Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Tara Mohr of Wise Living.
Sometimes, you’re running your business, things are going good, and then, all of a sudden, you wake up and realize that you’ve gotten into a comfort zone. If you’ve been there, it’s not just you…
When I launched my business last year, my neurological and physiological systems went into high alert. The adrenalin flowed, day in and day out. My fear-meter was on high.
Every day involved doing at least a dozen things outside of my comfort zone, things I had never done before: Ask for an introduction to so and so. Talk with a literary agent about my work. Compete for coaching gigs, for significant money.
My long-term vision – create a thriving multimedia platform that helps people live more authentic, compassion lives – was clear, but figuring out the steps to get there, especially the early steps, was dizzying. Everything I did took courage and fear-management.
Six months in, things started to settle. I had a regular group of clients. I had run a few workshops. I was guest posting regularly. Thanks to the wise marketing guidance of Sonia Simone, I had developed free course about goals that was steadily adding people to my list.
That was April 2010. Now we’re in September. Here’s what I’ve noticed: I’ve gotten stuck in a business comfort zone.
The Business Comfort Zone
As someone who whose work is all about personal growth, I know how easy it is to get stuck in a personal comfort zones – but what I’m getting loud and clear now is that we entrepreneurs get stuck in business comfort zones too. Certain activities – maybe even ones that used to feel like petrifying leaps of courage and audacity –get damn cozy.
I know just how to craft a full, “productive” and very safe day. Write article. Publish. Get more sign ups. Coach some wonderful clients. Cook dinner, chill with the hubbie, and head to bed. List will grow. Coaching revenue will come in. That’s all good, but recognize the problem?
There’s no risk. It’s all comfortable. Worst case scenario is that I don’t rock out a coaching session or that I write a post that gets little interest. Both are disappointing, but they involve little emotional risk.
That worries me, because I know when we are doing our real deal, when we are listening to the voice within that’s whispering to us about what we really should go do next, when we are really stepping to what we are called to do, it isn’t cozy. It requires leaping. It involves shaking up the status quo. It requires challenging the inner critic so you can find out just how wrong the inner critic is.
What’s In and Out of the Zone
In the interest of transparency, here’s what’s inside my business comfort zone these days:
-Writing for my blog
-Writing guest posts
-Writing for Huffington Post and Forbes
-Meeting new folks and networking on Twitter
-Through all of the above, giving people the opportunity to sign up for my blog or list.
Here’s what I’ve been avoiding, because it’s currently outside my business comfort zone:
-Getting back in conversation with agents and working on the book publishing thing
-Starting to do video on my site
-Collaborating with others in robust and significant way
I’m spilling the truth about my comfort zone in the service of you seeing yours. Ask yourself:
Where in my business have I gotten stuck in a comfort zone?
What are the costs of that?
What would help me to step out of that comfort zone?
What would the gifts of that be?
This matters. A lot. Our businesses are our personal expression in the world. Most of us are running them to do something important and bold and beautiful in the world. Business comfort zones muzzle that. They constrain it.
How to Get Out of Your Business Comfort Zone
If you’ve ended up in a comfort zone in your business, here’s what I recommend for getting out (and yes, I’m taking this medicine myself too).
1. Get clear on the current state reality.
Write down the list of business activities that are within your comfort zone and those things that are outside of it. In your second list, focus on the top five activities you believe would enrich your business but that you are avoiding, delaying, ignoring, because they are out of your comfort zone.
How do you know if you are avoiding something because it’s outside of your comfort zone? These are some good indicators: Do you get anxious when you think about doing it? Does it involve risking rejection, “failure,” or taking messy, imperfect action? Do you get mentally foggy when thinking about it?
2. Clear your own bullshit.
(Note: My mother recently wrote me to say that while she enjoys my blog very much, she was very taken aback by the word “bullshit” in one of my posts. “Do you really want to use that kind of language?!” she asked. I don’t like cussing, but sometimes it’s called for, and this is one of those times. There is no other word that can capture just how false, how ridiculous, how insidious, how wasteful all your fears and inner critic chatter is. “Illusions” doesn’t cut. “Limiting beliefs” doesn’t either. We’ve all got a ton of customized b.s. in our heads, fooling us into playing small. Let’s call it what it is.)
