They say the only way to grow is to get out of your comfort zone. With this, I agree. But how?
My dad used to tell me stories of his childhood - I sometimes envied him because of his adventurous and rebellious childhood, just like how kids these days may envy me because of my relaxing and free-roaming childhood. One story particularly stuck in my mind.
I didn't know how to swim until I was 15 years old. But my dad was forced to know how to swim by my grandpa when he was much smaller - around 8 years old as he remembered. My grandpa thought it's a good idea to throw my dad out to the middle of a deep lake, and just let him stay out there finding his own way back to shore. As dangerous as it sounds, my dad did actually know how to swim after that. That is, if he didn't drown himself…
On the other hand, I learned how to swim with my uncle. Spending weeks puddling in shallow waters, I finally was brought to the middle of the lake to swim back. And my first time was a disaster - I lost my breath just five seconds after my uncle released me from safety, and he had to wrap his arm around my neck to pull me in. That day I didn't drown, but I was scared to death.
In both cases, my dad and I both jumped too far off our comfort zone. It took my dad quite a while to get back to contact with water; it also took me quite a while to dare myself out in the middle of the lake.
Is that the best way to get out of our comfort zone?
All of our life activities are learning experiences. And they must follow one law: The Law of Gestation - things take time to grow.
Just like when we plant a seed, we don't expect it to become a plant in one day. We have to water, fertilize, and wait. At first, nothing seems to happen, there seems to be no progress. But we still have to water, fertilize, and wait - because if we stop, the seed will die. One day, the seed will sprout and growth will be very fast, because it has passed its tipping point.
Then why do we expect the opposite in our personal growth?
We don't jump out of a plane without a parachute. We don't jump to the deep ocean without a life-jacket if we don't know how to swim. We don't get into the car and start driving to the busy road if we have never touched the wheel before.
But in many other cases, we make drastic decisions to do without developing ourselves first. Many people follow Richard Branson, 'If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!' But many also misunderstand this statement. The keyword here is learn how to do it. Soon they fail because they don't know how to learn. Learning takes time. Learning must be structured and guided. They jump so far that learning cannot catch up, and they drown themselves afterward.
A recent argument between a friend and me about expanding our existing services also came to similar tenets - he suggested us to jump ahead and just do it, while I suggested we take one step out toward that direction and learn along the way. Our final goals are the same, we both want to expand our existing services. Even then, we couldn't agree on whether we should jump directly far ahead or we should take the nearest stepping stone. He is trying to grow a big tree in the next few weeks, while I'm trying to water a seed for it to slowly sprout.
Many people open businesses without any knowledge of the market or industry they're entering. They follow the crowd because they see others are earning huge bucks from this new market with this new product or service. So they jump onto the bandwagon. Of course they can learn later - but they also lack the necessary guidance and patience. Soon they fail and give up. And worse yet, they will be scared of the water and won't get back to business for months, even years.
Don't ever jump out of your comfort zone, because you may jump too far without anything to hang on to. Instead, tip your toes out of it little by little every day so that learning can catch up. Richard Branson may have tipped his toes out of his comfort zone too many times, every day, that's why he could have such bold claim. But have you?
If you have not, don't worry, now is always a good start. There are four things that you could do, to step out of your comfort zone into your growth zone.
1. Comfort zone doesn't (and shouldn't) expand everywhere - it expands in one area at a time.
That time may last for months, even years. That's when you ask the question why, to find out exactly where you want to tip your toes out, to which direction, and keep on doing it for an extended period of time. Expanding everywhere will just lead you to nowhere. So the first step: focus on where you want to expand.
2. Comfort zone doesn't expand without a base - it expands from a base.
Wherever you want to grow yourself toward, your existing strengths are extremely important. Jumping out too far will certainly rid you of those strengths, and leave you with nothing to hold on to. So the second step: clarify which strengths you want to maintain to serve you toward that direction.
3. Comfort zone doesn't expand in a day - it expands every day.
And don't ever jump out to attempt to expand it faster. You may drown and defeatedly get back to the comfort zone without any fruitful outcomes. So the third step: tip your toes out every day toward the direction you have chosen - more specifically, develop your capacity and ability in one way or another.
4. Comfort zone doesn't expand without help - it expands with the help of more experienced others.
Especially those who previously used to have similar comfort zone as you do right now, but they have grown their zone toward similar direction that you're undertaking. So the fourth step: get yourself mentored by some worthy foregoers.
Growth zone is always slightly larger than comfort zone, but not by much. If you jump out too far, you may even jump past your growth zone - that's when big troubles come. So to quote Richard Branson again, 'If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!' The above four steps are how you learn to do it - to expand your comfort zone. And definitely, don't jump too far!