Avoidance threatens your creativity. If you shy away from engaging due to fear of criticism, struggle being a people pleaser, or getting out of your comfort zone, then this conversation is for you. My guest, Dr. Andy Molinksy, is the definitive expert to help you reach your goals with a variety of unique strategies and insights on moving beyond your comfort zone. In this episode, Dr. Molinsky will share with you why “roadblocks” can keep you from meeting your potential, how to move past avoidance, and some insightful methods on how to overcome your challenges. Andy Molinksy is a professor at Brandeis University’s International Business School, and has been featured in Harvard Business Review, Inc. Magazine, Psychology Today,New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, and a whole lot more. If you’re looking for a way to stretch your comfort zone and make a bigger impact in 2019, you’ll love this fun and fascinating conversation.
Would you like a new strategy to step outside of your comfort zone? Do you find yourself struggling to be able to confront issues maybe with your team, with your spouse, with your family or kids? Do you clam up in social circles? Do you struggle at networking events? Do you shy away from engaging due to fear of criticism? Now is your time to stretch, to be able to reach and stretch your comfort zone. We have the definitive expert who can show you how to be able to do that. His name is Andy Molinsky. He’s a professor at Brandeis University’s International Business School in the Department of Psychology. Andy has been a media celebrity in many ways. He’s been featured in Harvard Business Review, Inc. Magazine, Psychology Today and the Financial Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, NPR, the Voice of America and a whole lot more. If you’re looking for a way to stretch your comfort zone, Andy is your guy. Andy, welcome to the show. How are you?
I’m good. Thanks for having me on.
I want to dive right into it with the idea of a comfort zone. I’ve heard many expert talks about the process of manifesting anything. It starts with beliefs and then thoughts that lead to feelings, leads to actions, leads to results. I’m curious about your work. You see one type of person. They come across outgoing, extroverted, adventurous and they do anything outside of their comfort zone. In fact, when they’re not stretching that comfort zone, they’re uncomfortable. On the other hand, there are others who clam up and they don’t. What comes first? The belief or is it the thought around a comfort zone?
Do you mean what comes first in terms of being willing to do it?
Motivation. You have to care. It has to matter. It has to be important to you. Extroverts can also struggle outside of their comfort zone, for example delivering bad news. That to me is a good situation where it doesn’t matter if you’re extroverted or introverted. It can be hard to deliver bad news, just as an example. You have to care. It has to matter. We go through our lives and we encounter situations that are often important for our business, important for our career growth, important for our lives outside of work. Whatever that task or situation might be, it’s outside our comfort zone. It’s something that makes us anxious and so we might avoid it. You asked for the most important number one thing. You have to care. You have to have some motivation to do it. It has to matter to you.
What about someone who says, “It doesn’t matter to me,” or, “In the hierarchy of other things that are important to me, this is lesser on the list.” Yet we hear all the time that if you want to get to that next level, you’ve got to be willing to stretch and grow. The most successful achievers in the world are constantly stretching themselves or like an irritated oyster to create a pearl. Speak to that attitude or mindset a little bit.
I wrote an article in Harvard Business Review recently about this. I’m not of the belief that you should always be stretching outside your comfort zone in every situation and that every person should. I don’t think that’s the case. You want to pick your spot. It needs to matter to you and it needs to be the right time. A good example is myself, I remember early on in my career. I’m an academic but I’m a reformed academic. I’m a professor and I do academic work, but I also do a lot of consulting, teaching, training, speaking and so on. I’ve written several popular books. I wanted to do that earlier in my career, but I had to be able to achieve my academic reputation.You don't bolt from anything to something. There's a lot of hard work and it's not a linear process. - Dr. Andy Molinksy Click To Tweet
I had to work on those academic papers early on. Furthermore, we were having kids. I had two young kids. I was operating on little sleep. I had that academic goal. That was not the right time for me to step outside my comfort zone and try all this other stuff, which for me was stretching outside my comfort zone. Starting to consult with business leaders and give speeches to hundreds of people and so on and so forth. I wanted to do it, but it was hard for me. I was a little bit scared to do it, to be honest, but it wasn’t the right time. So, I don’t think that you want to instinctively push outside your comfort zone and that life only begins outside your comfort zone. I don’t believe that, but for a lot of people, to grow, to develop, to achieve the goals that you do want to achieve, oftentimes, it does require stepping outside your comfort zone. I’m not given a way out, I’m describing that there is a context. It happens within the flow of our lives.
