You’re excited about your new job. You want to make an impact. You hit the ground running.
Over time, you build new relationships, deliver good results, and make a name for yourself.
A few weeks pass.
Weeks become months.
Months become years.
You grow comfortable.
If you see yourself or a colleague falling into the comfort zone, perhaps it’s time to do what all true achievers do:
Proactively Chose to Move Out of Their Comfort Zone & Break the Cycle
Why would you possibly do this? After all, it can be risky, takes work, and you might mess up.
Well, here are 3 reasons to give it a try…
1. Deliver New Results.
Achieving better results, requires a change in human behavior. In other words, it you want to achieve something new, you better step out of your comfort zone and start doing some new things. This isn’t a wildly new concept, but it is often forgotten.
Remember what Albert Einstein said..
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. – Albert Einstein
2. Keep Work Interesting
Most organizations are looking for marathon runners. These people are great long-term contributors who remain loyal to the organization for years. The problem with marathons is they can become boring. They are monotonous.
Most true achievers struggle with monotony.
To be effective, true achievers embrace the practice of both marathoners and sprinters. Yes, they are committed for the long-term, but they remain interested by running multiple sprints along the way. They take on new projects, tackle new challenges, and strive to move a key metric every quarter.
3. Maintain Brain Plasticity
Our brains have the ability to change physically, chemically, and functionally – but, you have to use it or lose it. Children can quickly learn new things; however, as we age we often lose much of this ability. It’s much easier to learn a new language at 3 years old than when you are 50. It’s not impossible at 50, but it’s arguably much harder.
Sometimes, you need to break the cycle.
If you haven’t heard of him, let me introduce you to Destin Sandlin. He’s a rocket engineer and creator of the Smarter Every Day video series.
My colleague, Josh Chase, introduced me to Destin’s work.
One of his videos teaches all about brain plasticity in which he truly breaks the cycle.
In his situation, he breaks a bicycle!
Watch this video. The Backwards Brain Bicycle (approximately 7 minutes) truly changed the way I think about my brain.
I wish you all the best as you proactively chose to step out of your comfort zone and break the cycle!
Over the past twenty years, I have been surrounded by many top performers:
Courageous fellow paratroopers in the U.S. Army
Amazing colleagues at both a global consulting firm and my own professional services agency
Outstanding leaders throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia
Brilliant students at one of the nation’s top universities
As I consider what makes many of them outstanding, I have come to the realization that they exhibit six behaviors that make them invaluable at work.
I invite you to take a minute to review each behavior and consider the questions I offer.
1. Deliver Results; Don’t Just Pleasantly Accomplish Activities
Top performers may be funny, personable, kind, considerate, or a variety of other wonderful attributes. However, above all, they deliver results.
I’m not saying that the above mentioned attributes aren’t helpful. They are. They make working with someone much more enjoyable. But, when times are tough and expectations are high, leaders don’t need a friend, they need a top performer who delivers the goods.
Is your reputation one as a person who delivers results?
Do you confuse activities with results?
When was the last time that you and your team failed to deliver as expected? What did you team learn from the situation?
2. Solve Problems; Don’t Just Point Them Out
Top performers aren’t afraid to jump in with both feet to help fix a problem. They don’t merely stand on the sidelines or complain about the complexities of work.
They don’t seek glory or work to fix blame; they seek to solve problems and put steps in place to avoid future pitfalls. They are proactive problem solvers.
What problems exist within your team or organization that are going unaddressed? (Odds are you aren’t the only one who sees them.)
What might you do today to begin to proactively addressing problems in your midst?
3. Learn New Stuff; Don’t Just Be Comfortable
Top performers actively develop new skills. They put themselves into new situations, wade into uncharted waters, and willingly place themselves in uncomfortable positions.
Why would they do this?
Well, they recognize that investing time in learning new things makes them more valuable to the organization, more helpful to their teammates, and more marketable in future situations.
Would people consider you and your team members active learners?
What book are you currently reading? What skills are you honing?
When was the last time you taught a customer or employee something new?
4. Experience the Customer’s World; Don’t Just Observe It
Top performers understand and practice the concept of being in their customer’s world. They care about the customer winning as much as the customer cares. They demonstrate an unmatched level of customer understanding that eludes their peers and competitors.
Who are the most important customers that you and your team serve?
What matters most to them?
What can you and your team do today to better help your customers win?
5. Provide Value That Is Not Easily Replaced; Don’t Just Do the Job
Top performers are not irreplaceable, but they are not easily replaced. You can’t simply hire another person with the same skills, experience, and education as a top performer, get him up-to-speed on his role, and not feel the loss.
Because a top performer makes a distinctive contribution. They add value over and above their job description.
How easy would it be to replace you and your team?
What can your team do to be more valuable to your customers? What can you do?
6. Think Abundantly, Don’t Fall Into the Scarcity Trap
Much of your work will likely involve participating as a member of a team. If you want to contribute your best effort, help your team members win, and avoid isolating yourself from your colleagues, work on your mindset and your behaviors will follow. Recognize that the pie can be big enough for all to win AND your winning doesn’t require someone else on your team to lose.
Do you operate from a win-win mindset, where both you and your colleagues can win?
When you are listening to a colleague, do you listen with the intent to understand or to simply find a space in the conversation to interject your ‘wisdom’?
Am I suggesting that these are the only behaviors necessary?
I am simply suggesting that they are key.
I wish you all the best as you work to become a top performer in your chosen endeavors!
In today’s world, it can be easy to be only partially present, somewhat engaged, or hedging our bets. I’ll go a step further and say that we are encouraged and rewarded for this type of behavior.
We are provided countless opportunities to:
Put our resumes online and have them seeking new employment for us even as we sit in a meeting at our current workplace.
