Why jumping out of your comfort zone is dumb

I make a living because presenting isn’t a natural thing to do – it’s outside of the comfort zone of most people. (Ironically, for those where they feel they’re naturals, most of them are rubbish, but that’s a different blog 馃槈 ) So why do I say jumping out of your comfort zone is dumb?

I’m going to frame this conversation in terms of presentations, obviously, but the principles apply to many things in life and business. Read on and at the end I’ll outline some ideas of what to do instead!

Jumping out of your comfort zone is dumb #1 – they don’t exist

This one is pretty blindingly obvious the moment you think about it. In the way they’re portrayed by the self-development industry, there’s no such thing as a comfort zone… that is, there’s no clear and hard boundary where inside it you’re comfortable and outside it you’re not.

presenting a kid on a bike - safely inside his comfort zone!

It’s pretty obvious really. It’s dumb to try and jump over a non-existent boundary and thinking of it this way stops you making progress. How did you learn to ride a bike? It wasn’t a binary thing where one day you couldn’t do it but the next day you could. Nope, you

  • had stablisers
  • rode on the flat
  • didn’t have lots of tech/gadgets like gears
  • had someone pushing you
  • had safely gear.

Well okay, if you were taught to ride a bike by my Dad you didn’t have all of those, but you get the idea 馃檪 The point is that you started in safe ways, with support and gradually got better and more confident all the time… and here’s the important thing, you did it gradually. There wasn’t any jumping out of your comfort zone – what there was was a gradual stretching of it. Remember the thrill of being almost out of control?

Jumping out of your comfort zone is dumb #2 – you’ll crash and burn

You’ve probably seen the meme to the effect that “the fun stuff happens outside your comfort zone” with the image that suggests all you need to do is make the jump – the big jump – all the way to the fun stuff. But think about it for a moment. The reason you’re in your comfort zone is because you’re good at the things you do inside it – by definition you’re not going to be good at those things outside your comfort zone.

better presentations: why jumping out of your comfort zone is dumb!

That means that jumping out of your comfort zone means you’re jumping to an area where you’ve got fewer technical skills and (by definition!) no experience. Not only does that mean your presentations are more likely to go wrong, but you’ll not know what to do when it does.

Sure, you’ve also probably seen the stuff about people who proudly brag about how following advice about “jumping out of your comfort zone” was the best thing they ever did because it led to their biggest successes. The problem with that is called Survivor Bias. Ask yourself how many people are talking about jumping out of their comfort zone and doing a crash-and-burn. Few if any? Yeah – but it’s not because there’s no crash-and-burn, is it?!

In fact, crash-and-burn is a common outcome. So the next time you’re thinking about jumping out of your comfort zone ask yourself what you can do to recover if things go wrong – because statistically that’s the most likely outcome.

Jumping out of your comfort zone is dumb #3 – you’re in your zone for a reason

This one isn’t really about not jumping out so much as considering why you’re in your comfort zone in the first place. Presumably you’re there because you’re good at what you do and there was a need for someone to do it. If there wasn’t both of those thing, your role and hence your comfort zone, wouldn’t exist!

if you love your job/presentations there's no need to spend the energy jumping out of your comfort zone!

So ask yourself, before you jump out of your comfort zone, why do I need to change anyway? By definition there’s a need for what I’m doing! Is there a way for evolution rather than revolution? Is there really a need to jump out of comfort zone or are you going to feel dumb when you jump, only to discover the grass wasn’t really greener on the other side?

Jumping out of your comfort zone takes energy and effort. Before you think making that effort, just do a check that there’s a sufficient need to justify it even if you succeed. Then check again. There’s a reason your current role exists.

So if jumping out of your comfort zone is dumb, what should we be doing, smartarse?

Problem one is a good place to start, ‘cos the solution is reasonably obvious. Don’t jump out of your comfort zone… gradually expand it.

If your comfort zone has no hard edge it implies there’s an area where you’re a bit anxious but basically you’ve got it under control. Work there.

Work there until it’s no challenge and gradually move on. It’s all about incremental growth rather than random jumps.

Awesome presentations sit outside your confidence zone

As Csikszentmihalyi says, you should be working in your area of ‘Flow’ where things are hard enough to be challenging rather than boring, but not so hard as you freak out.

…too hard and you get disheartened but too easy and you get bored. Both kill the fun of making presentations!

Just like riding a bike you went down gradually steeper and steeper hills… so it is with presentations… you do them in gradually incremented ways to get harder and harder.

Presentations and comfort zones

You knew I’d get there eventually, right? Eventually I get around to talking about presentations!

So how should you gradually push the boundaries of your so-called comfort zone? There are a million specific tips and ideas, all of which will depend on your circumstances but see if you can find ways to apply any of these ideas

zooming your presentation when there's no one else there is a great way of pushing the edges of your comfort zone.

Presentation comfort zone expander one

Make mock presentations to Zoom. Why? Because if you set up a Zoom meeting and you’re the only person attending there’s a bit more of a stretch to it than just talking to yourself, but the consequences of screwing up don’t matter – no one sees!

When you’ve done that a few times, record the presentation. Don’t watch it! Just record it for now. That ups the pressure just a tiny, tiny bit but as you’re not going to look at it there’s still no harm done if you mess up.

Presentation comfort zone expander two

Find audiences that don’t matter and don’t take your friends with you!

Caution note about your presentation

Hear me out – we’ve all done the thing in a new presentation when we look for a friendly face in the audience (or even take a friend with us). The thing is, it’s not really making a presentation that’s the scary thing – it’s the consequences of making a bad presentation that raise the stakes. That means you shouldn’t have your friends in the audience! If you mess up your presentation in front of strangers it’s embarrassing but if your presentation bombs in front of friends you’ve now got that same embarrassment AND you’ve got to see those people again… and again… and again…

For example, if your presentation is a sales pitch, try it out in networking groups where you know no one in the audience is ever going to buy from you no matter what!

Presentation comfort zone expander three

This one’s simple. Just try one new thing at a time. Baby steps.

If you want to jump out of your comfort zone by not using slides, try having a short period of your presentation with just a black slide (so it looks like there’s no slide) at a point in your presentation you’re very comfortable with.

Then try another bit without slides – or try a trickier bit of the presentation – but don’t just suddenly dump slides for the entire presentation all at once!

So what are your tricks for expanding your comfort zones?

I’d love to hear how you do it… or do you still think that comfort zones are a real, and helpful concept?

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