So maybe your research indicates this… Why do you think people lean towards playing it safe?
They avoid. First of all, it’s easy to avoid. There’s a good reason we do it because we get relief, “I don’t have to do that. I don’t have to go to that networking event. I don’t have to make that sales pitch. I don’t have to make small talk with that executive over there that I’m feeling self-conscious about doing.” We avoid because it brings us relief. In my book and in my research, I find a variety of reasons that we avoid, reasons why it’s hard to step outside our comfort zones. That’s what I cover in my book, Reach. That’s also what I do in my teaching and training.
I want to tie back to if you can remember back when you mentioned you were in academics. Focus there and then you wanted to move into this place of doing public speaking, consulting with business leaders. For you, you’ve had this amazing success. You’re a bestselling author. You’ve impacted thousands worldwide now and having a global impact on what you do. Can you think back to a time when you were at your lowest point struggling with you getting out of your comfort zone? That struggle or maybe the big mistake or biggest failure you made at that time. What did you learn from it and what could our audience learn from that too?
One thing I struggled with and still sometimes struggle with, especially in the internet world. What you see out there is you see other people’s highlights. You see their highlight reels, but what you don’t see is their backstage, behind the curtain experience. You don’t see what it took to get there. You don’t understand their fears, their struggles, and their anxieties. All you see is their highlights. You have easy and ready access to your own internal fears, worries, and anxieties. Especially if you haven’t created that highlight reel yet, it can feel discouraging. You can see all these people out there and especially in the internet world where people are tweeting and self-promoting. To be honest, I’ve realized I have to do some of this too. You put yourself out there, “Look at all my great accomplishments.” People are people. Even the most well published, highest paid consultants, whatever it is, whatever your metric is. People feel insecure. People feel anxious and so on. When you’re looking at their highlight reels, you don’t get that. That was a mistake I realized early on. It’s still something I sometimes struggle with, but I’ve certainly gotten a lot better at that.
What would you say was the key for you getting better at it?
What was key for me was to understand the journeys that it takes to step into the experience of becoming a thought leader or becoming successful. Understanding all the steps, stages and hard work it takes to get there. You don’t bolt from nothing to something. There’s a lot of hard work and it’s not a linear process that it’s two steps forward, three steps back that people do struggle in. Hearing and reading about people’s stories and their narratives about their experience were helpful to me to normalize my own, especially when I wasn’t successful. This is true when I was in my second career of writing popular books, doing speaking, consulting and so on. In my academic career, it’s true too, you saw people writing these academic articles and being tremendously successful. I was there early on struggling to get published and so on. Trying to normalize it and understand the journeys that people are on and say to me, “There’s no quick fix here. I show up every day, put in the hard work, have the faith and eventually, there’ll be some success.”
