Break out of your comfort zone to achieve success

Humans are wired to seek comfort, and as a result much of daily life is focused around familiar patterns and habits. When something threatens to break those habits, we feel uncomfortable and nervous. These negative feelings are easily avoided by continuing to live life the same way, rejecting change. If given the chance to enter uncharted territory, a situation where life's future is unpredictable, people often prefer not to change, clinging to a comfortable situation.

I still remember the summer before I left my home and family to attend college out of state. Although I'd spent summers away from home before, I didn't feel ready to live without the immediate support of my parents on what seemed to be a more permanent basis. I considered postponing my college education or attending a community college for a year to ease the transition.

Realizing that millions of kids my own age had the courage to attend college while living on campus hundreds or thousands of miles away from their family, I decided to follow through. I convinced myself I was at least as capable as millions of other kids.

Looking back, the experience was perfect for me and I'm glad I found the strength to move away when I did. I adapted to the new living situation rapidly and found it wasn't difficult to expand my Comfort Zone.

Breaking Out For Your Career

“We shall have no better conditions in the future if we are satisfied with all those which we have at present.” — Thomas Edison

There are four things that make us feel comfortable:

  • Familiarity with location
  • Familiarity with people
  • Familiarity in thoughts
  • Familiarity in actions

But if we cling to familiarity in these aspects of our lives, there's no opportunity for real growth — personally, professionally, or financially.

My college experience dealt with location and people, but the changes we make in our actions can have an ever greater effect, and are key to financial gain. Working in the corporate world, anyone could grow accustomed to daily, weekly, or monthly patterns of tasks and responsibilities. Being adept or even excelling in these responsibilities isn't enough for someone who wants to make an impression and increase the possibility of being rewarded.

Here are a few ways someone could break out of the Comfort Zone at work:

  • If you don't typically speak in front of others, prepare a short presentation about one of your responsibilities and share it at a meeting with your team.
  • Develop a unique process improvement that has the possibility of increasing productivity, income, or whatever is important to your workgroup.
  • Eagerly attempt a challenging assignment that normally would be handled by your supervisor or a “higher level.”

Not everyone is wired for corporate life. In fact, corporations are full of people who aren't. They may be dreaming of some activity they would rather be doing only if money weren't a consideration.

Two former vice presidents from my company were tired of corporate life, so they gave up their six-figure salaries to open a bed and breakfast in the Hamptons. This is happening everywhere; people are making major changes to their lives to fulfill a calling, a dream, or a passion. These changes always require a rejection of some level of comfort in pursuit of a new environment offering a possibility of self improvement.

Breaking Out For Financial Growth

“We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.” — Max DePree

Aside from a career path or entrepreneurial dream, it's easy to fall into a Comfort Zone with our finances. It's easy to pay someone else to do basic yard work, for example. And if outsourcing this work is embedded in your family culture, paying someone else is natural and comfortable. There may be good reasons to outsource but in many cases there aren't, and those reasons — no time, no skill — are often excuses. Even having never picked up a rake or planted a flower, a new self-responsible gardener could save a significant amount of money over time, amplified by compound interest.

Many people avoid investing because it seems difficult or risky from the outside. How do you know which stocks to pick? How do you handle a stock market crash? Whom can you trust? With these questions, many people stick to what they're comfortable with: investing in their company's 401(k) because someone else has made the decision for them, and saving anything else they have left after expenses at the end of the month in a bank account.

This is the result of financial comfort. While it feels good, and this person may have a sense of security that nothing bad can happen, the opportunity cost could be significant. By not taking action, the would-be investor is likely losing out on thousands, tens of thousands, or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime. This could be solved by stepping outside the Comfort Zone and learning how to do something new: invest.

How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

“If you remain in your Comfort Zone you will not go any further.” — Catherine Pulsifer

Whether you want to be rewarded at your job, be successful on your own, improve your financial situation, or just feel like you accomplished something, the key is to break out of your Comfort Zone. Even if what you are doing works for you, a little effort to try something new could result in a better outcome. If you keep doing only what's ordinary, your results will continue to be just as ordinary. The only solution is to start doing something extra-ordinary.

