Why Comfort Never Leads to Breakthrough Ideas

Aug 18, 2020

“Yes” is one of the most common words in the English language. And yet, many of us struggle to even utter it in response just when it matters the most. It’s not for fear of the word itself, of course, it’s a fear of the consequences of saying that word may bring. And, that is why comfort never leads to breakthrough ideas. Discomfort, anxiety, and, most of all, fear, govern us to say “no” to opportunities far more than ever saying yes. It is this discomfort that causes us to miss breakthrough ideas.

 We Create Breakthrough Ideas by Saying Yes

Saying yes to an opportunity that you don’t quite know how to achieve is not for the faint at heart, there are no two ways about it. It pushes you outside of your zone of comfort. It forces you to adapt and evolve or realize you mail fall flat on your face. We’re afraid because it’s also our neurological default. We’ve been hard-wired from the dawn of time to not take chances, to protect our “house”, and to avoid putting ourselves in situations out of our normal comfort zones.

optimal anxiety graph illustrates power of saying yes However, research has shown that when we’re faced with the anxiety of failing to achieve our goals, we perform at our best. The notion that we need at least some level of discomfort to be at our best has been around since a famous study conducted by psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson back in 1908. Yerkes and Dodson found that steady performance is produced by a state of comfort, whereas breakthrough ideas and levels are found when we are in a relative state of anxiety, with stress levels that are heightened above their normal levels.

 This state of “optimal anxiety” drives performance, and it’s a feeling I know well. I first experienced it through my high school and college running career. Pre-race nerves were a part of all of my best performances, and if I didn’t get nervous (like I did for the big meets), I couldn’t get the best out of myself.

If you want to advance your career, you’re going to have to get used to the discomfort associated with saying yes.

“When we don’t commit ourselves to potentially life-changing opportunities, we aren’t being authentic to ourselves”

In other words, don’t just say yes because it’s something your afraid to do or an enormous challenge, say yes to an opportunity because it creates breakthroughs if you manage to pull it off.

This is a summary of a longer article that was originally featured in Better Humans on Medium.


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