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I hate the comfort zone.  This is no love/hate relationship, just hate.  The comfort zone and I have a long history together, a war if you will.  I can happily say as of recent, I have won this war.  By winning this war a whole new unanticipated world opened up to me.

When I was a young lad I lived in the comfort zone.  I was what many considered shy.  Once in seventh grade I asked a girl out via note, via a friend who handed it to her and for some reason that girl said yes.  About a week later I was single again since that girl “wanted a boyfriend that would actually talk to her”.  I guess I was a little too shy for her liking; whatever.  My heart would race every time a cute girl would talk to me in high school and it usually resulted in some mumbling followed by awkward walking/tripping in the other direction.  I LIVED in my comfort zone and never dared try to leave it.  The reason I did not leave my comfort zone boiled entirely down to fear.  You can call it being uncertain, uncomfortable, or nervous – all these are just a subset of fear.

I hated feeling uncomfortable, nervous, and uncertain all the time.  I felt like I was missing out on so many experiences that some of the more “cool” kids were doing.  I spent a lot of time during high school contemplating the cool crowd- why are they different than me?  The summer prior to college something finally clicked in my head.  I realized that the only difference between me and the outgoing kids was how they acted.  Up until that moment I also perceived it as an internal difference, like I was missing confidence or cool genes.   If I just act cooler and more confident than I will be cooler and more confident.  So I made up my mind; I implemented Eric stop being nervous project day 1 of college.

Fast forward eight years later.  I am now described by my friends and acquaintances as one of the most outgoing, un-nervous people they have ever met.  The notion of me ever being nervous or uncomfortable in social situations does not make sense to them.

Through this process I’ve realized that being timid, nervous, un-social, or fearful is NOT a personality trait.  It is only the way you are acting and not who you are, period.  Over time all of these bad feelings can leave your life, leaving you to be happier and more successful.  I also want to note that I assume many of the readers of this are not as “bad” as I was in their past in terms of being very nervous.  However, if you get any anxious, fearful, uncomfortable, or nervous feelings during work or other social situations I think this post can help.  Most importantly, once you start to master controlling these feelings you can create opportunities that you never saw before, and that most people do not see.

In order to help resolve these feelings, master them, and get on the track to using them to become very successful you have to focus on your comfort zone.  Everyone has a comfort zone; however, they have a dramatic range between individuals.  Just because you are too timid to ask your boss for a raise (insert comfort zone excuse here), doesn’t mean that the person next to you won’t ask.  Just because you think that that a person is out of your league does not mean that the next person won’t walk right up to him/her.

I like to think of comfort zones like this.  At any given day we are presented with a finite number of opportunities that can help get us to the next level in our personal or professional life (even if its small – see last post).   Let’s say there are 3 opportunities on this particular day.  If you have a large comfort zone, meaning you are more willing to take risks and feel less worried about the outcomes, you may have all 3 of these opportunities available to you.  However, if you have a small comfort zone, meaning you feel more uncertain or nervous, none of these opportunities may be available to you.  Most importantly, if you are person two (small comfort zone) you may walk away from this day not knowing any opportunities even existed!

Most of us work hard.  Most of us are smart.  What truly separates the successful is their mastery of their comfort zone and their ability to see opportunities that others can’t.  I have a process for you to follow to start seeing these opportunities and mastering your comfort zone.

Step 1: constantly monitor your feelings and when you feel any of the emotions we described above, think about why you’re feeling it.  Realize that other people will be faced with the same situation and will react differently.  Start mentally resetting your mind to a calmer less stresses/nervous state.  Through this process identify your comfort zone limits.

Step 2: Stretch your comfort zone limits:  I need you to constantly perform actions that make you uncomfortable.  If you feel uncomfortable at the thought of doing something, I need you to do exactly that thing.  A good start is to start conversations with random people in the street, deli, train, work, or wherever.  Do this at least once a day.  Another idea is to respectfully say no to people when you would usually say yes.  “Hey Jim, can you have this project to me by next week on Monday?”  “No, I can get it to you on Thursday, does that work?”- even if you are going to have it done by Tuesday.  I promise the outcomes to all of the above will be fine – they are low risk.

I want you to get to a point that you are no longer uncomfortable, basically ever.  I’m getting very close to this state and I can vouch that it is awesome.  I feel like I play by different rules than everyone else at work and in life.  It is extremely rewarding and a lot less stressful and nerve-wracking.  As you become more comfortable with diving into the unknown, identify and act on the new opportunities that are appearing.  Change your job role to what you want.  Talk to that girl that you think is cute. Whatever is it- just do it.

Come on people- seriously.  Challenge your comfort zone every day.  Let me know how it goes.

Eric