Transcript of Is Your Comfort Zone Holding You Back

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John: Sure, your comfort zone sounds like a nice, warm cozy place, doesn’t it? But is it holding you back? We’re going to talk to Andy Molinsky, author of Reach on this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast.

John: This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast is brought to you by Thrive Leads. This is a tool that we use on the Duct Tape Marketing website thoroughly for content upgrades, for slide-in boxes. Actually, we even use the visual editor for all the pages and landing pages that we design. Go check it out at We’ll have a special link in the show notes for today, and check it out.

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Andy Molinsky. He is a professor at Brandeis University’s International Business School, and he’s also the author of a book we’re going to talk about today called Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge and Build Confidence. Andy, thanks for joining.

Andy Molinsky: Thanks for having me.

John: I just want you to know that for the first time ever, I’m doing this podcast not wearing pants and I’m very comfortable.

Andy Molinsky: Hey, that makes two of us.

John: I thought I’d step outside of my comfort zone a little bit and really get into this thing. For all listeners, I’m just kidding.

Andy Molinsky: Me too.

John: Let’s start with this idea of facing your fear and stepping outside of your comfort zone. It’s kind of a popular topic these days, maybe it has been for a long time. It seems like it is popular right now. Why is this such an important thing?

Andy Molinsky: I think a lot of us realize that our fears, and our worries and anxieties hold us back from reaching our true potential. I think that’s where it all comes down to; it’s sort of being our best self, reaching our true potential. And I think everyone is looking for that key to unlock it, and there’s a lot out there. I wrote the book about stepping outside your comfort zone, but it’s not that I don’t struggle as well. I certainly do and I too was looking out there at the internet, and all the memes that you find on Google Images bout stepping outside your comfort zone, just check a leap, and so on and so forth, and I also wasn’t satisfied. That’s why I wanted to really dive into it from a research perspective.

John: You know, I’ll be the first to admit. The word ‘comfortable’ sounds okay to me. It sounds pretty nice and it doesn’t sound like a negative thing. Why do we make it such a negative thing?

Andy Molinsky: I don’t think it is a negative thing. I think that’s a misnomer. I think that when you look online and you see people saying, “Life only begins at the edge of your comfort zone and nothing ever good happened in your comfort zone.” I think that’s not true. I mean, I think the reality is that we have situations in our lives, times in our lives, when it’s perfectly appropriate, acceptable, and actually pretty wise to stay right in your comfort zone.

But I think there are other situations and times that for a lot of us, it would be nice to be able to have that courage or confidence to step outside our comfort zone. Those are the situations that I’m focused on.

John: What do you think keeps people there? I certainly know as I get older, there are times when my morning routine gets messed up or something and I’m uncomfortable. What do you think keeps people in that area we call the comfort zone?

Andy Molinsky: I should be clear that the topics that I’m talking about, these are sort of like tasks, situations at work where – like speaking up, being assertive, public speaking, making small talk, if you’re comfortable with participating in a meeting, these kinds of things. And I think what I found, and I did a lot of research on this topic, other’s research but also my own. I went off and spoke with managers, executives, doctors, lawyers, stay-at-home moms, rabbis, priests, goat farmers, you name it.

I found there were five main things that kept us in our comfort zone. I call them sort of like psychological roadblocks. The first one is authenticity, the idea that it feels really inauthentic to me to be acting in this way, and that pulls me right back into my comfort zone. The second one is likability, the sort of rational or irrational fear people will hate me if I act in this new way. Incompetence, the fear that I’ll look like a fool or I’ll feel like a fool. Resentment, some people deeply resent having to step outside their comfort zone in a particular situation. And morality… This doesn’t happen for everybody, but I certainly found enough cases where people felt stepping outside their comfort zone was a bit of an ethical wall.

It doesn’t mean that every single situation you encounter, that each of these roadblocks are going to pop up. But even one of them can make it hard and can make you retreat right back into the comfort zone.