Get a side hustle going to make a little money beyond our normal income to give us more options.
Carry a device with us that we can use to escape the moment and thousands of apps to help us do it.
Flip through television channels, Netflix shows, radio stations, and streaming service playlists looking for something a bit better to entertain us.
At some point, all this hustling, hedging, escaping, and flipping can cause us to miss out on something interesting, something that could make all the difference, change the game, or bend our trajectory. These options create limitless opportunities, but may also limit us from going all in.
For many of us, being risk adverse or looking to avoid failure (even small failures) adds to the dilemma. Assuming we might fail at one thing, we may do a mediocre job at many things. So, we reduce risk of failure by choosing to not go all in.
As we age, I contend that our desire for comfort and control may even conspire against our willingness to take risk. Consider the last time you saw families at a swimming pool. Odds are that the kids were swimming and the adults were watching from the side. Kids are typically all in.
Allow Me to Share a Story
Last summer, I was in Denmark visiting with friends and family. We were staying in a small coastal town in the northern part of the country. Throughout the town, store windows were peppered with signs announcing that the annual visit from a troupe of traveling performers. The signs were not limited to our quaint village. Each adjacent town had signs announcing when the show was coming to the respective community.
We were intrigued. Having never been to a traveling Danish show before, we inquired about going and a group of us, Danes and Americans, decided to take in the performance.
Allow me to put Denmark into perspective.
It’s a fairly small country with a population and geographic footprint comparable to North Carolina. Visitors are typically greeted with waving Danish flags. Quality and design matter. Danish homes have a cozy feeling (they call it Hygge – pronounced hue-guh).
In short, Danes do things a certain way – the Danish way.
Although interested in seeing the show, my expectations were muted, but the troupe was surprisingly impressive. Everyday, the show would travel from town to town. It had done so for generations. Employing few people, everyone needed to perform, sell concessions, drive a truck, and erect the tent. It was an all hands on deck type experience.
The night of the performance, I walked into the arena and assumed a seat in the middle of the long row. I told my wife, “If I sit on the aisle, there’s a chance someone will grab me and make me participate in some way. So, I’m burying myself in the middle.”
True, there were a few hundred people in the room, but I was convinced that I would be targeted for attention as one of a few non-locals in the place. I was not going to allow myself to be pulled into the performance.
Within minutes, a performer entered the arena and began interacting with the crowd. Sporting a large hat he asked patrons to throw the hat from their seat in an attempt to land it on his head.
Like a magnet, he came to me. He extended his arm and handed me the hat. I threw it and missed. He made a face, the crowd laughed, and he moved on. Not too bad I thought – I was safe.
Not so quick – he returned 20 minutes later. This time, he invited me to come onto the stage. I hesitated, even protested a bit. My mind was racing with questions:
Why would I possible give up the comfort of my current position?
There is a good likelihood that he is going to ask me to do something uncomfortable, what good could come from that?
If this doesn’t go well, it could be embarrassing. Who wants to face ridicule?
With the crowd’s encouragement, I found myself moving toward the stage.
Another audience member was invited to join me on stage. In everything we were asked to do, she was praised for her excellent performance and I was found to be less than stellar. The cast member poked fun at me and the audience laughed.
At some point, I flipped a switch in mind. I went from an I’m Going to Fight This Thing mindset to an I’m Going All In mentality.
Here are some benefits I gained from throwing the switch and going all in:
Being all in made the experience richer. I was an active part in creating something. Sure, the crowd was laughing, but I was having fun too.
The memories run so much deeper because I was all in. Instead of having a scant remembrance of the night, I can conjure up the entire evening in my mind.
True, moving out of the shadows and going all in didn’t directly change my life (the troupe failed to ask me to join their tour), but it reminded me that taking a risk and going all in isn’t as bad as we envision it will be.
Don’t believe that I was all in at the Danish show?
Watch this video. I was blindfolded and told to limbo under a pole they were holding for me. The music started and they walked away. I limboed my way across the arena. To make matters worse, I really thought I was doing a good job 🙂
What About You?
Consider these questions about your current situation:
What is holding you back from going all in on a job, product, relationship, opportunity, or something else that might make all the difference in your life?
What do you risk by going all in? What might you gain?
What could you do today to put things in motion?
Is there anyone around you who is sitting on the sidelines that would benefit from going all in? What can you do to help?
Sometimes when things are going well, we find ourselves not appreciating the moment, but yearning for more. Or, we are anxious about what is around the next corner.
Experience has taught us that, for the most part, we are either moving forward or sliding backward. A business is either evolving or unraveling. A plant grows and dies, but doesn’t remain static. Occasionally we must hit pause and appreciate wherever we are on the journey and thank those who choose to travel with us.
Occasionally we must hit pause and appreciate wherever we are on the journey and thank those who choose to travel with us.
Do you love where you work and the type of work you perform?
If so, that’s wonderful. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Appreciate it.
However, don’t confuse work with home.
The former CEO of Kraft Foods, Roger Deromidi, often speaks in my Vanderbilt University classroom. Students enjoy learning about leading a global business, but what often resonates most is his work-life balance discussion.
Deromidi once met a man on a train year’s ago. It was simply a passing moment, but what the man shared stuck. The traveler told the future CEO to consider the five fingers on his hand.
1. The first finger represents you. It’s the only finger that matters as you are growing up and going through school.
2. Eventually, a second finger, your career, catches your attention. It often competes with the first for your time, energy, and attention.
3. Find a life partner, the third finger becomes important.
4. Have children and the fourth finger appears.
5. As you mature, the fifth finger, which represents your contribution or legacy becomes key.
His point was that each finger is unique and that successful people learn to keep them separate and don’t treat them as the same thing. Doing so may seem convenient in the short-term, but comes at a long-term cost.