Learn how to reach past the things that are hard and master them

We all have things that are easy for us. Maybe you are built to be a runner and it’s always felt easy. Maybe you love to get up in front of people as a speaker.

The flip side to the ease with which some tasks come to us is that other things are very difficult. Maybe you get up in front of a crowd and freeze. Maybe even the thought of speaking makes you freeze. Maybe you run like a bear just awake from a winter of sleeping. Every step feels like effort and looks like a slow motion crash.

These things that stretch us is where Reach by Andy Molinsky comes into play. Reach is there to help you overcome that which you find hard. It’s meant to help you stretch your comfort zone so you can be more effective with your work.

The goal of this book is to give you the tips and tools – not to mention the courage – to take the leap, reach outside your comfort zone, and do it in a way that is both effective and authentic, meeting the expectations you need to achieve and without losing yourself in the process.

Reach has four main sections. Part I focuses on the challenges we face as we try to get out of our comfort zone. Part II helps us develop solutions to these challenges we saw in the first part. Part III is built to help us build behaviours that will stick in the face of life. Part IV is a huge set of resources to help us work through the things we find difficult.

Allow me to offer one key thought before you read Reach.

Without unlocking your own personal source of conviction it’s unlikely you will be truly motivated to make behavior change work.

Perhaps you keep getting told that you should network to build your business. The thing is, you hate it and are only doing it because someone told you to. With this attitude it is unlikely you will succeed. To succeed at anything we find difficult, we need to have a true desire to change. Without this desire we’re only setting ourselves up for more failure. Out of failure…more discouragement.

If you are ready to start making some changes in your behaviours, then let’s dig into the parts of the book.

Part I: The Challenge of Reaching Outside Your Comfort Zone

There are two main goals of the first part of the book. First, Molinsky wants to identify the five core psychological barriers we encounter when doing things that are hard. Second, Molinsky will address how avoidance shows itself in our work.

According to Molinsky the 5 Core Psychological Barriers to stretching out of our comfort zones are:

The Authenticity Challenge: This is when we feel the behaviour we’re partaking in is not like us at all.

The Likeability Challenge: Here we worry that if we push boundaries people won’t like us anymore.

Competence Challenge: This is often called imposter syndrome. We feel that at any moment someone will discover that we are not actually qualified for our work.

Resentment Challenge: This is when we believe we’re so awesome that people should see the awesome in us without extra effort. We resent that we have to do extra work to build a network of people that can refer work to us.

The Morality Challenge: Here we feel like our actions are not something that “I should be doing.” The example in the book deals with someone whose job is to call the families of crash victims and book them to speak on the news. In the midst of unspeakable tragedy, calling someone to talk on the news would feel to many like something that’s morally wrong.

Knowing what these challenges are, Molinsky takes us on a tour of avoidance. Avoidance is a key to making sure we never push our boundaries and do hard work. We come up with excuses we call reasons to explain why we don’t have to try and speak in front of people at a conference.

Insidiously, the more success we have the easier it becomes to avoid the hard parts of our job.

Oftentimes, the more power you have in an organization, the better equipped you are to structure your work life to avoid stressful tasks because you’re less accountable to, say, a manager or supervisor looking over your shoulder.

Molinsky’s tactics of avoidance are:

Full-on Avoidance: Here we never do the work. If you think about speaking at a conference, you never look up any conferences to speak at and never craft a pitch.

Do the task, but only part way and not so well. This method of avoidance means we go to a networking event and only talk to the people we already know. We sit comfortable in the corner. Sure we went to the event, but because we didn’t make it a point to reach out to anyone new, we never build our network. Then we justify the fact we don’t go to more events with the results of the last event.

Procrastination is the third avoidance tactic addressed in Reach.

Although almost all of us procrastinate, few of us admit that we do. Instead, we create excuses for our behavior – stories we tell ourselves about why we’re doing something that is really procrastination in disguise.

