Monday, January 3, 2011

Stretch outside Your Comfort Zone - My No. 1 Success Tip

There are quite a few things you can do that will make a huge difference in your success. For over 20 years I've been aware of a particular strategy that I have to say has helped me more in tough situations than any other. I've used it hundreds of times, and each time I was glad I did.

It's called stretching.

I was reminded of this at a social gathering I attended recently. I saw Preston standing by himself in a corner of the room. He was working on a small plate of food. I guess it's fair to say that Preston isn't very outgoing. It's not that he doesn't like people. He just spends a lot of time in his head. When I spotted him, he was paying more attention to his food than the people around him. He wasn't smiling. He's not a gloomy or unfeeling person. He just doesn't talk much or express his feelings easily. I went over to him.

"Hey, Preston. Good to see you again. Enjoying the festivities?"

"I'm here." He looked around the room. "Not much here for me. Food's not bad, though."

That's one thing I really like about Preston. He's honest. He's always real. But this was a chance for him to work some relationships, and he wasn't even trying. He showed up, and he was just being himself. But if there were any points to be scored, his tally was currently at zero. Maybe he was even losing points and didn't know it.

"Well, I'm going to get another drink," I said. "And schmooze a little. You should, too! Connect with some of these people, Preston. You know, for when you need something from them someday."

"Mmmm," he said, looking blankly at the room, still stone-faced.

I don't think he took my advice. In fact, the next time I looked around I couldn't find him. He probably left early.

He blew a great opportunity to further his own interests. What Preston failed to do was to STRETCH.

Everyone is different. Each of us has our particular set of strengths and weaknesses. Each of us has a comfort zone of preferred thought and behavior patterns that helps define who we are.

Maybe you love being with friends and having a good time. But you hate organizing things.

Maybe you love thinking creatively about new projects. But you hate small talk.

Maybe you like self-discipline and being on time. But you have trouble exercising tolerance and patience.

As I said, everyone is different.

It's a joy to spend time in your comfort zone. So much so that this is exactly what most people do. It's a natural tendency that if something is outside your comfort zone, you're not likely to seek doing it. You may even avoid doing it. Which is fine.

Unless the failure to do this thing that's outside your comfort zone creates problems for you. Maybe there will be situation when organizing things is crucial to success. Maybe the failure to engage in small talk will derail a key relationship. Maybe there will come a time when being impatient causes a major setback.

And so on. Here's the question: If something is important to your success, will you do it even if it's way outside your comfort zone? In other words, will you stretch?

Most people don't.

Stretching isn't about being phony. It's not about changing who you are.

Stretching simply means doing the uncomfortable or hard thing, even when it's not your natural tendency to do it. You recognize the need to do something. You see how important it is. You feel the familiar anxiety or distaste. But then you suck it up and do it anyway. The stretching is only temporary. Afterward, you return to your comfort zone.

As I said, everyone has their unique set of preferences and tendencies. But eventually the world will challenge you to do something that's outside your comfort zone. All the most successful people stretch. They do the hard things, whether it's their cup of tea or not.

How about you? Do you stretch? Or are you like my acquaintance Preston, who shies away from doing anything he doesn't like?

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from


Anonymous said...

Nice post, Dennis. It's a great reminder to do the things I am putting off... like calling bookstores or hospital gift shops. I am not good at approaching people cold... Ah, what a great opportunity to practice stretching!

Carolyn CJ Jones
Author, Photographer

gerbera said...

What if you want to change? Is it too much of a stretch to take a job that requires one to be a "big picture" thinker when you are a person that is detail-oriented, for example? Is that an unreasonable goal for someone to shoot for?

Denny Coates said...

Gerbera...that's a great question. Here's how I see it...

In my opinion, if you're a detail-oriented thinker, it would not be a good idea to take a job that requires you a lot of big-picture thinking - unless you have that strength as well. If you're not a big-picture thinker, a lot more than STRETCHING would be demanded. It would require you to think conceptually pretty much ALL THE TIME. Which isn't stretching, as I see it.

Donna Gilliland said...

I am a Stretcher but it is a challenge at times. :)

Donna Gilliland