The comfort zone is a surprisingly dangerous place…
If you stay there for too long, you’ll get too comfortable…and before you know it, you’ll be 75 years old without ever really having lived.
Without having chased any of your dreams, pursued any of your passions or taken any risks. And as you rock back and forth on your IKEA armchair in front of the fireplace, you’ll wonder: what if?
What if I’d moved to Hong Kong, what if I’d asked her out, what if I’d taken that job.
And that what if? will keep you up at night, restlessly twisting and turning, fantasising about what could’ve been but never was because you were just too scared, like a never-ending introspective nightmare. And then you’ll wake up — only to realise the nightmare is your life.
This is (hopefully) exaggeration but I have recently arrived at the strong belief that we should do what scares us: more concretely, what we think is impossible, insane or outrageous.
Below are the actionable steps you can take to break out of your comfort zone and live the life you really f*cking want to live.
Every time you do something that scares you or something you previously thought impossible, your brain collects a new point of reference for future challenges.
For instance, I just got back from kite-surfing in Punta Chame, Panama.
[Originally written in 2019]
When I started, I was scared shitless because I can’t swim and I thought it was impossible — because controlling a giant kite with one hand, resisting the pull of a 20-knot wind, while swimming with a giant board in the other, then mounting the board mid-ocean, somersaulting onto it, somehow maintaining balance while the wind tosses you around like a plastic bag, but then eventually finding the control required to perform ariel tricks…should be f*cking impossible.
I never would have tried kitesurfing if it weren’t for a reference point I collected the week before: learning how to scuba dive in Taganga, Colombia.
Again, something scary and ostensibly impossible to a non-swimmer like me — but I did it, it was actually very easy, and that point of reference gave me the confidence to try kite-surfing.
And now that I know kite-surfing is possible (because I went out and did it despite jellyfish stings, nearly drowning and wrecking my knees), I have another reference point, which I’ll use to tackle future challenges…like wind-surfing, coming up next in Costa Rica!
[Aww, little did 2019 Andrew know that those knee pains would turn out to be a double ACL tear, soon requiring him to return to London, never to fulfill his dream of Costa Rican windsurfing.]
Every time you collect a reference point, you build up the courage and confidence to try something new and push the boat out even further, towards new, exciting and often more rewarding opportunities.
My personal collection of reference points goes way back to when I was 16, and had exactly zero points of reference — I thought almost everything was impossible or scary, because I’d never done anything “impossible” or scary before.
Back then, I was an overweight, socially awkward, low-achiever with an emo fringe living in a house full of snails.
My first venture into the impossible/scary was quite conservative: I studied really hard to get into Set 2 maths at school (I was aiming for Set 1 but didn’t quite make it).
Nothing too exciting or adventurous…but I picked up my first reference point and did something I didn’t think was possible.
Next it was studying hard to get 11 A*s in my GCSE exams.
I was able to build on my previous reference point from Set 2 Maths to push through the obstacles.
When my brain said: This is impossible, not going to work, you’re too dumb…I remembered feeling the same way studying for Set 2 Maths, and told my brain: Actually, shut the f*ck up…we’ve done this before, we can do this again.
And when at last I got my 11 A*s, I had another reference point to build on.
Next was starting a Young Enterprise company and building my own product. We started off selling toasties, then washing cars, then personalised USBs, then hosting an event with 100+ guests and eventually building our very own product — we had it 3D modelled, produced, packaged, marketed, website built and everything.
It turned out to be less successful than anticipated, but it added another point of reference: Hey, even as a 16-year-old moron you were still able to make £4000 and build a new product entirely from scratch!
So when I went on to start other businesses and projects, I could always work from those previous reference points.
I’ve now built a f*ck load of these reference points by consistently pushing myself just one step outside of my comfort zone at a time.
So now, when I eye up future challenges, I’m supported by a robust collection of reference points from the past…which makes any new challenges look much less terrifying.
As my collection continues to grow, I’m excited to see where it takes me and how far I can get from Set 2 maths.
