“Does it feel uncomfortable? Good, keep doing it!” I once heard a friend of mine ask this question of a quarterback under his tutelage, and it made me think about how uncomfortable change can be.
When a strategy hasn’t yielded the outcomes everyone expects, it’s time to rework the problem. When a team has been led in the wrong direction, it’s time to course-correct. When a bad personal habit has developed, it’s time to kick it. Change can feel like an impossible task. Human nature wants us to stay safe in our comfort zone and not to challenge the status quo.
Comfort zones. We all have them. Our personal comfort zone is a lifelong work-in-progress of forming limits and boundaries, in regards to how we perceive the world and our place in it. Some definitions of a comfort zone could be the “How I see myself zone,” or the “I am zone,” or the “Zone in which I perform comfortably.” Any time we are challenged to extend ourselves beyond our perceived limits of mental territory, our comfort zone, fear and anxiety step forward to halt the process.
Comfort zones are so prevalent social psychologists tell us we spend 90% of our waking hours thinking about two primary factors, our past and our present. We are in constant search of information that supports two primary things: who we have always been in the past, and who we are in the present. That leaves just 10% of our conscious day to think about our future – where we are headed as we move forward in life. It’s easy to see why change is such a challenging step for many of us to take.
In theory, change can seem exciting, progressive and forward-moving. But in reality, for many people, change is uncomfortable and generally avoided. Change can be so uncomfortable that it feels wrong. However, sometimes that discomfort is the catalyst towards something new and positive. Developing a new process or habit takes time, patience, discipline, and persistence.
Change is not fun or flashy. It takes time and can feel off-putting. Learning how to navigate change, starts with recognizing and anticipating the discomfort that accompanies it. Leading an organization or team through change requires a resilient leader who has learned how to inspire and navigate the waters of being uncomfortable.
The flip side is that change can be thrilling. When we achieve new goals, drive progress, overcome obstacles, rise to new heights, fulfill latent potential, and work seamlessly as a team, these are moments of great value and joy. These and many other reasons compel us to forgo the temporary discomfort of stepping into a changing landscape, and leap into a brighter and better future.
So how do we get comfortable being uncomfortable?
When you make a change and it feels outside of your comfort zone, acknowledge it. Become aware and bring uncomfortable feelings to the forefront of your consciousness. Observe and record what it feels like, to your head and heart. Examine and analyze whether or not the uncomfortable feeling you’re experiencing is due to the positive change you’re making and commend yourself if it is.
Try challenging your comfort zone by simply wearing your watch on the opposite wrist one day a week. Try brushing your teeth with the opposite hand a couple of nights before going to bed. Get your brain thinking and feeling differently about routine habits.
Lasting change won’t happen overnight. Giving up during the change process is easy. But staying the course, even when it’s uncomfortable, is the only way to affect lasting change. For many, the potential benefits of change fail to be realized, because people give up too soon. For many, after making progress, people or an organization will fail to inculcate these changes into their culture and slide back into old habits and ways of doing things. Or, they will feel the uncomfortable weight of the transformation and give up just as they approach a breakthrough.
Fortunately, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Many bright minds have ventured this path long before us. Do some research. My journey as a change leadership expert started 25 years ago, made possible by following two giants in the field of change and transformation; my former business partner, Dennis Goin, and Harvard Professor and Change Leadership authority, Dr. John Kotter.
Don’t waste energy starting a change process only to find out your methods and strategy are steering you in the wrong direction. Make sure the change you embrace is heading towards something beneficial, which adds substance and value, both individually and collectively. Navigating successful change is tough enough as it is, so it is essential to seek information and methods from a leading change expert.
Change takes time, diligence, patience, and perseverance. It takes a strong leader at the helm who doesn’t just manage, but leads. If you are a business or team leader who needs to trigger a change, or if you are in a change experience and it feels too uncomfortable, let’s connect. I have the expertise to help guide your team through the transition and cast a vision for the future. Please reach out. Leading can be lonely, but you aren’t alone.