John: Let’s take an example of somebody… Because you know, these are real, I think. Let’s say I have this new sales job and I’m supposed to go meet people at the industry networking event, but that’s not really my thing but I’m going to go, and I’m going to be somebody I am not because that’s how I think I’ll get ahead. I mean, that drives right into the authenticity, doesn’t it?

Andy Molinsky: No question. I mean, it could be a lot of them right there. Inauthentic, this is not me. And by the way, sales is funny. I found so many people struggle with sales, from small business owners, to entrepreneurs who are really product people and then all of a sudden realize, “Oh my gosh, to build a business, I have to actually go sell stuff.” So, you got authenticity, ‘this doesn’t feel like me’; likability, ‘I’m going to look like a jerk.’ I’m imposing on them to ask them to buy something; incompetence, the feeling that I look like a fool doing this. I’m bumbling. I have no idea how to do it, the imposter syndrome – which I think really is the … I think the imposter syndrome is kind of the combination of authenticity and competence.

I think that’s a really good example. I think a lot of people feel kind of sleazy or slimy selling something.

John: Yeah, I mean just the fact that it… I mean, typing ‘I hate selling’ into Google and you’ll find 60 million entries in there. And I think that’s what really people are really saying, is it’s not that I hate selling it, it’s that I hate what I think selling is.

Andy Molinsky: And I hate what I feel like when I’m selling, and I hate what I think other people think of me as when I sell.

John: I guess we’ve already determined though that in order to survive in life, there’s a lot of selling that has to go on in some fashion. How do you start making it authentic? I mean, yes, okay, I’ve stepped outside my comfort zone. It’s not something that I really like doing, but could I do it in a way that was authentic?

Andy Molinsky: Yes. What I found is whether it’s selling, whether it’s making small talk, public speaking, no matter what it is, I found that there were essentially three key tips that people seem to use across all these professions in my research. And also, when I then sort of reflect on my own experiences too.

The first is conviction. What conviction is, is figuring out why the pain is worth the gain for you. Why is it worth it to have some sort of deep sense of purpose, that there is a reason that I’m doing this, and I really value this? For example, it could be a professional reason, that I’ve always wanted to start my own company. I’ve always dreamed to be an entrepreneur, and if selling is part of it, god darn it, I’m going to go sell.

It might also be a personal reason. I know for me personally, I’ve got kids. I have a 10 and a 12 year old. And for me often, conviction when I’m stepping outside my comfort zone comes down to like, you know, I’m telling my kids they need to step up and be confident, and step outside their comfort zones and situations. How about Dad? I got to step up too. That’s the kind of dad I want to be.

So for me, it’s very personal often. But the point is that wherever it comes from, you have to find your source of conviction. That was number one. Number two was customization. Now, I think this is probably the most interesting thing I’ve found, the most surprising thing I found on my research. This is really cool. You can take pretty much any situation. You can put your personal spin on it. You can customize it.

It’s sort of like you’re buying a pair of pants at the store and going to the tailor to kind of tweak it here or there. That’s the analogy I like to use, because that’s what you can do with situations. Sometimes it’s body language, sometimes it’s bringing a prop, sometimes it’s the way you script something. It could be a lot of things. So with your example of selling, for instance, maybe you decide that for you, what’s critical is telling a personal story. Maybe you only decide to sell stuff that you yourself really love and can tell a personal story about. Maybe you script out the first few words. Maybe you wear a lucky ring that no one else knows is lucky but you know is lucky. Maybe there’s a time of day that works for you. Maybe having a buddy with you makes more sense.

Whatever it is, it’s very personal, but you can often find ways to tweak your situation just a little bit so that it feels just that little bit more comfortable for you. So you’ve got conviction, you’ve got customization; and the last one is clarity. That’s pretty simple. I found a lot of people struggle stepping outside their comfort zone because they do what psychologists call catastrophizing. They think of the worst possible scenario.