I can’t help but wonder how important is it for someone to take those first steps out of their comfort zone? Back on my journey. I was a quiet kid, insecure, shy. I had been a lot of insecurities because I had bad teeth when I was a kid. I had my best friend who used to call me 99 Rows of Teeth. It’s great how friends plant these beliefs in us sometimes without us even knowing it. As a result, I was not comfortable at social events. I still work on it in many ways. What are a couple of the first steps that someone can take to reach out and be able to get out of the comfort zone to get to that next level?You actually care about what you want to improve at. - Dr. Andy Molinksy Click To Tweet
In a situation that scares you, you have that tendency to avoid. We talked about something that you care about what you want to improve at. You want to stack the deck in your favor. I don’t even think it’s one thing. You want to try to create the conditions, do multiple things to try to increase the odds to nudge you forward to try something. I heard this time and time again in my research for my book, Reach, and I also hear this in the coaching and training work that I do. When people can stop avoiding and try something, they can start to benefit from the power of self-discovery which is oftentimes, “This isn’t as hard as I thought it was. I’m a little bit better at this than I thought I was.” The reason that’s powerful is that you can never ever have that self-discovery if you avoid. If you’re avoiding, you’re never benefiting from that learned knowledge about yourself. If you do that, you start to not avoid but try something. You start to build some confidence muscles, self-efficacy that’ll probably encourage you to try it again. That’s what we call a virtuous positive spiral. That’s where you want to be on. My short answer is stacking the deck in your favor and that’s what I talk about in my book, Reach, about all the ways you can do that.
With some of the coaching clients you’ve worked with or some of the leaders, you’ve got a pretty big name, a pretty big list of names you’ve worked with. What are one to three breakthroughs that either you’ve experienced with the work you’re doing directly or you’ve seen in working with the leaders, the business owners and helping them get breakthroughs?
One of the biggest ones is public speaking. That ranges across the spectrum from students who are uncomfortable speaking in class to young professionals who are uncomfortable being assertive and making their voice heard in meetings. To more seasoned people who are uncomfortable stepping on stage and giving a talk to whatever audience. Public speaking is a big one and what do they say that it’s one of the top things that Americans at least fear the most commonly. Networking is another big one. The reason that network is a big one is that it combines a double whammy of small talk with people that you don’t know in order to build relationships and also self-promotion. Those two things are hard for a lot of people to go up to someone, talk about yourself, talk about your business and maybe pitch yourself. Maybe even transition small talk conversation to something that’s oriented around sales. Some people have no problem with it, no qualms about it at all, but there are many people who feel uncomfortable doing that. I see that time and time again. Those are two big ones that pop into my mind immediately.
As it relates to networking, stacking the deck in your favor. Creating what you call the virtuous positive momentum. Let’s say someone was going to go apply what you’re sharing now, “I’m going to go out there and I’m going to go to a networking event. I’m going to work to engage.” What would be a couple of recommendations you’d give so someone could stack things in their favor to get that positive momentum?
What I talk about a lot in my book and in my work is the idea of customization. It’s the idea that anyone out there who is gone to a place like Peet’s or Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts that’s near me in Boston or one of these coffee places. You probably have gotten a drink and you’ve customized it. You’ve put your spin on it. Maybe you get an extra shot of this or an extra squirt of that or some cinnamon on top or whatever it is. It’s an analogy. It’s a metaphor to try to show how in these situations, even outside our comfort zones, we can customize. We can put our spin. We can put our twist. There are a lot of ways to do that and that’s how you stack the deck. For instance, in networking, you might be able to play with the timing a little bit.
A lot of people are uncomfortable in those big, loud, noisy networking events. I’ve done this many times, especially early in my career. Walking up a staircase into a hotel seeing this din of noise and people smiling and talking to each other and looks like they’re engaged, they have so much to say. They’re confident and I’m sitting there, “I don’t think I’m going to go right now,” and I go right back down the stairs. Here’s one thing you can do. You can go early, that’s playing with timing. If you go early to a networking event, even at the beginning, it’s going to be less loud, less noisy, less intimidating. That’s one little thing you can do. You might bring a friend, that’s another way you can customize. You don’t want to cling to your friend, but you might want to bring a friend. For some people, there’s this sense of comfort having someone in the room that you can eventually maybe go back to in a downtime that could help you.
