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Andy Molinsky Ph.D.
Andy Molinsky Ph.D.

Why It's So Hard to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

These 5 roadblocks explain how fear can get in the way of courage

Flikr/Edward Dalmulder
Source: Flikr/Edward Dalmulder

Stepping outside your comfort zone in a meaningful and consequential professional situation can be very challenging to do. But this is the reality at work for most of us: as we grow and learn and advance in our jobs and in our careers, we're constantly faced with situations outside our comfort zones where we need to adapt and adjust our behavioral styles. As IBM CEO Ginni Rometty has said: ""Growth and comfort don't co-exist. That's true for people, companies, nations," Here's what I've learned are the top 5 challenges of stepping outside your personal comfort zone.

The first is the Authenticity Challenge. This is the idea that acting outside your comfort zone can feel fake, foreign, and false. Imagine for example a young, first-time entrepreneur stepping into a Shark Tank-like situation to pitch his ideas to a much older and experienced group of VC's, and perhaps putting on his "grown up voice" when doing so.

The second challenge is the Competence Challenge. This the idea that in addition to feeling inauthentic, you also may feel incompetent - whether it's speaking up at a meeting... or giving a speech... or pitching your ideas. And that can make you feel like a real imposter.

Challenge #3 is the Resentment Challenge: feeling frustrated or annoyed about the very fact that you feel you have to do this task outside your comfort zone in the first place. For example, as an introvert, you might feel deeply resentful that networking and small talk seem to matter as much - or even more - than the quality of your work.

Challenge #4 is the Likability Challenge. Here, we worry people won't like this version of ourselves when we step outside our comfort zones. A poignant example from my research comes from a frustrated employee who desperately wanted to confront a condescending jerk who was making her life miserable, but just couldn't shake the worry that he wouldn't like her if she confronted him (when, of course, he was clearly the unlikable one).

Finally, Challenge #5 is the Morality Challenge. Sometimes people have legitimate concerns about the ethical nature of the behavior they're about to perform - like when delivering bad news or performing a layoff.

Of course, few of us will experience all five of these challenges when we consider adapting behavior and stepping outside our comfort zones. But even one of them can make things tough. Have you ever experienced any of these challenges when stepping outside your comfort zone? If so, I can promise you're certainly not alone.

Visit here to receive my free guide to 10 cultural codes from around the world, and here for my very best tips on stepping outside your comfort zone at work.

Andy Molinsky is the author of Reach and Global Dexterity.

This article was previously published at

About the Author
Andy Molinsky Ph.D.

Andy Molinsky, Ph.D., is a professor of international management and organizational behavior at Brandeis University and the author of the book Global Dexterity.