If You're Not Outside Your Comfort Zone, You Aren't Learning

12 August 2019

Comfort Zone Learning

​Around the age of one, something remarkable happened - you took your first steps. Likely there were awkward stumbles, maybe a fall or two and a few tears but somehow you got back up and tried again and again. Soon those little feet started to move quicker and quicker until you were unstoppable!

Little did you know at the time, that you were literally stepping outside your comfort zone. If you had developed the mental capacity to limit yourself, you may never have taken the first step and would never have ventured past crawling. Instead, you didn't – you just kept trying without fear or shame until you achieved mastery.

Our comfort zone is the space where our behaviours and activities fit a routine that minimises our stress and perception of risk. Comfort zones are a good thing, as they serve to keep us safe. However, in doing so, they can also limit our thinking to what we believe we are capable of achieving – when, in fact, it could be so much more!

We are in an era of unprecedented, rapid change, where there isn’t a handbook to guide us and those most likely to succeed are those who are continually learning. To learn means stepping outside our comfort zone.

For many of us, we believe that stepping out of our comfort zone at work means we need to speak publicly in front of thousands of people, prepare a controversial perspective on a topic or muster up the courage to ask our boss for a significant pay-rise. However, stepping out of our comfort zone isn't always about conquering our fears. Sometimes the mere act of challenging our brains, keeping them active and our learning centres switched on prepares us to take on the unpredictability of the day.

In 2018 a group of Yale scientists conducted an experiment where they taught a group of monkeys to hit a target with the reward of fruit juice. Sometimes the odds of hitting the target were fixed - so that the reward was guaranteed a percentage of the time. Sometimes the target was more unpredictable and the frequency it was paid, and the amount of juice varied.

The team of neuroscientists measured the monkey's brain activity while they played with the targets and a clear pattern emerged. If the monkeys could predict the pay-off, then the brain regions associated with learning shut down. When the monkeys could not predict the outcome, their learning centres lit up.

We are often confronted with situations like these at work - where the environmentis always changing so we need to keep learning. An example may be something like in project planning. When you know how long a task will take, you can plan your project timelines with ease. But when the task is new, we need to learn about it first to be able to estimate the time it will take. To learn about this task means stepping out of your comfort zone and with businesses striving for constant innovation, this learning is continuous.

So here are five ways that you can step outside your comfort zone to practise keeping those learning centres switched on.

1. Change in routine

Most of us have a set daily routine, but by making small changes, we can push ourselves to step outside our comfort zone.

If you run to work, push for an extra km tomorrow, buy your coffee from a different café, put 15 mins in the diary to meditate, try and do two more extra sales calls than usual, reach out to a random colleague to learn about their work, try and cook something new for dinner.

2. Build your personal brand

How do you want people to perceive you in the industry? What aspects of your work would you be considered an expert? What business beliefs do you hold? With social media channels at the ready, you find your ideal audience and put yourself out to the industry as an expert in your field.

Write an article, create some short-form videos, post your opinions. One thing is for certain, you will learn a lot along the way – especially when it is your personal brand on the line!

3. Start a new project

Put your hand up for a new project at work or consider developing a side hustle or home DIY efforts. Ever thought about selling t-shirts online, creating a vegetable garden, re-painting your house, creating a new beauty routine, becoming an influencer on Instagram?

You may find a new calling and get an incredible sense of accomplishment; you may start and never finish, or start and fail, but you’ll be guaranteed to learn something new.

4. Do something that startles you

Stand and face the back of a crowded lift, lie down in a public place, negotiate the price for your lunch or start a conversation with a stranger while waiting for the bus.

While these may seem like crazy places to start, they will feel very unpredictable and uncomfortable at first. With more practice, you will learn how to overcome some of the limiting beliefs that can overwhelm our thinking by putting yourself into situations such as these.

5. Travel

While travelling is a vacation, what makes it so enjoyable is that we have to actively step out of our comfort zone and learn something new. Learning experiences can be found as we navigate transport, negotiate a purchase, learn a new language, discover new foods or embrace the historical significance of a new place. Travel also teaches us about our capabilities, likes, values and tolerance.

6. Talk to people you disagree with

There is always someone at work who has polar opposite views to you. Instead of rolling your eyes and high-tailing it out of there the first opportunity, why not spend some time learning their perspective.

Having a respectful debate will challenge your thinking and create opportunities to practice building empathy and listening skills - especially if you hold deeply passionate views on the topic.

At Trojan Recruitment Group, we see talented employees stepping out of their comfort zones applying for new roles, venturing into new workplaces and kicking goals at work. If you would like to find a dream job that supports your learning, contact a recruitment agency like Trojan Recruitment Group and get advice from the experts in labour-hire, permanent and contract staff.