Here we write down a task and then we don’t quite get to it so we kick the can down the road. We convince ourselves that it will get done. But not now. We’ll do it next week.

Finally Molinsky brings up passing the buck. When we’re faced with firing an employee we assign the job to a subordinate who can’t say no to us. Instead of facing this tough task as we should, we let someone else do it. We fool ourselves into thinking it was good job of delegation.

All of these techniques of avoidance are about abdicating responsibility for the tasks in our life. This is particularly evident in the last one as we move the responsibility to someone else. Still, they all amount to the same thing. We justify the lack of progress by doing a bad job. We abdicate our role in doing a bad job and make it someone else’s fault.

To combat these false beliefs we need to have some form of accountability around us. For you it’s possible a group at work will do. Maybe it’s a mastermind group of peers that can speak into your life as you try to run a better business.

You can’t do it on your own. Without someone willing to tell you hard truths, you’ll struggle for much longer than if you had that trusted advisor.

With the tactics of avoidance addressed, Reach moves on to Part II. Helping us move outside of our comfort zone.

Part II: How to Successfully Reach Outside Your Comfort Zone

Once you’ve identified the behaviours you want to add to your life, it’s time to start flexing your current behaviours. Molinsky provides us with a set of three resources we need to change our behaviour for the better.

1. Conviction

Having a deep sense of the purpose of your actions – of being able to improve your own lot in life or the circumstances for someone else – enabled professionals in the settings we studied to perform tasks such as painful medical procedures, layoffs, and evictions that, were it not for this underlying purpose, would be extremely difficult to perform.

Lots of books out there stress the importance of purpose in your work. Simon Sinek calls it your WHY. In Mastery, Robert Greene, calls it your Life’s Task and Jeff Goins calls it your purpose in The Art of Work.

The point is that without some deeper drive to accomplish the hard task, you are likely to get stopped when things get tough. With a deep sense of conviction that this hard work is great for you, you will be much more likely to dig deep when the going gets tough. You’ll be much more likely to push hard to improve yourself.

2. Customization: Finding your own personal way of performing the task

You can make alterations to these situations, often very slight ones and, as is the case with clothing, alterations that others might be completely oblivious to, but that make you feel more comfortable, competent, and capable.

I feel that this second method speaks very directly to the authenticity challenge Molinsky introduced in Chapter 1. If the behaviour we’re striving for doesn’t feel like us at all then it’s going to be very hard to do it.

With customization, we build an environment or response that does feel like us. We bring a friend to laugh at our jokes as we speak. When we go to a meeting, we grab the chair that is the focal point of the meeting. Being the focal point helps us feel stronger as we try to be more assertive.

You don’t have to do the task like everyone else does. Change it to be authentic to who you are.

3. Clarity: The power of honest perspective

Clarity is the third and final behaviour-flexing technique that Molinsky presents. I think it’s actually the toughest, and yet most powerful, one. Clarity means that we are honest with ourselves in the fact that we are avoiding something. We’re clear about the ways we’re avoiding and we’re honest about the avoidance tactics we’re using.

Think of clarity as an antidote to the defenses that we put up to protect us from tasks outside our comfort zones. It’s honest, self-reflective psychological accounting: an attempt to be as true as possible with ourselves about the situations we’re currently working on, taking a careful inventory of our true feelings – even if we’re embarrassed by them – as well as an inventory of our avoidance strategies.

The reason this is the hardest is because it’s the tactic that asks us to own up to our part in the barriers we’re struggling with. It forces us to be honest about how we’re failing and then build a plan to stop the avoidance of responsibility.

It’s the strongest because once we have that honesty with ourselves we’re a stronger person. We know ourselves better and we will be more likely to circumvent the trap of avoidance in the future.

Once you’ve started to push outside your comfort zone you are not done. It’s very easy to do a bit of pushing and then revert to your old behaviour. You may not even realize that you’re taking a step back. This is where Part III comes into play.