What else could you do? Maybe it’s useful for you to wear something. I call this a prop, like in a theater. Maybe there’s something that you can wear that makes you feel a little bit more confident. For me, early on, not with networking but with public speaking I used to wear a special ring. It wasn’t a magic ring like Green Lantern in DC Comics would wear it, but it was a ring that meant something to me. The stone in the ring was found by my great uncle in the beaches of the South Pacific in World War Two. He was young and he was in the Navy. I always admired the ring. I eventually inherited it and it started to represent courage to me. The courage that he had to go and do what he did to find that stone that he eventually made into a ring. As I was stepping on stage early on in my career, I was thinking, “If he could do that, I could do this.” I’d hold the ring and play with it as I was thinking that. That’s an example of a prop. I could go on and on but those are three quick examples. Don’t do one, do all three. Figure out your way of customizing a situation to increase the odds, increase the chances that you’re going to take that step, take that leap instead of avoiding.
You talk about the psychological roadblocks that sometimes get in the way. Speak to that a little bit and the impact that it can have both on avoiding as well as how it can support us in getting out of our comfort zone.Having a source of support and someone you can deeply trust is a tremendous asset. - Dr. Andy Molinksy Click To Tweet
When I ask people, “Why is it hard to step outside of your comfort zone?” people usually say, “I’m afraid. I’m anxious.” What I want to do with my book Reach is I wanted to dig deeper and try to understand what’s behind that anxiety? What’s behind that fear? Can we dig a little deeper? What I found in the book from interviewing 75 different people about their stories and narratives in stepping outside their comfort zone. I found five key psychological roadblocks that people experience. As you read, think to yourself. Maybe even pick a situation in your mind. Think to yourself, “Is this something that holds me back?” The first one is authenticity. It’s the idea that when stepping outside of your comfort zone, it doesn’t feel like me. This isn’t me. Remember, you’re doing something against the grain of your personality. One little example might be, let’s say you’re pitching and promoting your ideas as a young entrepreneur in front of a group of potential investors, like a Shark Tank situation. You put on your suit, although you never usually wear a suit and you talk in that grown-up voice even though it isn’t you. That’s a good example of inauthenticity. That can hold people back. People don’t like to feel that. It feels awkward and unnatural. Authenticity is the first roadblock. The second roadblock is likability. What if they don’t like this version of me? What if they hate this version of me? Let’s say your situation is learning to be more assertive and speaking up and you don’t usually do that.
What if you’re imagining those looks on people’s faces when you finally try that and what they think of you or what you think they’ll think of you. That’s the fear that people won’t like you. That’s a roadblock. You got authenticity, you got likability, a third one is confidence. What if I’m bad at this? What if people can see that I’m bad at this? What if I’m considering giving a speech, speaking in public and I’m afraid I’m going to fall on my face. I’m going to forget my words. I’m going to look like a fool. That’s confidence. Authenticity, feeling inauthentic, worrying people won’t like you, worrying that you won’t be confident. A fourth one is resentment. Sometimes people feel resentful. Logically you might get it, “I get it. I need to do this outside of my comfort zone,” but you might feel deep down resentful that you have to.
I’ll give you one example. I hear this a lot. I hear this from a lot of introverts. They’re at the office. They want to succeed. They want to be put on the best projects, let’s say. They look across the room and they see their colleague who’s maybe less effective at their job than they are. This colleague is comfortable making small talk about last night’s baseball game with a CEO or last night’s television event. That small talk is easy and it flows, then at the end of the little conversation, the CEO says, “There’s a project that we have. I was wondering if you might be interested in it.” You’re sitting there across the room. You’re more introverted. You’re not comfortable doing that. You see your less competent colleague get these opportunities and you feel deeply resentful that you have to make small talk to do that. Small talk is uncomfortable for you and you’re better than that. I’m talking emotional reactions here. Logically you get it, “I need to do that,” but emotionally it might feel resentful.
Finally, the last one is morality. It’s not as common to feel you’re doing something deeply wrong when stepping outside your comfort zone, but I certainly found examples of it. I opened my book Reach with a story of a young entrepreneur who ended up having to fire her best friend from her business. Talk about something that’s hard and outside your comfort zone. For her, that felt immoral. It felt wrong to do. You’ve got authenticity, you’ve got likability, you’ve got confidence, you got resentment and potentially you have morality. The point here is that even one of them can make stepping outside your comfort zone hard. Those are the roadblocks.
