How to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

by | Aug 10, 2021

Darcy Luoma is one of America’s most highly credentialed coaches. She’s worked in 48 industries, with more than 500 organizations, and has impacted tens of thousands of leaders and employees.


When was the last time you did something out of your comfort zone? Something that made you think, I have no idea what I’m doing.

For some of you it may be hard to remember. Maybe it was when you were a child—or in college. For others it might’ve been this past weekend. Regardless, when we do something that’s scary, new, or uncomfortable, it can be hard. And it’s hard because it’s unknown.

Giving a presentation to the board for the first time? Doing your first race? First time managing a team?

I’ve had a lot of firsts that made me uncomfortable—and in some cases downright terrified.

  • First triathlonWhere do I change out of my swimsuit before getting on the bike?
  • First day running a United States Senate officeDo people think I’m qualified for this job?
  • First keynote speech—Nobody told me I’d have a microphone pack strapped to my bra!
  • First meeting with lobbyists on behalf of the Senator—What if they ask me a question I don’t know?
  • First full day coaching an executive leadership team—Why did I wear these spanks?

In most cases I went from unconsciously incompetent (i.e. I didn’t know—or ever even think about—what it would take to be a successful director of a senate office) to quickly becoming consciously incompetent (Wow, this is really hard, and there’s so much I don’t know. Um, what is anthrax?).

With time, effort, and intention I was able to become consciously competent (Oh! This is how I handle a mob of hostile anti-war protestors who are taking over the office to stage a die-in). I was able to do what was expected of me, but I really needed to think about it. Sometimes I was successful. Other times I had a front row seat to learn from my mistake—how’s that for a positive spin?

But with consistent practice, I eventually began feeling unconsciously competent. (No problem—go ahead and transfer that angry constituent to my line!).


Incompetence is Part of the Journey

The truth is, you have to go through all of these four stages to get to mastery. If you’re doing something new—or taking your skill set to the next level—there’s going to be a period of incompetence. Every Olympic athlete was once in the Little Leagues. Every NHL All-Star once struggled in Pee Wees. Every MVP once missed all of their free throws.

Successful people recognize that incompetence is part of the journey, not the end of the road.

The Thoughtfully Fit practice of Endurance is what helps us to continue the journey when doing something for the first time—instead of running back to the cozy safety of our comfort zone (and couch!). It’s understandable to want to quit when things get hard or when we don’t know what we’re doing. But by practicing Endurance, we can look for that next small step to help overcome the obstacle and develop a growth mindset.


I Was a Mess My First Triathlon

In 1998 my best friend asked me to do my first triathlon. I thought, Sure, how hard can it be? But then I registered and got the rules and learned everything I needed to prepare. Yikes. I quickly went from nonchalant to nervous.

A million thoughts ran through my mind:

How do I know where to find my bike in the transition area amidst hundreds of bikes? Wetsuits are mandatory if the water is below 58 degrees—do I need a wetsuit? Um, how do I know the temperature of the water? Do I need to wear my race bib in the swim? What do I do if I get a flat tire?

It would’ve been easy to stop right there. I was no longer in my comfort zone and the chance of messing up and/or embarrassing myself was high. I could’ve told my friend that something came up and that I was no longer available on that date. I didn’t need to put myself through this! But I was curious.

So I opted to take the challenge. I made lists. I laid out everything I would need weeks in advance—wetsuit, swim cap, goggles, bike, bike shoes, bike pump, helmet, running shoes, socks, visor, sunscreen. I wrote out my exact plan leading up to the race—what I would eat the day before, what time I’d wake up, how I would set up my transition area, what nutrition I would have during the race, how I would time it right to warm up in the lake before they roped it off.

It took me days to just pack my car—and even then I didn’t feel fully prepared.

But I did it. It was hard. Really hard. But I overcame those challenges and finished (believe me, it was no gold medal performance!).

Twenty-three years, and hundreds of races later, I’ve finally reached unconscious competence. On race day, I get up an hour early, pull together my gear, load the car, and off I go. And it’s fun!


Tackle Your Fear with Endurance

What’s my point? If there’s something you are wanting to do, but you’re scared—that’s good. You’re supposed to be! You’ve never done it before.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t. You just need to have Endurance to overcome those obstacles (and your inner trash talk) that are holding you back. You need to embrace the “yet” (I’m not good at handling angry constituents—yet). Find your tribe. Commit to learning something new. Practice and train. Don’t give up control to the trash talkers. Have the grit to clear the hurdles.

Want to become a yoga instructor? Want to volunteer for that big project? Want to get a promotion? Want to start your own company? Want to take your business to the next level? Want to join that board? You can do it!

The best place to start is right where you are. And engage your core.


One-minute-workoutOne-Minute Core Workout

The next time you find yourself wanting to stay in your comfort zone, Pause. Think. Act.

  • Pause. Give yourself a moment to reflect. Take a break from all the things you normally do and give yourself some space to dream about things out of your comfort zone.
  • Think. What new thing do I want to tackle? What is both scary and thrilling? What is the first step?
  • Act. Go for it! Take that first step and get closer to your goal.

You’ll know you’re out of your comfort zone when it’s uncomfortable. Celebrate—that’s exactly where you should be. Give it a try!

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