Stuck? Break Free From The Shackles Of Familiarity

Comfort Zone

Instead of going to the same well repeatedly, seek out new people and venues to grow your business, your team, or yourself.

As a business owner, I always took great pleasure in finding inspiration and answers from unlikely sources – even if it meant being questioned by my contemporaries. Whether it was inviting my clients to weigh in on an internal business decision, or, leveraging a relevant passage from a fashion magazine, I quickly realized that repeatedly going to the same well when in need of Aha! moments would ultimately land me in birds-of-a-feather purgatory. In sharp contrast, looking at a problem though various lenses often resulted in inspiration and sometimes, miracles.

A common issue for many of today’s professionals is that they live, work, play, and connect without ever leaving their bubble. For some, their work peers are their social networks. For others, when looking to expand business networks, they seek out others in the exact same industry. For a great many, when the time comes to learn and grow, they seek out someone who looks just like them, maybe just a bit more mature.

Of course, there is great value in the familiar, known, and safe. Why, when you feel safe and you are more likely to retain information and think clearly. When you are with those who you know, you are more likely to let your guard down and be yourself. The familiar offers us the opportunity to demonstrate success and know-how.

Yet, when we read about our successful ancestors or historically significant moments, we are confronted with what happens when we step outside of our comfort zone and embrace the unfamiliar and unknown: Discovery! Inventions! Freedom!

To tie this back to you, and me, just trying to get through one of our average workdays (which is likely not going to involve sailing across uncharted seas or traversing unmapped mountain ranges) consider the frequency of simply being stuck. For example, stuck in how to generate new business leads. Or, stuck in what to write your next blog post about. Or, stuck in how to make your next executive retreat effective.

STUCK? I bet I know what you typically do!

If you’re like many, you take to the Wonderous, Miraculous, World Wide Web, right? Sitting, where you always sit, staring at the glowing screen you always stare at, hoping that typing key words will suddenly reveal a million-dollar idea, an undiscovered secret, or uncharted territory.

Of course, where online research is effective for some, others may seek out something more high-touch and purchase a ticket to their industry or association’s next meeting. A departure from the confines of the office, a few hours at a restaurant with like-minded professionals could, possibly, bear some ripe fruit!

For those whose budgets are a bit more generous, the out-of-state Annual Conference limited to single industry or field is often a siren’s call tempting the professional with a veritable smorgasbord of professional delicacies which could include (but is not necessarily limited to) new leads, learning, growth, and expanded horizons.

To all of this I say, Pffffffffffffffffft! Enough with those options! Try something NEW!

Am I saying this because I fancy myself better than those resources? No! You will find me at all the events I’ve outlined above. I am saying this because I challenge you to get out of your comfort zone and find inspiration in places you have never sought out before.

Recently, I went to see the film The Darkest Hour with my family (where do you think I got the inspiration for this piece?). For those that have not seen it, it chronicles the very first days of Winston Churchill navigating becoming Prime Minister in a Parliament that really wasn’t very enthusiastic about him and for a King who couldn’t stand him.

In a particularly poignant moment of the film, as he sits, ruminating, in his chauffeured car, a traffic light offers him the opportunity to escape and run into an Underground station. A man who, in an earlier scene, states he has never ridden a bus or taken a train in his life. What will he do now?!

I won’t give anything away, but, I will tell you that what happens next is a pivotal moment for him (at least, in the film – I don’t know whether this was an accurate depiction) and ultimately leads to some incredibly dramatic stuff. By the way, I wish all my commutes were so profound, but I digress.

What struck me most about that moment was what I shared before: there are places and people that are unknown to us – both inside and outside of our organizations – that could be the source of astonishing inspiration. If only we sought them out. But most of the time we do not. Instead, we keep revisiting the same well repeatedly, therefore limiting ourselves and our companies from true growth and optimization.

So how do we break free from this recursive loop of safety and familiarity? A few ideas to prime your creative pumps:

  1. The next time you need help, ask the least likely person you can think of. Often, we are victims of our own ego and think that unless someone fits a specific definition of correct, they can’t possibly understand what I’m talking about. Change this thinking. Break free from the shackles of arrogance and seek knowledge from a completely new set of resources.
  2. Attend a meeting for an industry or field that you know nothing about. It’s absolutely astonishing what you may learn by listening to the points or topics that others are discussing. Not to mention being different from everyone else can be an eye-opening opportunity to reflect on how you treat others.
  3. Watch what everyone else is doing and do the opposite; look where everyone else is going and go someplace else. Is that too provocative and risky for you? Then do something different from everyone else. Why? There may be safety in numbers but there is reward in risk.
  4. If all your friends are exactly like you, then find some new friends. When we spend all our time with the same group of people, we never grow and learn. Am I telling you to sack your friends? No. Am I telling you to expand your social horizons? An emphatic yes.
  5. Use the other side of your brain more often. Create more art or create more spreadsheets…do whichever thing you don’t typically do. It is not about being good at what you do, it is about experiencing being bad at something and learning from it.
  6. Identify what your ‘narrative’ is. What is the story you tell to justify your actions or perpetuate negative feelings? The one story that is your crutch…maybe even your excuse? The one story that helps you play it safe or repeat the same actions repeatedly? We all have a narrative – and sometimes, it takes asking our close friends or family to help us identify it. Narratives can become a barrier to success.
    1. Know your narrative? Stop using it as an excuse or a crutch. This is advanced, and hard to do. Some need to seek out professional help for this vis-à-vis a therapist, executive coach, etc. – that’s how serious this is. But if you need the help, seek it out. It’s worth it.
  7. Commit yourself to a dedicated period of ‘new’ time. New is amazing and enriching. To foster this growth, commit yourself to a week, month, etc. where you simply try new things and approaches. Switch around meeting times, move your office furniture around, change gyms, eat something different for lunch. Whatever – just change stuff. See what happens. Take notes.
  8. Listen to learn, not to like. Stop listening to people or things with the intention to enjoy it or like it. We tend to go into things having already made up our minds. Instead, try and make learning something your objective. It’s amazing what happens when we pull our personal feelings out of something.
  9. Hire outside help. NOT a solicitation for you to seek my services, by any means – but a sincere suggestion for those who struggle to leave their comfort zone. Between executive coaches, life coaches, therapists, consultants, etc. there is a panoply of options for you to get help to think differently. Budget permitting, hiring outside help might yield a far greater ROI than conference tickets requiring airfare and hotel.

Still not convinced? I get it. Some of you may subscribe to the philosophy of, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…’ or, ‘Why reinvent the wheel?’ A hard stance to argue against, because there is great truth to thinking that way. I lean on that thinking in my work, too.

Well, sometimes.

Ultimately, innovation and change do not happen when we do things the same way, with the same people, in the same place day after day, year over year. Innovation, evolution, and growth happens when we stop using the narrative of, ‘We will do it like this because we have always done it this way’.

Look, if you’re set in your ways and have forged a path, by all means – stay on it. No harm, no foul. But if you’re even the tiniest bit intrigued by what awaits you outside the palace walls, go have a look. Try one of my tips. If you live to tell the tale, I want to hear about it. Email me at