Firstly, one step at a f*cking time and set small goals.
Big goals are nice to swing around and having an overall vision for your life is important.
But waking up every day thinking about how far you are from your endpoint is demotivating and overwhelming.
On the flip side, setting small goals which progressively increase in size and ambition keeps you motivated and builds reference point momentum.
If you’re losing weight and your end goal is to get a pair of big sexy pecs and glistening abs, keep that in your head as your ultimate vision. But set small goals to get there.
I started my fitness journey with the goal of doing one pushup.
I couldn’t do one till age 19. (Yes, seriously.)
Then I bumped it up to 10 pushups. Then 1 chin-up. 10 chin-ups. Clapping pushup. A 60kg squat. An 80kg squat. A 100kg squat. A handstand. A handstand pushup. And right now I’m working on the planche pushup:
The same with business.
Last year I was back in London for 4 months and set myself the goal of making 7000 sales (£700,000 revenue) across two separate totally new companies.
“Set BIG goals and you’ll achieve them,” echoed the voice of personal development gurus around the world.
Despite making significant progress from June and September, I got extremely frustrated by how far I was from my end goal. Feelings of failure quickly set in and I just got overwhelmed by the sheer size of the mission.
Here’s what the personal development gurus should be saying:
“Set BIG goals, break them down into small goals, and then forget the big goals completely and just work towards each of these small goals in turn. And if you keep making consistent progress, one day you’ll wake up and be able to do a planche pushup.”
BIG goal: make 7000 sales (£700,000 revenue)
Set and forget.
Now focus on the small goals.
Small goals: set up the website > finish filming the advert > set up social media campaign > speak to 100 potential customers who land on the website > tweak page until 1 person is convinced to buy > improve the product with their input > make 10 sales > iterate > make 100 sales > iterate > make 1000 sales > iterate & build new marketing content > make 7000 sales!
Each time, leveraging the goal you just accomplished as a reference point to give you the momentum to keep moving forward.
There’s no way I can make 1000 sales! Well, you just made 100 and you thought that was impossible 2 months ago. So keep pushing!
Nowadays, if I get stuck or fatigued working on something hard, I just think back to the hellish working conditions and deadlines I had to meet at my first successful startup.
You pushed through all that…surely you can push through this, too?
And what got me through those hellish working conditions and deadlines in the first place? The pressure I was under back at 17, self-studying my A Levels from scratch with 6 weeks before my exam. And what got me through that? I had done something similarly tough to get 11 A*s at GCSE. And what got me there?
Yes, Set 2 f*cking maths.
Think big. But start small. And when you get stuck, remember your reference points: you’ve done this before so you can do it again.
The life you really f*cking want
And now for all that hard work, repeatedly breaking through your comfort zone, forcing it to expand and evolve, you receive the ultimate reward.
The life you really f*cking want.
As your reference points accumulate, you will quickly realise more and more things are actually possible — rapidly expanding your possibility frontier and opening up more and more life options for you to choose from.
Pre-expansion, you might have settled for the accountant’s job, playing badminton every Tuesday and the boring Indian woman with the saggy tits.
Post-expansion, however, you will see that an entirely new world of things is available to you! The CEO position, weekend trips to Paris and Venice, and the Swedish supermodel astrophysicist/tantric practitioner.
This isn’t to suggest that one possibility is better than another. That’s your preference — some people like saggy tits.
But by expanding your horizon, you can finally SEE the full menu of options available to you, before choosing what to do with your rapidly diminishing 29,000 days on planet Earth.
You can finally choose the life you really f*cking want to live. Instead of making sh*tty decisions from a restricted choice set, and bumbling through a mediocre life until coronavirus sucks the oxygen from your lungs and ends it once and for all.
Break out of your comfort zone and do the things that scare you!
The things that terrify you, the ones that make your amygdala light up like you’re being chased by a sexually frustrated lion.
But start small.
You don’t need to go skydiving or sign up to a Jewish swingers club.
Take one step outside your comfort zone at a time. Use each reference point to build momentum towards the next. And see where you end up!