Step #2 is to clear your own bullshit. Using your list, review the items outside of your comfort zone one by one and deconstruct or disprove the b.s. that is stopping you from going after each one. There are three types of b.s. that are likely to come up:
Fears. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of being who you really are, and fear of the unknown. You might think your fears are more complex and nuanced and special than that, but I’ve found from coaching that all our sophisticated, complicated fears boil down to one of those very basic ones. For example, my resistance to talking to publishing folks shows up as not liking those conversations for reason a,b and c. It’s really about a fear that I’ll write a book that will fail.
Get down to that root of the fear. See it for what it is. Have compassion for yourself. Question whether the fear is realistic, and look at whether you are willing to move forward in spite of the fear. (Find more tools for working with fears here.)
Inner Critic Chatter. You might hear your inner critic saying you aren’t ready to do x, that you aren’t good enough. You might hear old stories that you picked up from Aunt Susie or your mean second grade teacher, about how you can’t write or you are too shy or you are good with numbers but not with people. It’s all b.s.
Notice how the inner critic is functioning to keep you in the comfort zone, and start separating your own best thinking from it’s voice. Create a character and a name for your inner critic and talk back to him or her. For other tools on managing your inner critic, visit here.
Your crazy stories: “I need to get x number of blog subscribers before I reach out to so and so about a collaboration.” “I need to have a fancy website before I sell products.” “I can only send my material to a publisher once, so it better be perfect before I send it.”
We make up all kinds of false rules like these about how the world is. They keep us stuck in our comfort zones. So, check out your assumptions. Write them down, look at them in the plain light of day, and question them. Talk them over with a friend or adviser and see what their take is.
Or, write down the opposite of your assumptions. For example, “I need a fancy website in order to sell products” would become “I need a not-fancy website in order to sell products.” Then brainstorm five reasons your new opposite version is true.
3. Create new metrics.
We all have a huge natural incentive to play it safe. We have to create an alternative incentive to leave the comfort zone.
When my husband and I were working conventional jobs, we had a special agreement on salary negotiations. We agreed that the first one of us to ask for a raise that got turned down by the company would win a prize from the other.
On the one hand, we both wanted to win. On the other hand, neither of us wanted to propose a raise so outlandish it would offend our bosses or damage our reputations. That stretched us to ask for the most money we thought would be perceived as not-offensive. We gave ourselves an incentive to take a risk.
This worked out very well. In fact, neither of us ever got turned down in what we asked for, scary and ridiculous as our requests felt at the time. Needless to say, without our little alternative reward system, we would have left a lot of money on the table.
What kinds of fun rewards can you give yourself for taking risks? What kinds of games can you set up with a friend, coach or partner to encourage you?
Consider including at least one of these metrics in how you gauge your success each day:
- Did I do something today that provoked my own fears of rejection, failure or embarrassment?
- Did I do something that got my heart rate up?
- Did I make a request that was difficult to make?
- Did I fail?
- Did I ask for something that someone said no to?
And let’s reiterate: I’m not talking about taking irresponsible risks with your business, your savings, your brand. I’m talking about taking emotional risks – challenging your fears, your limiting beliefs, stepping out of your emotional comfort zone.
Taking Action This Week
To sum it up, here are three action steps for this week:
- Write your list of what is and isn’t in your comfort zone. (Hey you could even get that one done right now and launch yourself into action by sharing your lists in the comments!)
- Look at your fears, inner critic chatter and crazy stories about those things outside of the comfort zone, and deconstruct and disprove that b.s., one by one.
- Put some new success metrics in place that reward you for stepping out of the comfort zone.
- Pick your first “out of the comfort zone” activity to go after, and set a time in your schedule to make it happen this week.
Let me know how it goes, and please share in the comments: What’s currently in and outside of your business comfort zone? What commitments do you want to make to step outside of the zone? What tools and strategies have helped you move beyond comfort zones that have limited you in the past?
