How to Not Be Trapped Inside Your Comfort Zone

I’ve recently been fixated on a fantastic radio podcast about young entrepreneurs in New York and Silicon Valley called “Start Up,” which tells the tale of going from nothing to building a company from scratch. And as you can imagine, the topic of stepping outside your comfort zone is front and center. I listen to the podcast in the car, and on a recent trip, I had to pull to the side of the road to make sure I took notes on what was such a fantastic example of the power of conviction to help people cope with the anxiety of stepping outside your comfort zone.

The example actually occurred in a speech that one of the central characters in the podcast – Lauren Kay of the company Dating Ring – was listening to. Lauren was despondent over her failure to raise money for her fledgling company and with the intense disappointment of countless rejections from potential investors. And what revived her spirit and hope was a speech she happened to hear from a fellow young entrepreneur – Maran Nelson, of a company called Clara Labs – about the power of conviction. “The most important thing I’ve learned about fundraising,” Maran said, “is just really fundamentally believing in what you are doing. Knowing that it is good. You have to know what you are doing is good and that it must exist in the world.”

What Maran is talking about here is what all of us need in order to step outside our comfort zones, in life and at work: conviction. Conviction is the feeling, deep down, that what you’re doing – and likely struggling doing- when acting outside your comfort zone is worth it. That the “pain” is worth the “gain.” It’s so natural when we feel anxious and distressed to retreat right back into the safe confines of our comfort zones and not pursue that job opportunity, or not make small talk with the person on the other side of the room, or, in the case above, to not persist in the difficult task of raising money for your fledgling company.

And in fact, I’d suggest that without conviction, it’s virtually impossible to act outside your comfort zone in a situation that matters.   You have to believe in the purpose of what you’re doing – that what you’re doing is worth it.   And that sense of purpose can come from multiple sources. It can come from a deep desire to succeed and achieve for your own benefit.   And it can also come from a passion to improve the lives of others – in Maran Nelson’s words, from “knowing what you are doing is good and that it must exist in the world.”

Think about a situation that you face outside your comfort zone. Something you’d love to be able to do if you could only take that leap. And chances are, if it is something you really care about, that source of conviction is inside of you. You just need to dig deep to find it.


Andy Molinsky is a Professor of International Management and Organizational Behavior at the Brandeis International Business School. He is the author of GLOBAL DEXTERITY (HBR Press, 2013) and REACH: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, and Build Confidence (Penguin, forthcoming – early 2017). Follow Andy on twitter at @andymolinsky.

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