But just like any move against human nature, this doesn't come naturally. Here are some hints for making the transition easier and, well, more comfortable:

  • Educate yourself. Find out how other people achieve what you want to achieve with a high level of success. Research your tasks as much as possible, reading case studies, books, and blogs. Find guides that provide step-by-step instructions for the task outside your Comfort Zone that you wish to accomplish. Keep coming back to your resources throughout the entire process.
  • Team up. The internet is your friend, but nothing beats spending some time in personal conversation with someone whose path you'd like to emulate. If your goal is to stop buying dinner out and start cooking every day, reading recipes will only get you so far. Have an expert help you by giving you hands-on experience under the watchful eye of a personal guide. For whatever you want to achieve, find a class that lets you participate while working with classmates, most of whom could be in the same situation as you. There is safety — and comfort — in numbers.
  • Create a plan. Writing down a challenge, whether just in a notebook kept in your night stand or on a blog public to the world, makes it real. I believe the more public, the better. (At Consumerism Commentary, I make my finances public, which means I'm accountable to the world, not just myself. This brings extra pressure, but motivation as well.) While writing, break your goal into at least three measurable accomplishments, and break those accomplishments into at least three tasks. This is your roadmap. For example, running a 5K is outside the Comfort Zone of many couch potatoes. In this case, a plan has been created for you. All you have to do is follow it.
  • Take small steps. Like the first step of a couch potato on the way to her first 5K, the first step is always the most difficult. Any task that seems daunting can be broken down into smaller steps. Eventually, your series of small steps becomes your path to the goal. Some people can make the change they want in one leap once they decide to tackle the obstacle, but that's not the right choice for everyone. In general, small steps result in success because a slow process helps to reinforce and internalize the experience — building gradual comfort.
  • Breed a new comfort. As make slow progress through a series of tasks or through repetition, you're actually e-x-p-a-n-d-i-n-g your Comfort Zone. That which you never would have considered doing is now something you might do without a second thought. You may find yourself looking for more and ready to make some new plans once comfort sets in. Despite my nervousness about college, it didn't take long to feel comfortable there. I was soon looking for more challenges, such as running student organizations.

By breaking out of your Comfort Zone, you're opening your mind to new experiences, so it's natural for your goals and desires to change along the way.

An investing newbie whose goal was to familiarize herself with the stock market may have such a great experience after the first Comfort Zone breach that she may be inspired to become a financial planner and to help others achieve their financial goals. The factory worker who quits his job to run his own business may achieve personal success which inspires him to meet new people including his future wife.

The rewards for escaping your Comfort Zone are limitless. The rewards for never expanding your experience are well-defined: more of the same.

More about...Psychology

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Meredith
Meredith
10 years ago

Excellent post… I’m in the midst of a huge step out of my comfort zone. I left a great (corporate) job to move across country for quality of life issues – I became the trailing spouse. The (comfortable) opportunities in my field are limited where I currently reside – so my colleague and I started our own consulting business. I’ve hired business coaches (which keeps me quasi-comfortable through this process) – and I have done just as you suggested – I’ve written down my goals (90-day, 1-year, 3-year) and shared them with a group of entrepreneurs. That truly kick-started it… Read more »

Dr Dean
Dr Dean
10 years ago

This post is especially timely with so many people involuntarily out of their comfort zone-fired, let go, laid off, whichever term you like…

Instead of freezing, like a deer in the headlights, take the time to study your options. Review your career-maybe it was going nowhere or you hated it. Maybe it’s time to make a career change, go out on your own, downside your expenses, and go for it.

Tom
Tom
10 years ago

A good way to start breaking your comfort zone is to pay attention to your feelings – if it seems to be difficult, just go for it!
Over time, this creates a great habit and your situation will get better before you know it.

Jennifer
Jennifer
10 years ago

yes, yes – so true, so true. Breed a new comfort can probably be the hardest part. Just put on the shoes and get out there.

Flexo
Flexo
10 years ago

Dr Dean: That’s a great point. It requires people to look at a setback like getting laid off as if it were an opportunity.

Frugillionaire
Frugillionaire
10 years ago

Great post! It’s amazing how starting with small steps can take your life in an entirely new (and rewarding!) direction.

I think many people find frugality to be out of their comfort zone–and don’t realize how ditching the cable, avoiding malls, and generally lowering their consumption can *positively* enhance their lives. You can start by simply changing a few habits; and before you know it, you’ve developed a wonderful new lifestyle!

miss minimalist
miss minimalist
10 years ago

Breaking out of your comfort zone is liberating!

Last summer, my husband and I gave up good jobs, sold our house and all our possessions, and moved overseas. Friends and family chalked it up to a mid-life crisis (or mild insanity), but we simply felt like we’d become too “comfortable.” It’s been a fabulous experience so far, and we’ve realized we’re much happier living a nomadic and minimalist lifestyle!

namesarehardtopick
namesarehardtopick
10 years ago

I agree with Frugillionaire that TV provides many people with comfort, and ditching that TV set may be the most arduous challenge some people ever face.