Part III: How to Make Your Behavior Stick

To help stop us from reverting to our same old avoidance behaviour, Molinksy provides us with three tools to help us make our new behaviour stick.

1. A thoughtful and effective practice routine

If you want to run a marathon, you don’t walk out your door and run a marathon. You start by getting off the couch and running around the block. Then you take the next step and run around it twice or do it twice in a week. You build an effective training regime that pushes you a bit harder all the time.

If you want to feel comfortable speaking at conferences or going to networking events, you need this same approach. You don’t jump into the deep end, you start small and practice.

For a speaker that may mean you give your talk first in the family room. Then you do it at a local business group where you know everyone. Then with that practice under your belt you look at taking your talk to the center stage.

Trying to jump in the deep end only to find that you can’t actually swim is a way to do the job poorly, which is an avoidance tactic.

Be smart about how you build up to the behaviour that you want to achieve.

2. A mindset that supports learning and experimentation

Can you learn? With practice can you become better at a task? I’m not talking world class, but better. If your instant answer is ‘yes’ then you have a growth mindset. If you think ‘no’ then you have a fixed mindset.

In the end, if you see failure as evidence of your innate limitations, it becomes self-fulfilling. You end up feeling bad about yourself, and avoid doing the task – or at least putting in only as much effort as before, since, of course, you’re limited in the first place. A growth mindset, on the other hand, is completely different: You make a mistake and see it as part of an overall learning process, which can be quite an advantage when trying to make a new pattern of behavior stick.

As we started skiing this year, I fell a bunch. In fact I figured that if I wasn’t taking a fall at least a few times on a weekend I wasn’t pushing myself. As someone new to skiing I know that falls happen and that I need to get up again. I need keep pushing myself hard to get better at the sport.

Contrast that with my six-year-old who sees every fall as a personal failure. While this may be a standard view for a child, it’s still an example of a fixed mindset.

If you want to achieve success as you try to stretch yourself, you need to adopt a growth mindset. Every setback is an opportunity to learn from so that you can keep getting better.

3. Healthy support system

You can’t go it alone. Everyone that you think is out there winning the world under their own power with their own work, is not. They all have a support system of some kind.

They have a coach or they have a mentoring group. They have friends around them that give advice and call them on bad behaviour. They have family and friends that believe in them and support them when things are not going well.

To have some of these things, you need to ask for help.

Some people have a hard time asking for help – especially people who feel that they’re imposters to begin with and that by asking for help, they’ll somehow be “found out” and the truth will be told. If this is you, do your best to realize that asking for help and feedback is a strength, not a weakness.

The big thing about asking for help is that it’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength because showing that you are struggling is hard. It’s a time that relationships are strengthened as you show vulnerability.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you want to be successful, it’s a requirement.

Part IV: Practical Tools: Applying Reach to Your Own Life

The last section of the book is the most practical. It’s a series of worksheets you can use to help you stop avoiding the hard parts of your life. These worksheets are going to help you identify the items that are blocking you on your path to achieve your goals. They’ll help you build great tactics to push past the blocks into the tasks you want to achieve.

Now don’t think you can use the sheets and forgo reading the book. Yes, you’ll get some utility from the worksheets if you haven’t read the book, but you’re still going to be selling yourself short. Read the book and then use the worksheets.

Recommendation

Reach started by stating the goal below.

The goal of this book is to give you the tips and tools – not to mention the courage – to take the leap, reach outside your comfort zone, and do it in a way that is both effective and authentic, meeting the expectations you need to achieve and without losing yourself in the process.

Now the question is, did it achieve this goal? On the whole, I say yes. After reading this book you’re going to be better equipped to break out of your comfort zone. The only thing that’s still up in the air is whether you’re actually going to do the hard work of pushing yourself to a new task.

Get Reach on Amazon

photo credit: lens_adventurer cc

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