Excellent, timely post, Tara.
I didn’t put it in the post, but the picture is of one of our cats (Petie) when he was a kitten. The picture is on our refrigerator because it always cracks us up.
He’s about 8 years old now, but still just as cute.
Tara Mohr says
I love that this is YOUR cat! The facial expression (not to mention that defensive grip on the blanket) totally captures how we feel about our comfort zones!
A truly excellent post Tara. You made me sit a lot straighter in my chair. Ha ha. Thanks for the good kick in the backside.
Tara Mohr says
Thanks Brad! Glad this struck a chord with you.
Allen Loomis says
I love your blog, its great! I am a self improvement blogger as well and I was wondering if you would be interested in exchanging links on our blog rolls! Comment back on my blog and let me know 🙂
Success Demands Action
Eric Doggett says
Great post, Tara! I thought it was spot-on. As a photographer, I just wrote a post reflecting on how your thoughts apply to my business and colleagues.
Great distinction between a personal comfort zone vs. a business comfort zone. We tend to focus on the former- but how many hours of the day do we dedicate to our professional pursuits? From that perspective, it makes sense that this aspect of our lives would work on the same principle as our personal lives.
Ingenious idea about asking for a raise, too.
tara - scoutie girl says
This is exactly where I’m at with my business. I’m am in a delightfully successful little comfort zone. But gosh darnnit, I want more!
I’m not one to settle & be satisfied – but I AM one to give in to my own bullshit.
I need to live by your questions at the end of this post. Especially, “Did I do something today that provoked my own fears of rejection, failure or embarrassment?”
I rarely do that – I’m just confident enough to know what will work and not nearly confident enough to go after uncomfortable things. But my real success will come from blood-press-rising, sweat-inducing uncomfortableness. And I can do it – it’s never really that bad.
thank you for your refreshing piece. The inner critic is a tricky one – like the devil – he makes our delusions appear real and irrefutable.
I ran 4 marathons which before beginning training seemed impossible. I have just finished a feature length screenplay (checks and balances applied) which at the outset was felt impossible for ‘someone’ like me (my mother and inner talking)
But wait! My writing has now become my comfort zone. I sit and think and write scripts and new show outlines. I feel I cannot sell them to an agent because they don’t reply to my query letters.
What’s to do?
Interesting post~ really got me thinking! I live in my comfort zone… Handmaking items for (mostly) children and selling online is an easy way for me to avoid the real connections that are necessary for me to grow my business. I have a terrible time overcoming shyness in person, but I’m at a point where I feel I have to ‘make it or break it’ and go for wholesale and consignment selling as well. Not sure how I’m going to overcome it at this point but to put it on my calendar and start making the calls… Scary! Thanks for the push, though!
marlon @ productivity bits says
I’ve sat in my comfort zone for a while and have not accomplished much – career-wise – in the last 5-8 years. I’ve started something a couple of months ago that I’ve considered “out of my comfort zone”. That is my blog. I believe this is a fearless, audacious step to tread to the unknown. I did a lot of BS in those 5-8 years. I am making sure that those same BS would not happen again in the next 5 years or so. 🙂
David Butensky says
Wow! Awesome post:) Very empowering! It’s true, we all tend to stay in our comfort zone for various things, and business and work is certainly something I haven’t really thought about…but, I do tend to avoid certain things in the workplace.
Something very useful to me recently though has been Xambox Anywhere which has really increased my productivity a lot. I just waste less time shuffling through all of my papers, so I can waste time doing other things!Haha
Check it out at http://www.xamance.com
You can access all of your docs where ever you are …using the web! brilliant!
Thanks for your post too! I really got something out of this one:)
Outstanding post & very timely for me as I’m right there at the moment – have put all my efforts into getting a website created and up and dragging my feet on the promotion and marketing efforts.. It’s going to be faced this week!
Thanks for the post, fantastic stuff!
Jools Stone says
Great stuff, this blog is just what I need as I attempt to kickstart my freelance New Year. Love the little prize idea.
And those planners, how are you offering that stuff for free?! Someone kindly anoint this man now please! 🙂