But it’s all about mindset: anything that some see as negative can be positive when you see change as good.

Flexo
Flexo
10 years ago

Meredith: If that’s your toughest decision, then I think you’re all set!

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
10 years ago

Hey Flexo, a good start off on the tour!

I like your last point about breeding/expanding a new comfort zone.

The funny thing about personal finance, is that once you feel you have enough to be financially independent, a lot of things get A LOT more comfortable!

Imagine if you went to work knowing you didn’t really need to go to work b/c your finances were all set. You’d try so many more things, and take on so many more new challenges.

Outlaw
Outlaw
10 years ago

Great article. It’s important to expand or shatter your comfort zone on a daily basis.

The part about taking small steps is really good advice. If you jump too soon or leap too far, you are liable to burn yourself out. Which is really not the point of expanding your comfort zone!

I remember reading somewhere that what you have today is the result of your past comfort zones and ambitions. So to stay happy with what you have, without expanding or improving, is basically stagnation.

Robert Latchford
Robert Latchford
10 years ago

Comfort Zones vary so much for different people. My parents are a good example.My Father is outgoing , loves going out and meeting people. My Mother absolutely hates mixing with new people and would rather stay within a very tight comfort space. It is tricky when going out somewhere with a partner who has quite a narrow one in comparison. Life is about expanding your experiences and living every moment you have as though it is one of your last. You never know when you are going to have a massive change in your life – healthwise , family wise… Read more »

Jackie
Jackie
10 years ago

Boy you are so right about taking the first step being the hardest. I can’t tell you how many “first steps” on various projects that I’ve put off for weeks and weeks, only to think “Was that it? I should have done this whole lot sooner” as soon as I finally did it. The good news is that taking first steps is starting to be within my comfort zone.

ami | 40daystochange
ami | 40daystochange
10 years ago

dang. your article made me wonder – are the compromises I’m contemplating – to manage finances while I build up to my dream job – just a roundabout way to stay warmly nestled in my comfort zone? Is there a middle ground? Or is there only stay – or go?

Shara
Shara
10 years ago

I wonder if I’ll be the only one here who LIKES my comfort zone. It exists for a reason. It keeps me out of things I am not prepared/qualified for. I think very often people wind up miserable because they think there is something wrong with their comfort zone so they try to push outside it: investing in things they don’t understand, take a job that’s a bad fit, moving into a neighborhood outside their class. There are two bad reasons to stay within your comfort zone: laziness and fear. If you are avoiding change because of either of these… Read more »

Neel Kumar
Neel Kumar
10 years ago

I moved halfway across the world to attend college. Boy was I out of my comfort zone! Though I knew English, I had trouble with accents and I still had no idea about most of the Americanisms that my fellow students and professors used. Thankfully, after the first week, I realized that most of my fellow freshmen were just as scared as I was. That made me feel so good that all fears simply evaporated.

Allan @ Rich Money Habits
Allan @ Rich Money Habits
10 years ago

Great article! Sometimes, the problem with being comfortable is that you start to get lazy. Because you already know the inside and out of those “comfortable” things you do everyday, it slowly becomes boring to you. You dream for a day where you’re doing something else. Unfortunately, you never know what’s on the other side unless you try it. This is where most people will stop from even trying to go where they might be “uncomfortable”. It is fear. When this happens, it is helpful to remind yourself of your dreams. If your dreams are worth something, you’ll have the… Read more »

Anastasia
Anastasia
10 years ago

just a word of warning – “where ever you go, you always will take yourself with you!” what I mean is: if you are not satisfied with your life, or a particular situation, just “breaking out” won’t help! You must first reflect on WHY it is you are not happy/satisfied with what you have and HOW did you get into this particular situation – BEFORE you consider your break out. if the root cause of your misery was within you this misery will hunt you down again and again and again You can’t break out of your self unless you… Read more »

Tyler Tervooren
Tyler Tervooren
10 years ago

Very timely post for me. Probably a very timely post for everyone, really.

Who doesn’t have a desire in their mind that’s being put off because it’s too scary to take the first step.

We’ve all taken a step before and turned out fine, right? Everyone has some sort of past uncomfortable past experience that they can draw on for motivation and support.

I think it has a lot to do with turning the emotion you would normally perceive as fear into excitement.