I mean, it’s natural when we’re afraid of something. But what I found is that the people who are most successful were able to sort of find the middle ground, that psychological middle ground, “I’m not going to fall flat on my face. I won’t feel like an utter disaster. It’s not going to be completely awful. It also probably won’t be unbelievably great either. It’ll probably be somewhere in the middle. I’ll slip a little bit but I might surprise myself” and so on and so forth.

But sort of claiming that sort of more realistic middle ground and having and anchor to anchor yourself there I found was also really key when stepping outside your comfort zone.

John: What are some tips that you give to people as you consult, coach, advice on taking some of these steps? For example, stepping outside your comfort zone to give your first live presentation ever to that 10 million dollar client that you have to win might not be the first place for you to do that, right? I mean, are there some tips for that?

Andy Molinsky: Yes, I was just going to say that as you were describing that example. I was going to say “Don’t start there!”, right? Take steps. Make a plan. Let’s say you are a couch potato like me and you want to go run a 10K. You’re not going to go off the couch and run that 10K. You’re probably going to pull a muscle and you’ll probably make about 50 yards outside your house. You want to give yourself a reasonable training schedule.

Confidence is like a muscle. You need to build it. And so, you need to practice in what I call just-right type of situations. Right where you are at this point in time, but stretch a little bit. And so, you find that if you can create those opportunities for yourself and do that over time and come up with a plan, you’ll get to that point where you’ll have to do that ultimate presentation.

But I wouldn’t start out there.

John: Using your running analogy, anybody training for a marathon or something, you’ll add a mile to your long run every week or something as you’re trying to ramp up. You don’t just go out there and see how far you can run one day.

Andy Molinsky: Exactly.

John: Let’s catastrophize for a little while. When you did some of your interviews, did you find any instances or at least stories where people came back and said, “You know what? I did push out of my comfort zone and I lost my job.”

Andy Molinsky: Good question. No, but I’d have to imagine that probably exists. I certainly found cases of failure, but most of the cases of failure that I’ve found were people who underestimated the challenges of stepping outside their comfort zone and sort of didn’t do this work in preparing, understanding what their pain points were, figuring out ways to address them, applying different tools as techniques as we’re talking about, starting out slow, and so on and so forth.

When people just jumped in, like just got off the couch and started to run six miles, that’s where I found the problems.

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In organizations, stepping out of your comfort zone is not always rewarded. It’s not always seen as a positive. I mean, where does this have to come from inside of organizations that you’ve worked with?

Andy Molinsky: It’s interesting. It’s a good point. I think you’re either going to get a corporate culture, an organizational culture that is resistant to the idea, that is like neutral or kind of isn’t particularly supportive or unsupportive, or is actually particularly supportive. I think you are probably going to be able to find… You could probably think right now and you could pinpoint your organization somewhere on that continuum.

I found some organizations… I’ve been actually surprised at the amount of organizations that I’ve encountered where this is almost baked in. This is really critical because if you think about it, the amount of money, and time, and effort it takes to recruit the very best people to your organization, you want to be able to keep them and develop them. And especially if you’re in a relatively fast-moving field, these people, your human resources are going to have to adapt. You’re going to have to adapt. Their job titles might completely…

You might have titles at the organization in two years that don’t actually exist right now. And so for that reason, helping people learn to step outside their comfort zone is a critical asset. I know a lot of companies are interested in having their high potentials, the people they designate as high potentials develop these qualities, but I personally also think it is a critical element for people even who aren’t sort of tapped as the so-called high potentials.

John: What role does society play in molding people, or even let’s start at the beginning, I mean your parents?

Andy Molinsky: Yeah. I think that’s where I start a lot. As I mentioned, I have kids. I think about this a lot. I think it’s important to really know and understand your children because that will get a finger on the pulse of where they are right now, what kinds of challenges they are capable of pursuing.

Like you know, if you just sort of have a default view as a parent, “Just go suck it up. You just have to go suck it up, and push them out of the nest.” That might work for some kids, but it might actually deeply backfire for others. I think it is really critical to understand your kids and to then help them find opportunities and circumstances where they can step outside their comfort zone, develop that confidence, and then maybe encounter an even larger challenge.