If you’re reading this, how are these potentially slowing you down if you’re living inside of these areas? What would have to happen for you now to take action to transform these limiting factors, these limiting beliefs to a degree? Make them something that fuels you and motivates you and means something and matters to you. Where can people go to learn more about you, the resources you have available, the tools and your site? You’ve got amazing tools, amazing interviews and so on.
Come visit my website. It’s www.AndyMolinsky.com. I got tons of stuff up there. I wanted to create a site that would be cool and that will be the site I would want to visit. That’s where you go.
I encourage you if you like what Andy’s been sharing with you. If you’d like to go deeper to learn how you can transform some of the beliefs or these psychological factors to empower you to take action, to get to that next level, to grow in scale, to have a bigger impact, a bigger reach and contribution. Go to Andy’s website. There’s a wealth of resources that you can check out there. You have a twelve-year-old son. What do you hope to instill in your son as it relates to getting out of his comfort zone, whether it’s in sports, in school or in social settings and more, as a leader and dad?
I also have a fourteen-year-old daughter and both of them not only stretch outside their comfort zones but stretch me outside my comfort zone. With my wife, we’re often thinking about how to help and encourage our kids to step outside their comfort zones in an age-appropriate way. For a kid that age, it might be joining an activity that they don’t feel that they’re best at or that they’re great at, but they might have interest in. Going to something where they don’t know anyone. Those would be the kind of things that might be outside their comfort zone. I applied the same kinds of tools but in a twelve-year-old version of it. Am I always successful in my attempts? No. The other thing though is a flip on that, which is important to me at least is that when I am afraid of something in my life and I’m considering avoiding. I’m attuned to this that I noticed I’m avoiding. One of my sources of inspiration or conviction to step outside my comfort zone is knowing that I want to be a good role model. I want to be the type of person, the dad that is able and willing to take that leap and do something that matters to me even if it’s scary. I often use my kids in some ways as an inspiration in my own mind to step outside my own comfort zone.Whatever it is, pick something and start to work on it. - Dr. Andy Molinksy Click To Tweet
As it relates to that, what would you say your kids have taught you? A handful of a couple of things specifically they’ve taught you about getting out of your comfort zone. I know mine certainly get me out of my comfort zone in a lot of ways.
Early on they’ve taught me that I’m more capable than I realize. I remember early on, I teach in a business school. I remember when both my kids were born. They were born in the fall, bad timing right at the beginning of my teaching semester. I remember sitting there in a classroom of 40 MBA students staring me in the face. I was operating on two, one hour of sleep or maybe four hours non-consecutive sleep for whatever it was day after day. I was incredibly exhausted and I had such a difficult time doing it. What that experience taught me is I was afraid that I was not going to be able to do it. I learned that I could do it, that I can get through this. That was my first child and then the second one. It was a similar thing. He was born right around the same time and I noticed that I had that sense of resilience from the first experience. It wasn’t easy but I had that internal voice that said, “You can make it.” The first time I was climbing a mountain and I didn’t think I would get to the top, I thought I was going to collapse. The second time I saw that mountain I had that internal sense, “I can do this.”
What would you say your wife has taught you about getting out of your comfort zone?
She’s been a source of support for me. She’s the person that I can confide in. She is the person who can hear. She’s privy to my backstage. She can often help me understand. Sometimes I might forget. Sometimes that sense of confidence might slip away like a nonstick pan. It might slip right off but she can always help me remember that it’s there. That’s one of the biggest things.
If your wife were next to you right now and you’re going to turn to her and thank her for the support that she’s provided to you over the years. To allow you to be this innovator, this leader, this person who inspires leaders and coaches and consulting in businesses and all that stuff. What would you thank her for in her support of you to be you?