Personal Finance Student
Personal Finance Student
10 years ago

Good post. We all live for comfort ans ease. This post is a reminder that sometimes we need to change things up to see growth.

thisisbeth
thisisbeth
10 years ago

This is very timely for me. I’m going to move out of my comfort zone and apply for a new job in a new department. I don’t hate my job, but often times I’m just bored with it. I’m very nervous and scared to move on–I’ve had my job 10 years–but it’s time to make a move.

Rob
Rob
10 years ago

Ouch, this is so true… “We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.”

Foxie || CarsxGirl
Foxie || CarsxGirl
10 years ago

This is something I definitely need to work on…. I’ve dreamed of a certain lifestyle for far, far too long, it’s time to go out there and make it! (Because, after all, nobody’s going to come along and just give it to me… Duh.)

Thankfully, we’re moving, and I’m using the change of locations to spur on a couple of other changes… Some that I should have made already, but it’s a lot easier to use the move as a catalyst to start the work here.

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

I’m with Shara too. But I’ve been out of my comfort zone before and I’ve examined what other people do in my field to succeed (hint: perseverance and moxy are more important than talent). Right now though I’m more interested in doing what I want than in getting ahead, but this advice might have matched an earlier point in my career and will probably match a later point. Getting out of your comfort zone can be time consuming and tiring… there’s something to be said for slow and steady comfortable progress too. Moderation in all things (including moderation).

Little House
Little House
10 years ago

A very timely post. My husband and I are bantering around the idea of moving. I’ve lived within the same 5 mile radius almost my entire life. He’s been in the same area almost 15 years. Our first step will be writing down a pros and cons list of why we should move versus stay in the area. We’ve been courageous in other areas of our lives, like starting our own business, but moving is a little scary! Thanks for sharing some of your ideas.

Jeanette
Jeanette
10 years ago

This post is right on. I’m preparing to move cross-country at the end of the month. My best friend moved out of her comfort zone and is LOVING her new life. My other best friend is about to do the same thing. For me, I decided that this coast isn’t cutting it, and that it’s time to go. Well, let me tell you…I had one group of friends – people who are go-getters, making a good life, well-off – say, “Good for you! I’ll miss you, but your new place will be great!” The others – the ones who are… Read more »

Tomas Stonkus
Tomas Stonkus
10 years ago

I keep reading that increasing the size of your comfort zone is key to success. I am starting to realize why. You feel comfortable in situations that others are having trouble with. By doing that, you automatically stand out as somebody who can handle difficult situations. I loved the tips provided in the article, but the main thing that I would say is to start doing small things in your life to put you out of your comfort zone. I have found many great tips in 4HWW to get out of the comfort zone, but you can always make your… Read more »

John @ TheChristianDollar.com
John @ TheChristianDollar.com
10 years ago

Breaking out of our comfort zones is definitely a challenge. I know that God honors it when we step out in faith and pursue the things God would have us pursue. It just feels plain good to break though what people think is possible. When you reach for the impossible, you’ll be a great deal farther ahead than most!

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

@26 Jeanette: I think (hope) that when shara said: “moving into a neighborhood outside their class” she was referring to Millionaire Next Door type stuff regarding upper middle class (income-wise) people who move next door to Hollywood types and get caught up in the excessive spending (though Millionaire Next Door would also say that the Hollywood types shouldn’t be there either). I totally didn’t catch that part the first time I read it. Given the way school districts are connected to where we live, it would definitely be disturbing if lower income people who value education wouldn’t be encouraged to… Read more »

Matt Jabs
Matt Jabs
10 years ago

Great wisdom in this post… The past year of my life has been all about expanding my comfort zone. I took an existentialist approach to my life by asking myself how I wanted to be remembered. After I pass on, what do I want people to say when they think of me… and are they saying those things when they think of me now? The answer to my question was, no… they would have no reason to say the things I wanted said – so I set about changing that. Since becoming aware of this, nowadays before I attempt to… Read more »

Shara
Shara
10 years ago

I apologize for any confusion about my comment. When I mention class I mean both social and economic, and it is more than just class, but whole lifestyle (kids/no kids, age of neighbors). As Nicole said if you are a Hyundai family you could be uncomfortable living in a Mercedes neighborhood (no matter what you can afford). The same is true in reverse. If you like nicer things but move to a working class community you can feel pretty conspicuous with your Mercedes in the driveway. We all have a class to which we belong. That isn’t good or bad… Read more »

