The information here is so sensible and clearly stated, that by the time you finish this quick little read, you’ll practically believe you thought it up yourself.
Andrew Molinsky, a professor of organizational behavior at Brandeis University, breaks down and articulates with sturdy concepts and lots of examples the processes we use to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, providing tools and strategies for the next time the necessity/opportunity presents itself.
Stepping outside the comfort zone in this book ranges from delivering bad news (firing and employee or delivering a troubling medical prognosis), to networking, to confronting difficult people, to learning to work with a team, to public speaking and more.
The concepts seem rock-solid sensible. Of course we should understand how and why we avoid leaving our comfort zone. Naturally we need a firm sense of conviction to push ourselves. It makes perfect sense that we would want to find our own personal way of performing the necessary task. And why wouldn’t we find a new sense of our own powers on the other side?
Yet, as obvious as it seems, chances are we haven’t found that new sense. We are more likely to simplify the whole process in our minds. As Molinsky points out, we’ve all seen too many Internet memes about how the only way to get out of your comfort zone is to close your eyes and leap. But this is not true; Molinksy has identified a series of thought processes we undergo before we take a leap, and his clear explanations feel fresh and invigorating.
For example, in the chapter “Conviction: The Critical Importance,” he writes:
“If there were no justifiable reason to act outside your comfort zone — if networking weren’t all that important to your career…if making small talk with colleagues didn’t matter at all…and if asserting yourself were truly irrelevant to your job, acting outside your comfort zone would be a moot point. You’d laugh at the idea of doing any of these things because the ‘gain’ clearly isn’t worth the ‘pain’ it takes to do them.”
That is the rationale for the introverts I can already hear grumbling about how Molinsky is just one more person telling them to buck up and do the things they loathe — such as networking. If it’s not important to you, then you won’t make the leap and that’s your prerogative. But Molinksy identifies many of the individuals whose stories he tells in the book as introverts convinced of the benefits of pushing through their discomfort in order to accomplish a goal that matters to them.
So once you’ve figured out what you’re afraid of and why, your next step is finding the conviction to change and taking it deeply to heart.
Another vital concept in the book is “Customization: Finding Your Own Personal Way of Performing the Task.” Again, of course. And yet again, great point. Rarely is there just one way to perform any task, and if the usual way feels unnatural for you, then you are free come up with a way that feels right.
For example, Molinksy discusses a military cadet charged with bringing young recruits up to snuff but who was deeply uncomfortable with the harsh, berating way others in her position did the job.
“She wanted to gain the cadets’ respect as well — just not by humiliating them. She customized her language and tone to get the message across, but in a way that felt far more humane. Instead of yelling, Jane decided to get around the confrontation simply by turning statements into questions and to do so with a quiet intensity that challenged without humiliating the cadets. She’d pepper them with questions such as: ‘Did you have a strategy for why you shined your shoes but not your belt buckle?’”
In another example Molinksy discusses is writer/comic Larry David, who wrote and planned to star in a play — but then realized he was utterly terrified. He finally figured out that wearing his own clothes onstage, rather than being dressed by a costumer, helped him take the stage with less anxiety.
Also interesting are some of the quirkier, and yet research-backed, suggestions Molinksy provides. For example, cheering ourselves on in the third person (“Bob, you can do this!”) rather than the first (“I can do it!”) gives us a little psychological distance from a daunting task, making courage easier to tap into. This is an aspect of “self-distancing,” or stepping back mentally to see our perceptions as only one way of viewing a situation.
Reach also discusses the emotional benefits of pushing beyond your comfort zone, and ways forcing yourself to do so can ultimately expand your comfort zone, even in cases of what Molinksy calls “necessary evil,” such as having to fire people.
“One manager, for example, started to realize over time that there was a certain professional pride in doing layoffs ‘well’ — which, for him, meant being able to treat the recipient with dignity and respect: ‘I realize that it is part of my job. Somebody has to do it. I would rather it be me than most of the people I know. Because I know how to do with compassion, sensitivity, (and) maintaining dignity.’”
It’s a simple little book, written in plain language with lots of storytelling, and it sometimes seems repetitive as it drives home points, but Reach provides a whole new way to approach your comfort zone and bust out of it.
Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, Build Confidence
Avery Books, January 2017
Hardcover, 288 pages