For many people, January is a time for reflection and resolution. Reflection on achievements (and opportunities missed) in the previous year, and resolution to do better in the new year.
The paths to personal improvement are as varied as opinions on goals worth pursuing. Nearly six years ago I offered my view on the value of SMART goals in a piece titled “Stuck in Your Own ‘Groundhog Day’? Here’s the Easy Way to Get Out.”
Many of us return to ghosts of resolutions past: Lose weight (and keep it off). Read more good books. Strengthen relationships. Reduce or eliminate debt. Check off that big thing from our bucket list.
Aspirations take many forms. Some require only modest but steady effort. Others require significant stretch.
Comfort zones get in our way.
Regardless of the level of difficulty, goal achievement requires personal change. And it requires leaving our comfort zones.
As a young boy, I was frequently encouraged by my parents, grandparents, and teachers to “do your best.” You know what I discovered? When I genuinely did my best, my “best” got better.
Sometimes in a speech or workshop setting I’ll ask people to raise their hands as high as they can. Then, while their hands are still up, I ask them to raise them even higher. They always manage to stretch at least another inch or so. They laugh, but the point is made: Regardless of the difficulty of a task, there’s nearly always a way we can improve our performance further.
It’s been said that a comfort zone is a beautiful place—but nothing ever grows there. I know it may sound like a line from a Rocky Balboa movie, but we typically achieve greatness only when we become more committed to our dreams than we are to our comfort zones. Another piece of advice—it’s a cliché but nevertheless true—is that if you want something you’ve never had you’ll need to do something you’ve never done.
Storytelling is one way leaders can challenge people to abandon their comfort zones. They can tell compelling stories of how peers (or competitors) discovered or developed something important by challenging the status quo, by living out of their imagination rather than being stuck in their memory.
Even small victories in the workplace should be celebrated. Such acknowledgment helps create a “can do” mindset. You can be sure that at the 3M Corporation they still celebrate the out-of-the-box thinking of an employee named Art Fry. When a colleague mixed a sticky-but-not-too-sticky adhesive concoction that did not meet existing standards, Fry abandoned his comfort zone and saw the “failed” mixture as a solution in search of a problem. He asked himself the question “Could this stuff be used to make a bookmark that will stick to the page but won’t tear the paper when I move it somewhere else?”
The result? The Post-it Note.
When we’re willing to challenge our own status quo, it’s possible to discover and achieve in ways we didn’t even imagine.
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