One of the perks of mastering something is that you lose your fear of failure. And professionally speaking, that’s great most of the time, because you want to be confident in your ability to do your job well.
But when you stick within your comfort zone, you never learn anything new—and this can be detrimental to your career advancement.
What the research says
According to Inc., research shows that uncertainty signals the brain to start learning. In one study, a group of monkeys was taught to hit various targets for a reward of fruit juice. However, the researchers varied the odds of which target would produce the reward. By measuring the monkeys’ brain activity while they played the game, the scientists were able to determine that once the monkeys learned how to predict how often a target would yield a reward, the brain regions associated with learning became dormant. But when the monkeys couldn’t predict what would happen, the brain centres associated with learning were active.
As the study showed, once you’ve learned the most effective way to achieve something, learning new approaches is basically pointless. As a result, you stop learning. That’s fine in many areas of life—but professionally, you want to keep advancing. And that means you have to step outside of your comfort zone to learn new things.
How you can step outside of your comfort zone
So, what’s the best way to go about this?
First, pinpoint the types of skills you’d like to learn. For example, perhaps you’ve always avoided public speaking and would finally like to master it. Or maybe you declined opportunities to lead projects but want to develop your leadership skills. Or perhaps you want to be able to code but are afraid of failure.
Then, find ways to start with small steps, as Harvard Business Review advises. Practice speaking in front of a group of your colleagues a few times before agreeing to speak at a large conference. Oversee a few small assignments before volunteering to head up a more involved, larger project. Enrol in a programming course where you get sufficient guidance to build your confidence in your computer skills.
How stepping outside your comfort zone benefits your career
Clearly, if you make the effort to step outside of your comfort zone, you can learn new skills that can help you advance in your career. At the same time, having more tools in your toolbox and knowing how to use them can help build your confidence, which can be fundamental when it comes to seeking out new opportunities and tackling new obstacles.