By Yvonne Milosevic
Many of us are familiar with the phrase “no pain, no gain.” Personal trainers often use this mantra to prod clients into a hardcore fitness regimen. But today, we’re sharing research that shows how getting out of your comfort zone can motivate you to improve in other areas of your life.
Cornell Johnson’s Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach of Chicago Booth joined forces recently to prove that discomfort can be a motivator rather than an obstacle.
Of course, we’re not talking about moments where discomfort is physically or emotionally harmful. Instead, we mean the kinds of situations where we need to stretch to grow. For example, think of conquering your public speaking fears or rethinking our strong opinions.
There is, in fact, an upside to being uncomfortable. And a series of experiments involving hundreds of subjects confirmed Fishbach and Woolley’s theory. For one of their assessments, these researchers recruited 557 improv students from the Second City Training Center. They told some participants that “feeling uncomfortable is a sign that the exercise is working.” Also, they said that “your goal is to push past your comfort zone.”
Other test subjects received instructions to simply “see if the exercise is working.” Or “push yourself to develop new skills and feel yourself improving.”
Next, they analyzed the improvised performances of all three groups. Fishbach and Woolley discovered that those instructed to seek discomfort took more risks. The researchers think that people shift their mindset when they expect an experience to be uncomfortable. Now any awkward feelings can trigger a positive reaction.
Their resulting academic paper argues that seeking discomfort is motivating because people can tell when they feel uncomfortable.
Having a “tangible feeling” of discomfort can lead to goal progress.
“People often see discomfort as a sign to stop pursuing a goal, yet discomfort often means you are making progress,” Woolley says. “We find people can harness discomfort to motivate themselves to achieve important goals.”
Tips for Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone
Most people love routine, and change can make us feel vulnerable. But you can grow your tolerance for the unknown by putting yourself into new situations. Leaving your comfort zone, even if it makes you feel awkward or scared, is the key to personal growth.
Fear of the unknown could be to blame if your career is in a rut. One way to overcome your professional self-doubts is by seeking out a stretch assignment at your company. Such tasks will get you noticed and put you in the spotlight in the eyes of management. While you might potentially fail, you’ll also likely see a positive impact on your career advancement by taking that risk.
“When we feel out of our comfort zone, we interpret that as a sign to proceed carefully, or not at all. Yet ultimately to succeed in business, we need to take risks,” says Woolley. “Seeking discomfort can help ensure our success.”