The Importance of Getting Outside Your Comfort Zone – Now!

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Choose growth over habit says Judy Geller

A talented athlete might feel weak in the knees when asked to be interviewed on air. A master at the strategy and logic of chess may be all thumbs when it comes to catching a ball. Articulate extroverts often struggle with time management, and intense introverts shy away from social events with strangers. It is normal to spend our time on tasks and interactions about which we feel confident and in which we do well. We minimize stress, risk, and change, in order to feel competent and comfortable. That is our “comfort zone.” And that comfort zone is different for each of us. Each of us has natural abilities and areas of expertise—and our comfort zone embraces them.

Growth is usually uncomfortable

The problem with staying inside your comfort zone is that little change occurs there; you don’t grow or develop professionally or personally. When you stretch yourself to learn and act outside your comfort zone, you will naturally reflect on that experience and apply what you’ve learned. That process may be uncomfortable, and you may feel uneasy, but your comfort zone gets larger and you feel more engaged, motivated and challenged. That’s how you grow.

Why Go There?

You might ask: “Why do I even want to go there? Why can’t I just polish the skills I already have?” The benefits of stepping outside your comfort zone go beyond any new skills you develop or new experiences you have. When you stretch your comfort zone:

  • You will see new opportunities more quickly and be better prepared to take them on.
  • You will become more productive.
  • You will be more engaged in your work and more likely to embrace new experiences.
  • You will handle change better with less anxiety and greater optimism.
  • You will gain new insight and perspectives.
  • You will reduce your fear of failure.
  • You will become more creative as a decision-maker and problem-solver.
  • You will be open to game changers in your life and work.

And here’s a last, surprising benefit: learning new things and acting on them has been shown to maintain your brainpower and mental health (particularly as you age!)

“If you want to feel secure, do what you already know how to do. But if you want to grow, go to the cutting edge of your competence, which means a temporary loss of security. So, whenever you don’t quite know what you are doing, know that you are growing.” ~ David Viscott, psychiatrist, author, media personality

20 Easy Ways to Get Started

Getting outside your comfort zone doesn’t mean you have to take scary risks. You can start slowly and reinforce growth and change by trying things that are relatively fun and that have minimal risk. In fact, experts advise against taking on so much, so quickly that you move from stretching yourself to highly stressing yourself! It can be as easy as doing something familiar in a new way.

Here are twenty ideas to get you started:

  1. Learn a language.
  2. Practice meditating.
  3. Listen to a new musical genre. Opera, anyone?
  4. Try a different decision-making style. If you typically are a methodical decision-maker, decide faster. If you typically decide quickly, practice having second —or third — thoughts.
  5. Take on a project or help someone.
  6. Put yourself in a new environment.
  7. Partner on something new with an adventurous friend.
  8. Think positively about the outcome instead of focusing on fear.
  9. Become your own coach with motivating self-talk.
  10. Try one new thing a week for 52 weeks.
  11. Surround yourself with inspirational quotes to help reach your goals.
  12. Learn a new software app.
  13. Or, unplug for one 24-hour period.
  14. Read a book every month for a year.
  15. Learn a new dance.
  16. Set a stretch goal—it might be physical or an activity you are interested in but have been afraid to try.
  17. Seek out ethnic food.
  18. Commit to a home improvement project.
  19. Seek out old friends you haven’t been in touch with for awhile.
  20. Take an art class. Creativity strengthens your brain!

The Essential Steps for Professional Growth: Training and Networking

Developing professionally can be as easy as (1) learning new skills and (2) interacting with new people. Thousands of administrative professionals have found training and networking the keys to advancing their careers.

Because conferences offer intensive training and networking, a professional conference is often your best chance to set the stage for a big leap forward. Each year when the programs for the Administrative Professionals Conference and Executive Assistants’ Summit are created, we include sessions that will challenge a diverse group of administrative professionals. The goal is to help each attendee get outside her or his comfort zone.

Tips to get the most from training

No matter what training event you attend, to maximize your learning you’ll want to prepare ahead of time by ensuring that your work is taken care of while you are in training. You can’t learn at your best if you are distracted or worried about things back at work. Make sure you are physically comfortable as well and prepared for training rooms that are often chilly. To stay sharp throughout the day, stay hydrated and make healthy food choices. Avoid the temptation of a mid-day meal heavy on carbohydrates. Prepare to focus; taking notes as the session proceeds helps to reinforce the contact. Be aware that lack of movement can affect your concentration. If you are sitting for hours at a time, change your position, flex your legs and feet – keep your circulation moving! Finally, consider how you can apply whatever you are learning to your position and in your career. Application to your own situation makes the content practical and relevant for you. Remember, we can learn from fields and practices other than our own!

Be sure to document the training you have completed as part of your professional portfolio. And don’t overlook the power of professional credentials and certifications that also document your competence and mastery of your profession.

Networking is more than a job search tool

Many of us only think about networking when we are in job search mode. But if you wait until then to create a professional network, you’re too late. Plus, your network can do much, much more than help with a job search. Your network allows you to learn about best practices and trends in the field; your network provides moral support when you need it, and it helps you quickly respond to work challenges.

Too often, administrative professionals aren’t purposeful about developing a network or they feel uncertain about how to do so.

To be an effective networker:

  • Build relationships, quality matters more than quantity. Be interested in others – their interests, and challenges. Seek first to develop rapport, establish common interests, and determine how you can help them. Be a giver before you look for what you can get.
  • Make an effort to expand your network. Set a goal of making four new contacts each month. Don’t be shy about initiating a conversation, meeting for lunch or attending a meeting together.
  • Keep track of them. After conversation, make a note of what you discussed and personal things you want to remember about your colleague. People appreciate being remembered.
  • Check in regularly with your network: Keep in touch with your network to see what they are up to and how you can help them. Call to say hello, send an interesting article, or invite them to a networking event.
  • Help others expand their network as well. Freely introduce individuals within your network who might benefit from meeting each other. A good network is an active one.

The best networkers are optimistic, generous, engaged and trustworthy.

Business and technology are moving so fast that you will be passed by if you stand still.  Learning is essential; no one can afford to stagnate. Whether you want to stay fresh and grow in your current position or aspire to something different, professional training and development ensures that you and your manager stay satisfied.

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About Author

Judy Geller

Judy Geller is Executive Director of the American Society of Administrative Professionals, (www.asaporg.com) and Director of the Administrative Professionals Conference (apcevent.com) celebrating its 25th year. ASAP provides year-round, online training, certification, professional development, and resources to address the evolving roles and demanding responsibilities of Administrative Professionals and Executive Assistants. There are currently more than 73,000 ASAP members globally.

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