Last month I interviewed the brilliant Emma Lawton, creative director, campaigner and writer.
Our conversation was all about comfort zones: why it’s important to step out of them and how she’s stepping out of hers.
Emma was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s at the age of 29. It was unexpected to say the least. Emma has reframed that unexpected news as an opportunity to reinvent herself and as a reason to do the things that make her happy right now rather than put them off for some point in the distant future.
This year Emma is completing her F—it List. She’s deliberately putting herself out of her comfort zone and doing something new or different every day for the whole of 2019.
It starts with ‘Try January’
January is always full of resolutions, people stop doing things that they enjoy or are bad for them (these are often the same thing in my experience). Emma thinks ‘Try January’ is a better philosophy – starting a sparkly year in the way that you mean to go on. Emma decided to do brilliant things in January and didn’t want to stop after a month. Why not make it a year? Why not make it a way of life?
‘You have a choice about how you see the world. It’s your responsibility to invest in yourself and progress yourself. No one else has this responsibility – it’s down to you.’
Emma started with a list of brilliant things to try and over the months and as news of her F—it List has started to spread she’s getting offers to do things that she didn’t even know existed! The list now includes an eclectic mix of edible cinema, trips to underwater lakes under shopping centres, flower arranging, shooting guns in a firing range, learning a language from a colleague in a lunch hour, scuba diving, hot air ballooning and a visit to Japan.
Emma is really geeky
When it comes to data and spreadsheets Emma is a self-confessed geek. She’s working out how to use her F—it List to do good. Often investing time and money in ourselves can feel narcissistic. We feel guilty. Yet, looking after our physical and mental health or simply being kind to ourselves is fundamental to our wellbeing. For example, Emma is thinking about how activities make a person feel, both mentally and physically. What emoticon would describe it? She wants to be able to say, ‘If you want to feel like this, then do this F—it List activity.’
The F—it List is not about doing ‘scary things’ because everyone’s comfort zone is a different shape and size. It’s more about taking responsibility for and looking after yourself, learning new things and spending time with people you love.
Learning new things involves exploring unknowns and this means stepping outside of your comfort zone. Being able to step outside of your comfort zone is important because as the world around you changes, what you know now isn’t going to be enough to get you to the place you need to be in the future.
Tips for stepping out of your comfort zone
Ask yourself ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ Make a list of the worst things and then work out how you’d deal with them. For Emma, she shared that the worst might have already happened – because being diagnosed and living with Parkinson’s isn’t the best news. So in a way, Parkinson’s has taken the edge off the fear because she’s doing well with the ‘worst’ and this has made stepping outside of her comfort zone easier.
Know yourself. Work out how you react to things. Do you thrive being thrown into the deep end or not? Stepping outside of your comfort zone is not necessarily about doing a great big massive thing that terrifies you. Assess if you will achieve more by taking small steps or one giant leap?
Be accountable. Ticking something off on a list because people are watching provides a level of pressure and accountability. Tell people your goals and they will hold you accountable. Be realistic about what you can achieve. Whatever your goals, doing something small to keep moving in the right direction is better than stopping still.
Surround yourself with people who are stepping out of their comfort zones. Best friends don’t always understand. According to Tim Ferriss, you are the ‘average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.’ Find others who will push you and challenge you. Spend time with people who help you up your game, cheerleaders and honest friends.
Just do it. Make the task feel smaller than it is. Sometimes doing something new gets built up in your head as being scarier than it actually is. Stop fear taking hold by breaking the task down into small and manageable chunks. For example, if you struggle to speak up in meetings, start practicing to speak by agreeing with a colleagues comment. This will help help you build your confidence.
Have a project pre-mortem. Get to the route cause and name the fear. For example, I was afraid of going scuba diving, and when I unpicked it, my fear wasn’t about breathing under water; it was about finding a wetsuit that fitted combined with anxiety about getting in and out of a boat. Once I’d identified these fears I could pick out how I was going to deal with each of them one by one and they became more managable.
Be a bit scared. If you feel comfortable then you’re not pushing yourself. Remember that you will be missing opportunities by not stepping up.
If as Emma says, happiness is learning new things and spending time with people you love, get more curious, surround yourself with the important people, step out of your comfort zone and go and learn.
If you are interested in learning and achieving more, join me for a free training webinar on stepping out of your comfort zone on Wednesday 17 April at 12.30pm UK time. Places are limited. Sign up here.