Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Many race drivers drive in the comfort zone. None of these drivers are champions. Champions spend very little time in the comfort zone – at least not the comfort zone that most drivers would define. See, champions’ comfort zones are actually uncomfortable. They feel comfortable being uncomfortable. They feel comfortable pushing the limits. They feel at home just slightly over the limit.

I think successful business people are the same. They are most comfortable when they are pushing the limits of what others might perceive as “not possible.” When the common approach to a business issue or challenge is presented, they ask, “why?” Just because it’s been done that way in the past, doesn’t mean it has to continue that way. They’re always looking for a new and better method – they’re pushing the limits of perceptions. When faced with a “limit” – deadlines, revenue numbers, growth, etc. – they push into what many would feel uncomfortable doing. They are most at ease when they feel slightly stretched, slightly uncomfortable.

Notice I never said, “beyond the limit.” That would be out of control. That’s beyond being uncomfortable – that’s stupid! Great business people, like great race drivers, can balance on that edge – in fact, hanging just over that edge, but not falling off.

So, why are successful business people more comfortable being uncomfortable than the less successful? The same reason champion race drivers are comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s their programming. But where did the programming come from? That’s the real question, for if we know that, we should be able to replicate it.

Where does most of our programming come from? Experience – things that have happened in the past. That’s where most of it comes from. If you read about the careers of champion race drivers, you’ll find a common thread amongst most of them: A desire or passion to succeed combined with some period of time that just plain sucked. Few, if any, champions had a perfectly easy time on the way to the top. They had a childhood filled with struggles; they had a season or more filled with struggles; they had some length of time where things did not go well. But, where some would have accepted the situation, they pushed through – their desire and passion forced them to push through. And, in doing so, they enjoyed the feeling of living on the edge. Understand, this living on the edge may have been for a period of years, or for a few fractions of a second. Whatever the length of time, if you asked them today to describe it, they could in great detail. And that’s the difference between champions and everyone else – it’s what they have done with that time of struggle, that time just over the limit. They’ve used it to build their programming.

Successful business people are very similar. They’ve been through a “hell and back” situation at least once, and then used that to build upon their programming. Less-successful business people may have been through a similar situation, but it’s what they did with it that made the difference. The successful ones learned from it. I know, you hear that all the time about successful people – it’s what they learn from their experience that makes the difference. That’s almost a corny cliché. But remember what learning really is – it’s programming. It’s not being able to recite the “lessons” learned from the past. It’s having programmed those experiences. And I think that’s a differing factor – less-successful people can recite their lessons, while the successful ones have made it a part of their programming.

Successful people – whether in business, racing, or whatever – replay their uncomfortable experiences in their minds over and over. They not only see themselves pushing through it, but they feel the emotions of it, they feel the feelings they had, and they feel themselves enjoying it. They program feeling comfortable being uncomfortable. Less successful people may replay those same situations, but they feel themselves being uncomfortable – they program being uncomfortable being uncomfortable. Is it any wonder they like to stay in what it usually considered the comfort zone?

So, what’s wrong with feeling comfortable – what’s wrong with performing in your comfort zone? Your perceptions and expectations play a strong role in developing this comfort zone, and rarely are they going to match reality all the time. No matter how much experience and knowledge you and others around you have, things will not turn out exactly as planned. And guess what? You will rarely, if ever, exceed your perceptions and expectations. If you do, it’s more a matter of luck than anything else.

Golfers prove this all the time. They have the expectations of shooting an 85, for example, and then start off hitting the ball really well, playing “like magic.” In fact, they are playing so well, that if they kept it up they’d end up with an 82. Of course, you know what happens. Around the 14th hole (or earlier), when they realize what score they could end up with, they begin thinking about why they are playing so well, and stop relying on their programming to hit the ball. As soon as that happens, they hit the ball into the water, in a sand trap, or into the trees. They are lucky to end up shooting an 87, and they walk away thinking, “If only…”

If you’re comfortable only performing in your comfort zone, as soon as variables make it look as if you may have to operate outside that zone, you feel anxiety. You feel uncomfortable. And do you perform better or worse when you’re anxious, when you’re uncomfortable? The ironic thing is that you could still be in your comfort zone, but beginning to feel uncomfortable thinking about having to be outside that zone. In other words, you’re uncomfortable being comfortable, when you should be feeling comfortable being uncomfortable!

Do you have a past experience where you were a little over the edge? If so, replay it in your mind, over and over again. But see and feel yourself enjoying that feeling. You may have to give your imagination a real workout to get it to NOT feel uncomfortable being uncomfortable, but it can be done. If you can use your imagination to the point where you feel yourself get edgy – your blood starts pumping, your heart rate speeds up, your palms get a bit sweaty – then you’re really there. Imagine that – what a great feeling it is to be slightly over the edge of comfort, but you’re controlling it. You can stop it at any time, but you don’t because you’re enjoying the feeling of being slightly uncomfortable. You’re pushing the limits.

When you look at what you’ve committed to – deadlines, workload, revenue numbers, margins, expenses, processes, learning, etc. – are you slightly beyond the limit, or just at the limit?

Are you comfortable being comfortable right now?

Or, are you comfortable being uncomfortable? Are you stretched enough? Are you pushing the limits of your perceptions and expectations, and of others’ perceptions and expectations?

What is your comfort zone? Is it knowing that you can turn that lap time lap after lap? Or, are you on the ragged edge, not knowing for sure you can repeat it, but knowing that you’ll have such a lead that no one can catch you?

Do you need to do some programming of being comfortable being uncomfortable?

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One Response to “Comfortable Being Uncomfortable”

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