Shara
Shara
10 years ago

@Neel & Jeanette I will say I agree that sometimes you just have to act outside your comfort zone because there is no other way to achieve your goals, such as moving a great distance. There isn’t much (beyond studying another language) that can make the culture shock any less real. But that wasn’t what I was commenting on. I was commenting on the wisdom of doing things with which one is not familiar or has no skills. As I said, sometimes that can’t be helped, but we always need to examine WHY we don’t want to step outside our… Read more »

suburbangrandma
suburbangrandma
10 years ago

Very nice post. Lots of great suggestions. To sum it all up: “Rolling stone gathers no moss”

Catus Lee
Catus Lee
10 years ago

I am a true believer of expanding the comfort zone. Instead of seeing yourself breaking through the comfort zone, it is much much easier to expand the comfort zone and make things easier for you. You post truly reflect what need to be done to achieve that. In addition, I believe the “comfort zone” mentality is just a sort of mind boundary for ourselves. What if we stretch the boundaries to the extremes? Instead of making small steps, you can make giant leap once to greatly expand the horizon. Then, everything in between will be easy. For instance, if you… Read more »

Jonathan
Jonathan
10 years ago

My wife and I are currently in the process of moving interstate away from our comfortable suburban existance. We’re going to the country, where I’ll be learning a brand new career learning to work the farm I grew up on. We’re doing this to avoid becomming comfortable and complacent in our lives, which we would have done if we’d continued ‘business as usual’. We have no idea how it will work out, hopefully it will be a success, but maybe not. Either way we will be successfull in overcoming fears and challenging ourselves. If you’re interested, you can read more… Read more »

Flexo
Flexo
10 years ago

Wow, it is amazing to read all of these stories of people who are actually moving outside their Comfort Zone right now or are contemplating the same thing.

Cactus Lee: Great point, comfort is a self-limiting mindset. I like your idea of taking something to the extreme and dialing it back. it’s the opposite of “baby steps” but I think it will work well for some people.

Thisisbeth: Good luck with your move!

David/Yourfinances101
David/Yourfinances101
10 years ago

Its probably the most difficult thing to do as a person (especially voluntarily), but the rewards and benefits are tremendous. Both from a professional and personal standpoint.

For me, it was public speaking. Until I got over it, my professional career was at a standstill.

John P
John P
10 years ago

Great post, Flexo — thank you for sparking thoughts in people as to where they are, compared to where they may want to be. The one item that many of us miss is that many are drawn to “pleasing methods” rather than “pleasing results.” It seems that the most valuable of our goals and accomplishments are results of hard work, discipline, some discomfort and sacrifice – giving up something now, to gain something of more potential value in the future. On this same topic, I especially liked the part about writing down goals. It’s amazing how a simple act of… Read more »

Amy
Amy
10 years ago

I think of myself as risk-averse, but in a way that has led me to build a stable base from which I can then take chances: they are less ‘chancy’ once one is debt free, financially secure, etc. I don’t seek opportunities as much as I thoroughly consider them when asked. When my company has asked me to take on projects, I’ve been uncomfortable, but I say yes and learning and doing a good job has made me a valued employee. A few months back they asked if I would be willing to move to another country! And I thought… Read more »

Famous
Famous
10 years ago

That was a great article. These days many people have fears of just doing it. What’s the worse can happen? A “no” response…big deal.

The outside comfort zone if done repeatedly becomes the “comfort zone”, and you can push this “zone” bigger and bigger.

Thanks for the article.

Jason Clegg
Jason Clegg
10 years ago

“…people often prefer not to change, clinging to a comfortable situation.”

It’s disappointing but incredibly true.

These are great action steps, Flexo. Even success and achievement can lead to new forms of comfort. It seems we always need a period to adapt and stabilize the new things we incorporate into our lives, but keeping the change a constant is the key!

Very glad I discovered this post and this blog. I’ll be back again soon…

-Jason Clegg

FinanciallySmart
FinanciallySmart
10 years ago

Thank you so much for this post. A wonderful reminder of things that we opted to forget.

Reza Ali
Reza Ali
8 years ago

The comfort zone is a comfortable place to be in. I like the idea of taking small steps which is part of my strategy too. Sometimes though, getting out of the comfort zone requires doing things we are uncomfortable in.

Thanks for the article. I’m writing on this too and will definitely link my article to yours.

Reza Ali
Reza Ali
8 years ago

Also, I recently learnt that we have a natural tendency to resist change (which is what getting out of the comfort zone involves). Was there an event or a person that pushed you ‘over the edge’ of your comfort zone?

For me, it was one of my mentors who sat me down and told me that I am capable of more. That helped me.

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