Achieve a “personal best” by expanding your comfort zone

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Dr. Joel Small notes, “Each time we achieve a new personal best, we expand the limitations of our being until these limitations no longer exist”

Achieving a “personal best” is a milestone for an athlete. It validates the exceptional effort required to achieve the desired reward. Most athletes will admit that achieving a personal best doesn’t come easily and requires more than physical training. Yes, the physical element is important, but until athletes embrace the belief that the goal is attainable, they remain hindered by their own mentally imposed self-limitation.

The same is true for us non-athletes. We too must believe that we can grow beyond our current limitations to achieve our own personal best — whatever that may be. Again, our athletic friends will tell us that developing this mental edge is as much a challenge as developing their physical attributes. For us mere mortals, we develop our professional and personal mental edge by continually expanding our comfort zone beyond its current limit.

For our discussion’s purpose, a comfort zone can be defined as an area of great psychological safety and comfort, free of uncertainty in which we can exist anxiety-free and without challenge to our vulnerability. All of us have unknowingly created our own personal comfort zones.

Comfort zones have both beneficial and negative effects on our well-being and personal self-actualization. They do provide a positive “safe haven” for us when the demands of the world become overwhelming, and yet they can also represent the siren song that lulls us into a state of complacency. Consider, for example, the difference between listening to a presentation and delivering the presentation. Listening to the presentation falls well within our comfort zone, but delivering the presentation moves us beyond our comfort zone by creating uncertainty and anxiety. Intuitively, we know that a well-delivered presentation can jump-start our career, yet the fear of failing and exposing our vulnerability becomes a powerful limiting factor that often drives us back to our safe haven. Even worse, by allowing fear to dictate these choices, we diminish our self-confidence and strengthen our self-limiting belief that we are incapable of moving beyond these limiting factors.

We can overcome self-limiting beliefs by employing techniques designed to expand our comfort zone. First, we must accept that our growth is restricted by certain beliefs. We must then create a vivid mental picture of a better future in which these beliefs and limitations no longer exist. This vision becomes an implicit validation of the benefits we will derive by expanding our comfort zone and eliminating the many detractors that currently hold us hostage. Next, we design small excursions beyond or comfort zone boundaries. Each of these excursions, or “experiments,” has a purpose and is designed to move slightly beyond the comfort zone while remaining well below the “panic” level. Each successful experiment builds upon itself by creating within us a growing sense of accomplishment and self-confidence. Setbacks are a natural and inevitable part of the process, but a coach or trusted friend should be there to reframe these setbacks as learning opportunities and turn them into teachable moments. With each success, we gain the confidence to take bigger steps toward making the vision of our limitless future a reality. Our excitement with each success will become palpable. Each achievement becomes a personal best that serves as a milestone to be broken by subsequent efforts. Those around us will notice a demonstrable improvement in our demeanor as we gain the confidence to overcome previous barriers that we once viewed as being unconquerable. As our belief in our abilities increases, limitations in other areas of our life begin to disappear spontaneously or diminish in significance. Eventually, our vision becomes reality as we view our world as having limitless possibilities.

Recently, one of my coaching clients was struggling with his leadership role within his dental practice. He saw himself as a poor leader and someone who feared moving beyond his current comfort zone. He admitted that staff meetings were seldom held and that he rarely gave feedback to his staff. Even though he understood the value of making necessary changes to become a better leader, previous attempts with practice consultants had failed.

Initially, we visited about what being a leader meant to him, and like most of us, his concept of leadership was distorted with images of history’s greatest, larger-than-life leaders — people like Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, and John Kennedy, to name a few. Being an avid student of leadership, I shared with him the stories of other great leaders that changed our world in a quieter and less obtrusive manner. I helped him see that great leaders come in many forms and with very different
personalities.

Once I was able to convince him that everyone has leadership capabilities, our work progressed. With guidance, he was able to create and embrace a mental picture of a better and more fulfilling future as a leader. It was then that we began the process of developing a logical and actionable game plan for making his vision a reality. Like many self-improvement initiatives, the first step is always the hardest, and he struggled with how to go about introducing this new leadership initiative to his staff.

From previous assessments and our work together, I knew that one of his signature strengths was humility, and by aligning our initial action plan (experiment) with this identifiable strength, we were able to move forward. Being humble, he connected with the concept of “servant leadership” — one of many leadership styles and one that matched his personal strength. Using the principles of servant leadership, he felt more comfortable facilitating a staff meeting and sharing his intention of becoming a better leader and boss. He shared the vision of his desired future with his team. He proclaimed his commitment to being accountable for achieving this goal. Finally, and most importantly, he asked for their help in making his vision a reality.

This and subsequent staff meetings served as pivotal points in the transformation of his practice. As a professional coach, I was not surprised to see his practice flourish. I found great reward in his practice’s transformation, but what fulfilled me the most was the ease and comfort he found in becoming the leader that he was always meant to be. This transformation will change his life.