She always believes in me. That’s one of the biggest things. Many years ago, I was struggling to publish articles and academic journals. I was not sure it was ever going to happen. I started considering speaking and writing for a business audience and doing consulting and so on. I was afraid. I was like, “Who wants to listen to what I have to say?” She was always there giving me that support, encouraging me, reminding me of what my capabilities are and that I do have something worthy and meaningful to say. It goes both ways too because my wife has a pretty big job herself and I love to be able to do that for her too. In a partnership, that’s what you can do. You can support and encourage each other and be that rock for each other, especially when doubt creeps in and that avoidance specter becomes alluring. Having that source of support and someone you can deeply trust is a tremendous asset.
Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing your family with us a little bit and giving us a glimpse beyond the business into the backstage with you. I know that isn’t normal in many interview-type settings. Thank you for doing that. What’s something I should have asked you that I hadn’t asked you in this interview?
What am I up to right now in my work? I do have something cool that I’m doing now that’s adding on to all the other stuff I’m doing. I am starting a new podcast myself and I’m starting to focus some of my attention on a group of people who do struggle to step outside their comfort zones. These are young professionals, college students on the cusp of leaving college and going to the professional world and stepping out of their comfort zones to have their early first professional experience. I know from being a professor for many years that there is a lot of anxiety around that. Companies want these young professionals to be their best selves, to be these assets that they’ve hired them to be. The young professionals want to as well, but there are tremendous anxiety and uncertainty there. I’m starting a podcast and a whole line of work around helping these young professionals transition successfully from college to the professional world. That’s something cool that I’m excited about. If you follow me and pay attention to me on social media, which you can find on my website and so on, you’ll hear more about that and I’d love to share it with you.
One last question, what would you hope our audience would do with what you’ve shared here? What would be one to three action steps you would challenge them to take as a result of our time now?
Pick a situation that you think could help you in your life or in your career. It doesn’t have to be a massive one. It can be a small one. These are everyday acts of courage. Maybe it’s going up to that senior person at your company and starting a conversation. Maybe it’s signing up for that alumni networking event where you could get some cool leads for your business. It could be anything. Think of something. Pick something that’s at the intersection of something that matters to you and something that you’re scared of. Not something that you’re terrified of but something that you’re scared of. Something that has potential there and starts to think about how you might take small steps towards stepping outside your comfort zone. I’d be happy to help. Check out my website. Take a look at my book Reach. I’m launching in January 2019 a training course where I’m taking all the work I’ve done for the past many years and translating it into an online training course that I’m super excited about. Maybe you take that course. Maybe you take that in the future. Whatever it is, pick something and start to work on it.
There you have it. He’s Andy Molinsky. I encourage you to go check out what Andy’s up to at AndyMolinsky.com. If you want to go deeper, get his book which you can find on Amazon and booksellers everywhere. Andy, I want to thank you for taking the time to be with us. This has been awesome.
I enjoyed it. Thanks for having me.
If you never want to miss an episode, you can go to GrowthToFreedom.com/subscribe. It makes it easy because you can get it on iTunes. Seize the day, make it a great week. We’ll see you next time on GrowthToFreedom.com.
Andy Molinsky is a Professor at Brandeis University’s International Business School, with a joint appointment in the Department of Psychology. Andy received his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and M.A. in Psychology from Harvard University. He also holds a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in International Affairs from Brown University. Andy’s work helps people develop the insights and courage necessary to act outside their personal and cultural comfort zones when doing important, but challenging, tasks in work and life. His research and writing have been featured in Harvard Business Review, Inc. Magazine, Psychology Today, the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, NPR and Voice of America. Andy was awarded as a Top Voice for LinkedIn for his work in education. His first book, Global Dexterity (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013), received the Axiom Award (Silver Medal) for Best Business Book in International Business & Globalization and has been used widely in organizations around the world, including Boeing, AIG, the US Air Force Academy, and the Clinton Foundation, among others. His new book Reach was published with Penguin Random House in January 2017. He teaches, consults, and lectures widely to university and corporate audiences.