it’s a reminder not to linger too long if the stress is too high—there’s a point of diminishing returns.
While it might be good to step out of our safe spot sometimes, if we’re continually operating outside our comfort zone, we might stray too far from our sweet spot.
If you’re out there in the hinterland so long you’re cold and shaky and don’t even know who you are anymore, anxiety can rise and confidence plummet—not to mention quality. If you’re not careful, you’re operating in a place of nervous fear, and you can’t even retrace your steps back to your sweet spot.
Daniel Goleman wrote in Psychology Today:
[W]hen demands become too great for us to handle, when the pressure overwhelms us, too much to do with too little time or support, we enter the zone of bad stress. Just beyond the optimal zone at the top of the performance arc, there is a tipping point where the brain secretes too many stress hormones, and they start to interfere with our ability to work well, to learn, to innovate, to listen, and to plan effectively.
He goes on to say an organization will be top-performing “to the extent to which its employees can contribute their best skills at full force. The more moments of flow, or even just staying in the zone of engagement and motivation, the better.”
That’s it, friend. Find that zone of engagement and motivation. It’s playing to your strengths—maybe strengthening your strengths—and the engagement happens because you are pushing yourself to the edge. Sometimes.
When I find myself outside my comfort zone for too long and I’m losing motivation, that’s when I know I need to find my way back to my sweet spot, and find energy and motivation by capitalizing on my strengths. If I’m in that “zone of bad stress,” as Goleman said, I need to experience some “wins” again—big wins, small wins, it doesn’t matter as long as I can see that I am good at certain things. I can help people. I can do the work. I can write. I can edit. I can coach. I see the fruit of my efforts and know that I add value to this world because of what I bring to it. This happens when at least sometimes, and maybe much of the time, I go ahead and play to my strengths.
Dance at the edge of the comfort zone to avoid, well, avoidance, and boredom, and underselling yourself. But don’t dance so far out and for so long that you’re stressed and overwhelmed and unable to shine. That’s when you can back off and go ahead and play to your strengths.
Click on the podcast player above or use subscription options below to listen to the full episode.
- “The Sweet Spot for Achievement,” by Daniel Goleman for Psychology Today
- #47: Don’t Be Afraid to Evolve
- #32: What’s the Thing You Really Want to Write…That Scares You?
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Featured image by Isabelle Kroeker.
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