Getting out of your comfort zone
I started this blog pre-lockdown and since then both Steve’s Kilimanjaro and my Mallorca triathlon have been cancelled due to COVID-19. I thought it was still worth publishing anyway (As both Steve and I hope to do these events in 2021).
Recruiters are bound to say that moving roles and “getting out of your comfort zone” is a good thing to do as we would love people to move roles. More frequent job changes obviously means more money for recruiters, but I am honestly writing this without my recruiter hat on and backing this theory up with evidence as you will read below.
The idea of the ‘comfort zone’ goes back to a classic experiment in psychology. Back in 1908, psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of ‘relative comfort’ created a steady level of performance. In order to maximise performance we need a state of relative anxiety—a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This space is called “Optimal Anxiety”, and it’s just outside our comfort zone. Too much anxiety and we’re too stressed to be productive, and our performance drops off sharply.
I have also referred to this in other blogs but Maslow’s hierarchy of needs also helps to show how we as humans benefit from getting out of our comfort zone and the top two elements of the hierarchy are covered by this.
Esteem – proving (to yourself) that you can do something that you may not have done before can give you a real feeling of achievement. If you surround yourself with good friends and family, the status and recognition that comes with it is also very rewarding.
Self-actualisation – if you have an element of desire to be the most that one can be then you will also find a challenge helps towards this and find it very rewarding.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of basic needs!
For this blog I will take my recruiter hat off and cover some personal experiences of getting out of your comfort zone (Some career and some non-career examples).
I could write a separate blog on this but here is my summary. Having worked at GMAP and then GeoBusiness Solutions I then spent 14 years at BT. I did change roles “fairly often” at BT but in hindsight I should have moved more often (and possibly earlier out of BT). Don’t get me wrong, my time at BT was great (until a few of the later years where I took the wrong career move) but now having been four years out of BT I do not look back.
When I left BT in July 2016, it was a big leap of faith. I was moving from a role that I could almost have had for life (nothing is certain, but BT was pretty much as safe as they come in terms of jobs) to starting a new business in a new area for me. Looking back at my experience, initially I leapt beyond “Optimal Anxiety” due to other pressures. Starting a new career and business and also trying to help care for my mother who had a rapid form of Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and sadly passed away in February 2019.
Coronavirus aside, and with Steve helping me full time on the recruitment for the last year, I feel I am now in the “Optimal Anxiety” space, and this feels great. It’s hard to get that balance and it doesn’t always mean moving roles, but I can really feel a shift in my happiness and work satisfaction within this phase!
In September 2020 Steve will be embarking on a 8-day trip up Mount Kilimanjaro. Cartilage and ACL injuries from football have taken their toll on Steve’s knees (they hurt more when he walks down-hill) but Steve is now pushing ahead with building up to this challenge.
From my point of view on this trip, the challenge is 2-fold. Firstly, it is about getting the fitness to be able to walk for several hours up-hill (This will involve some challenging climbs in the UK with Snowdon, Scafell, Helvellyn etc lined up). Secondly, and perhaps most challenging and one you cannot fully prepare for, is that of coping with the altitude. Kilimanjaro is 6,000 metres high and at that level your blood saturation (Oxygen content in your blood) decreases to nearly 80%. The plan on this trip is to gradually increase the altitude to allow for the climbers to acclimatise to that level.
The reasons Steve is doing this are 5-fold
- Heading towards the big 5-0 and needing to set a big goal for himself.
- Wanting a physical challenge (that can accommodate his dodgy knees).
- Wanting to test his mental strength – as it’s certainly a case of mind over matter.
- Raising some money for causes that are close to him
- Mindfulness – Spending 8 days away from the usual stresses of life and not being in a digitally connected world (bit back to nature really)
Even though the Kilimanjaro trip is postponed, Steve is still focused on training and has set a September 2020 date of walking some of the Lake Districts highest hills in mountains to keep focus so he is ready for 2021.
Finally, on to my challenge this year – in October 2021 I will be competing in the Peguera (Mallorca) Triathlon. This will be a 1.9km open-water Swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run (In that order). To date I have done the last of these three disciplines/distances in isolation, but have never done the first two (The most I have swam in one go is 600m and the most I have cycled is 65km), let alone two or three of these one after the other.
I have run three marathons to date and I remember thinking after doing my first 10km race, that I could never ever run a marathon. I then entered a half marathon and started the training by increasing my distance each week by no more than 10%. I got up to 11 miles in training and then did my first half marathon in 1hr 42 minutes. That step up gave me the confidence to try a marathon and so I embarked on training and again increments of 10% each week up to 20 mile training runs. I find with running once you get to a certain level and go through the training it then becomes a habit. I ran my first marathon in 4hrs 20 mins. Gutted that I didn’t get under four hours, I tried again and came in at 3hrs 58 minutes – what a relief! My third marathon I finished in 3hrs 50 minutes and have felt a great sense of achievement at pushing myself, and have also given myself confidence and belief in my ability and potential fitness levels.
Back to the triathlon and my biggest challenge to begin with is the swim – currently two lengths of front crawl and I am done! So I have been taking swimming lessons and 16 weeks in, I can now swim about 15 lengths without stopping. It’s been a real slog as some weeks I feel like I have made progress, and then other weeks I feel like I have taken a step backwards. What I have felt in this process is a real sense of achievement. I do feel as we get older we do like our comfort zones, but rising to a challenge like this has helped give me a real sense of accomplishment with even more to come. I know I have the ability to further improve all three disciplines and viewing and reviewing my Strava from time to time helps to back this up.
Getting out of your comfort zone isn’t just about changing jobs! It is all about trying to find the right balance in your life and a level of stress in your work and non-work elements that keep you motivated and give you higher self-esteem.
Rather than change jobs, it can also be taking on more responsibility or learning new skills. Rather than work related it can be learning a new skill or increasing your exercise for example. We all need an element of self-esteem so anything that can help towards that will help keep your life well balanced and help you maintain that happiness!
I’d love to hear your views on this concept of pushing your boundaries. Do you do this in your work and personal life? What are you doing this year to get our of your comfort zone?