I’m a first born, a CPA – a poster child for conformity.
I like to know what comes next (No surprise that I chose financial planning as a career!) and want a high level of confidence that I’ll be successful before attempting something. People like me create checklists and follow routines.
Routines help us deal with the chaos and complexities of daily life. They allow us to be faster and more efficient, but they can also cause us to become stale, and bind our thinking. As we get older, psychologists say we have a tendency to cling to familiar habits, people and things that make us comfortable, and we become less open to new ideas and learning. I don’t want that to happen to me.
So I am taking French lessons.
I know it’s not exactly bungee-jumping. But shifting mental gears into being a student again, struggling to express myself in a language I haven’t taken since 9th grade, and putting myself in a situation where I am not confident has been more uncomfortable than I initially thought. But I am learning!
Getting outside our comfort zone and into an area described as ‘optimal anxiety’ can have several benefits. The Wall Street Journal article, Anxiety Can Bring Out the Best, describes this zone as the sweet spot between checked out and freaked out. Forcing ourselves into optimal anxiety can help us be more productive, creative, and help us learn to roll with the punches when we are faced with new and unexpected situations.
Our productivity rises when deadlines and expectations force us out of our comfort zone because we are forced to find a solution. When I was an auditor many years ago, our team would find better, faster ways of doing things when we had only a week to finish an audit. When the pressure was off, some people would do the minimum to get by.
Our creativity is improved by trying new things outside our comfort zone, because seeking new experiences and learning new skills can inspire us and educate us in ways that force us to question the way we have always done things. It challenges our habit of seeking out information that confirms what we already believe. Our brains become less rusty.
Learning to get outside our comfort zone helps us face fear and uncertainty, which is at the heart of what we are trying to avoid by staying in our routines. Life is full of surprises. If we can practice taking risks, and challenge ourselves to do things we normally wouldn’t do, the better equipped we’ll be to cope with all the unexpected things life inevitably brings.