Given the on-going uncertainty and challenging nature of today’s business conditions, I often find it helpful to remind myself of the saying,
“What doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you!”
This is true whether you are learning a new language or training for a marathon – and is especially the case if you want to improve your commercial performance.
As CEO of Diadem, a leading commercial skills training company and author of The Negotiation Book, I believe the secret to standing out from the competition is breaking out of your comfort zone so you can challenge the status quo and achieve the extraordinary.
Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone
Moving out of your comfort zone can often be easier said than done. It’s called a comfort zone for a reason – it’s the mental space where you feel emotionally secure. This is not always a bad thing, as it can protect you by helping you feel cozy and safe.
However, it can also lead to negative emotions. It can cause you to shy away from new opportunities rather than tackle them head on or leave you feeling bored and demotivated and trapped in Groundhog Day.
In either scenario, staying in your comfort zone will eventually prevent you from performing to the best of your ability. It is only by pushing the limits and moving into your stretch zone that you will learn and develop.
The graph below highlights the important role challenge plays in driving your commercial performance. The vertical axis shows your level of performance, and the horizontal axis represents how much you are challenging yourself.
The graph clearly shows that people perform at their best when they experience a medium level of challenge by moving out of their comfort zone into their stretch zone. This is the area of best performance. The great news is that everyone can take practical steps to move out of your comfort zone – it just takes ambition, hard work and commitment.
Moving Into Your Stretch Zone
Your stretch zone is where the magic happens – it could be negotiating a large contract with a new client, or negotiating a pay rise with your boss, scenarios which push you outside your comfort zone but don’t have you running for the hills in panic.
It’s entirely normal to feel daunted and nervous as you leave your comfort zone, for as business author Brian Tracey wisely said,
“You can only grow if you feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”
So here are 5 steps to give you the confidence to take the plunge and move into your stretch zone:
1. Face Your Fears
We are often our own worst enemy – putting barriers in our path before we’ve even begun. So silence your inner gremlin – that negative voice inside your head that tells you why you won’t achieve something.
- Write down a list of your main worries and concerns.
- Now think of a counter argument for each worry and write it down.
For example if you are negotiating a new contract with a client and you worry “they’ll never agree to my terms”, turn this on its head by writing down the value you have brought to the relationship and why they should say “yes”.
By flipping negatives into positives in this way, you will increase your self-belief and transition more easily into your stretch zone.
2. Make A Plan
As I often tell my clients;
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
Take the time to think about all the challenges you may face as you move into stretch zone and prepare an action plan to help you deal with any curve balls that come your way.
For example, if your goal is to overcome stage-fright and present at a conference, make sure you arrange to speak in front of a handful of people so that you can hone your public speaking skills and boost your confidence before the big day.
3. Find Support
Remember you don’t have to do this all by yourself. Just as athletes rely on a team of coaches to help them achieve their personal best, don’t be afraid to ask for help to reach your peak performance. Find a mentor, coach, or colleague to help you brainstorm ideas and scenarios.
4. Visualize Success
A powerful tool to help you move into your stretch zone is to imagine what success looks like to you. If you are trying to get promoted – it could be picturing your name on your new business card or if you are hoping to win a new deal or it could be signing your name on the contract.
By believing in yourself you are more likely to be seen as a force to be reckoned with. Remember people can see right through unauthentic people, so try to walk the talk.
5. Be Inspired By Others
Take inspiration from those around you who excel in their field. Who do you know who is a master negotiator, a strong salesperson or exert marketer? Ask yourself what they would do in this situation. Be inspired by Muhammad Ali’s famous words,
“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
Finally, one word of caution, whilst moving into your stretch zone will help you reap the rewards of greater confidence and increased results, a move into your panic zone can have the opposite effect.
Feeling stressed and completely out of your depth will undermine your confidence and reduce the likeliness of you achieving your desired result.
Remember you don’t have to take one giant leap out of your comfort zone, it’s ok to break down your goal into manageable steps, after all as the Chinese proverb says,
“A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”
Nicole Soames is a highly qualified coach and EQ practitioner with extensive commercial experience gained from twelve years leveraging large sales teams for Unilever and United Biscuits, followed by thirteen years developing and delivering training programs across the globe. In 2009 Nicole founded Diadem, the leading commercial skills training and coaching company.