A new way to look at comfort zones

First Published: March 5, 2019  | Last Updated:

The gist: a lot of business advice out there isn’t as relevant when you have mental illness. Today, I’m talking about why “leaping outside of your comfort zone” isn’t the best tactic when you have anxiety.

When you have anxiety, taking big leaps isn't always the best approach to growing your business.

Ever since season 1 of Girls, we’ve been haunted by Instagram memes telling us that life begins at the end of our comfort zone. And we’ve gotta take big leaps to go get it.

I call B.S. on that analogy, especially when it comes to anyone with a mental illness like an anxiety disorder.

When it comes to taking risks with an anxiety disorder, stepping outside of your comfort zone isn’t as simple as “just leap.” It needs to be carefully managed, just like any aspect of mental illness.

But that doesn’t mean you still can’t make magic happen! ✨

Instead of taking big leaps, you can simply take a different approach.

In this episode of the Work Brighter Broadcast, I’m sharing my favorite way to manage anxiety and mental illness in business.

Remember, it doesn’t matter whether you take Big Leaps or Baby Steps, as long as you end up in the same place! 🙌

What happened when I “took big leaps” out of my comfort zone

You hear advice like “you’ve got to jump outside of your comfort zone,” all the time. Seriously, TRY to find a motivational Instagram account that doesn’t have a graphic with some version of this. 👀

It’s been an incredibly popular way of looking at success and reaching goals.

And I am going to call BS on it. At least if you’re struggling with chronic anxiety or other mental illness.

Because I speak from experience when I say that “risks” and “mental illness” aren’t always compatible. There have been SO many times when I did finally “tamp down” my anxiety so I could leap outside of my comfort zone.

And you know what ended up happening?

So many panic attacks and anxiety attacks that things didn’t work out. Because anxiety can really sabotage you when you’re trying to take big leaps outside of your comfort zones.

Why I don’t take big leaps anymore (and the anxiety-friendly way I expand my comfort zone instead)

However, if we decide to prevent anxiety and opt out of big leaps, that DOES NOT mean we’re stuck doing the same thing forever.

I am a huge believer in not having to “overcome” anxiety or mental illness. Instead, we can better understand our mental quirks, and learn how to work with them instead of against them. That way, your mental illness becomes your superpower.

So if my anxiety is preventing me from taking a certain route, full of “big leaps,” to a goal…

If it’s letting me take a big risk and jump outside of my comfort zone to do that…

Fine! I’ll just find a different route. 💁🏻

An example:

For me, one way that my anxiety always manifests is in over-planning. One way that I’ve been able to turn that into a superpower is by setting intricate plans to break down big goals into smaller steps.

A great example of this is how I approach public speaking.

Last fall, I spoke at INBOUND, a marketing conference that attracts over 10,000 marketers and keynoters like Shonda Rhimes. Not only that, it’s been my favorite conference for years.

Pluuuus, was first time even going to a conference since all of my health issues and diagnosis, let alone speaking at one. So it was a big risk in a LOT of ways.

However, I didn’t take a huge “leap” outside of my comfort zone to get there.

I haven’t talked about this a lot, but this past year was not the first time that I applied to speak at INBOUND. I’ve applied and gotten rejected twice before, in 2016 and 2017, before applying and getting accepted in 2018.

And when I applied that first time, it WAS a really big leap outside of my comfort zone.

A 45-minute in-person presentation?! That was nothing like anything I’ve ever done professionally before.

And so after getting rejected twice, I turned my over-planning anxiety into a superpower. I created a plan for becoming a better speaker long-term.

Instead of taking this big leap, I planned a bunch of tiny hops:

  • 2016: I started teaching more webinars on my own in my job at Mention.com to get used to doing long-form presentations solo.
  • Early 2018: Applied & was accepted to speak at INBOUND.

On the outside, speaking at an IRL conference looked like a big risk for an introvert with chronic illness. But because I was taking all these tiny hops to get there instead of a big leap, I tricked my anxiety into helping me instead of holding me back.

It just tricked it. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

So it’s not as simple as, “in 2016 I didn’t jump out of my comfort zone, and 2018 I did.”

It was that my comfort zone grew and expanded so much in that time, in a planned and strategic way. So by the time INBOUND 2019 came around, it was more of a natural next step than a huge leap.

Turn your mental illness into a superpower

I like to think of anxiety and mental illness as just quirks that we learned to work with, despite them trying to play tricks on us. One great way to do that is to play tricks right back at them.

And taking all these tiny steps, so that your mind and your mental health don’t even notice how far you’re moving and what big things you are doing? It is seriously so great.

If you have anxiety, you may not be a leaper. You may not be one to take huge leaps and go way outside of your comfort zone in one fell swoop.

NO PROBLEM.

That doesn’t mean you can’t do the cool things!

It just means you have to take tiny hops. And it’s great because from the outside, you still end up in the same place.

If this “leaping vs. hopping” metaphor resonates with you, let me know in the YouTube comments whether you’re a leaper or a hopper. 😀

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