But kids obviously, as anyone listening who has kids knows, they all develop at very different paces, they all have very different backgrounds, personalities, and so on. That’s why I think really knowing your kid is so key.

John: Throughout the process of researching and writing this book, and the interviews that you did, are there one or two examples of somebody who did something that for them was outside their comfort zone and there was kind of like a favorite whim?

Andy Molinsky: One of the stories that resonates with me, and that I cover throughout the book actually, is a story of this woman named Annie Harris and she worked for an investment firm. Her job was to go make sales, as we were talking about earlier, with potential high net-worth clients or really rich people; get them to invest their money in their business.

She was really doing well. She was gaining confidence, but it turned out that in order for her to make these sales, it was the protocol at the company that they had to bring along a portfolio manager on these meetings. It was her and then the portfolio manager. It turned out this portfolio manager was a total jerk. I mean, I don’t know if this is a PG podcast, but you know, insert word that’s worse than jerk and you get what I’m saying. She would tell him beforehand that the client really cared about tax and tax issues. And then during the meeting, he would completely dismiss tax and tax issues and so on.

She was livid. She was embarrassed. She was ashamed. She was frustrated. She was angry but she could not get herself to confront him. She was a very unassertive person. She was a people-pleaser. She simply couldn’t do it at least at first. Over time eventually, she was able to confront him, but I thought that was just a great story, how she went from being completely passive and undermined by this jerk, to the point where she walked into his office, opened the door without asking, slammed the door without asking, walked over to his desk and started to talk to him and tell him that he had to stop.

John: And the result?

Andy Molinsky: The result was that not only did he stop, but she also gained confidence. She realized, “Whoa, I actually could be more assertive than I thought I could!” That actually then transferred to some other relationships she had. She was managing a guy who was working remotely and she always had wanted to talk to him about the fact that she didn’t think he was being very efficient with his remote work, and so on, and she was able to finally talk to him. And so, it really reverberated across all different aspects of her work life, but that was sort of the tipping point for her to get up that courage to be able to step outside her comfort zone. It worked well.

John: That leads me very well into my last thought. A lot of this getting outside your comfort zone is to maybe develop some new behavior, some new habits that are seen as positive. Anything that you have found that is kind of key to making those new habits stick?

Andy Molinsky: Yeah. The stuff that we talked about before, having a practice routine, starting small and building up, having a perspective, I would call it a learning perspective. And I think a lot of us out there who were perfectionists tend to see things through the performance lens, like “I screwed up”, or “I’m great”, or “I did well”, or “I didn’t do well”, as opposed to learning, where we’re actually seeing mistakes as data for how we can improve next time. We might think of our business processes like that but we don’t cut ourselves the same slack. I think that’s really key to be able to do that.

And then oftentimes, I think it’s very useful to have some form of a mentor type. Now, I don’t want to say mentor because sometimes it’s hard to find just the right mentor; but someone, a coach, a mentor, a spouse, a good friend – someone that can help nudge you outside your comfort zone, someone you can talk to about it, and so on and so forth, I think that’s also key.

John: Maybe even a person to help you recognize it. That’s probably [INAUDIBLE 00:19:59], right?

Andy Molinsky: Absolutely, to so to speak call you on it.

John: And I know there are some other tools that go on with [INAUDIBLE 00:20:07] tell people where obviously the books available everywhere, but you want to tell people where they can find out more about you and your work?

Andy Molinsky: Yes, definitely. Come visit my website. I’d love to connect with readers and anyone interested in these topics. My website is That’s spelled A-N-D-Y, M-O-L-I-N-S-K-Y dot com. I’m on LinkedIn, and Facebook, and Twitter, and so on, and I’d love to hear from you.

John: Awesome. Talking with Andy Molinsky, author of Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge and Build Confidence. Andy, thanks for joining me and hopefully we’ll bump into you out there on the road.

Andy Molinsky: Sounds great, thanks for having me.




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