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Why it pays to leave your comfort zone

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 08 Aug 2022

Holidays are the perfect opportunity to relax, recharge and, says Sue Stockdale, to do things differently. It might just translate into a new outlook on working life…

We all love holiday time. It’s a chance to switch off from the stresses of day-to-day work and have a change of scene. 

Taking the opportunity to slow down and do things differently is beneficial, and not only because it gives the brain a well-earned rest. When we are relaxed, with no problems to focus on, it allows our natural creativity to emerge, and our brain can make connections we were not aware of before, giving us an opportunity to experiment.

There are lots of fun ways to step away from the familiar and into the unknown while on holiday, and stepping out of your comfort zone in a non-pressured environment could make you look at your working life in a new and beneficial way. Here are five fun ways to start stepping out of your comfort zone this holiday season, and how they will help your business:

Try a different approach to decision making

At work, leaders often make decisions with their heads based purely on logic, so why not try using your heart (listen to your emotions) or gut feel (intuition). For example, as you stroll down the vibrant thoroughfare in that Greek village with your family gazing at the menus of the myriad tavernas to choose where to eat your evening meal, rather than deciding where to eat based on price, go with one that appeals to your senses. Maybe it has crisp white tablecloths and smartly dressed waiting staff who are smiling at you, or maybe you are drawn to the one that is playing relaxing music. Trust your judgement and you may find that these ways of decision making can complement your normal approach when you return to work. 

A smile can go a long way

Make a conscious effort to smile at everyone you meet during the day. The postal worker delivering your mail, your next-door neighbour, the bus driver, or the person in the queue behind you at the airport. It takes little effort, yet can yield positive results. In Ron Gutman’s TED talk on the hidden power of smiles, he quotes research that demonstrated that one smile can provide the equivalent level of brain stimulation to 2,000 chocolate bars. He also talked about a Wayne State University research project that looked at pre-1950s baseball cards of Major League players. The photos were revealing: researchers discovered that players who didn’t smile in the photos lived an average of 72.9 years, while those who did lived an average of almost 80 years. 

Experiment with new flavours and tastes 

When you are out with others, maybe your family or a group of friends, ask someone else to order your meal for you, and vice versa. Making it fun and being prepared to try something new is a great way to step out of your comfort zone, and it’s only a one-time deal, not forever. This teaches us two valuable lessons: to trust and empower those closest to us to do what’s best – you don’t need to control everything. Secondly, it’s learning to be vulnerable, and curious to explore new things. A wonderful aspect of this approach is that you may discover you like mussels, granita or osso bucco, but have never been brave enough to experiment with new flavours or tastes before. 

Yes… and

There’s a well-known improvisation technique used by stand-up comedians, known as yes..and, where the other participant accepts what has been stated and then adds to it. It was popularised in the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? Wake up one morning on your holidays and consciously decide to use this approach for the day. You may find that you experience the hours ahead in a completely unexpected and enjoyable way, particularly if you consciously decide that it is how you will show up. And when you return to work, this approach can help you to build upon what’s said in a conversation, rather than closing others down, so it will be beneficial in the long term too. 

Round the campfire stories 

Storytelling comes to the fore on holiday. Whether it’s sharing a ‘when I’ anecdote with a fellow cruise ship passenger to proudly talk about the number of countries you have visited, or at the barbecue with your neighbours regaling a tale of your successes on the golf course, we frequently tell stories with other people we meet. It’s less often that people tell stories with their family members because they live with them day to day. Perhaps you get discouraged as you see your partner’s eyes roll upwards when you recall that childhood experience with the folks on the walking tour. This is an opportunity to try storytelling in a fun way that helps us tell stories as a family, while we learn to listen before responding. 

Family storytelling is a practical way to experience the yes..and approach described above. Choose a memorable situation that all the participants have been involved in. Maybe a family celebration, or holiday event. And then the first person begins with once upon a time there was…..  The next person and subsequent participants all add in a part of the story beginning yes…and, which can lead to some amusing tales being retold. It’s a subtle way to be reminded that we can all experience the same situation yet often describe it differently later, which leads to miscommunication in the workplace. 

Whatever approach you decide to experiment with during your holidays, remember it’s an opportunity to have fun, enjoy the experience, and to learn something new. 

Sue Stockdale is an executive coach for CEOs and business leaders, and author of EXPLORE: A Life of Adventure.

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