"Every time, for example, I was nervous speaking in front of public so I would wear a special ring that represented courage to me because of the stone in the ring was found by my great uncle when he was serving in World War II. This stone and ring always represented courage to me."

Andy Molinsky's work supports people develop the courage and insights necessary to step outside their personal and cultural comfort zones when carrying out important, but challenging, tasks in life and work. Andy's first book, Global Dexterity, received the Axiom Award for Best Business Book in International Business and Globalization. His latest book, Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge and Build Confidence, was published in 2017. To learn more about the work of Andy please visit andymolinsky.com

You can listen to the conversation on iTunes, Acast and other podcasting apps. What follows here are excerpts from our conversation with Andy, edited for length and clarity.

Agnes: I have spent the last (pre-interview) hour watching your Reach interview series on your YouTube channel, where you interview other thought-leaders, authors and researchers about their comfort zone and development. What was very interesting is that the impostor syndrome came up rather often in the conversations, coupled with the issue of comfort zone. How did you decide to do more research in this field actually? What was the main motivating factor behind your research and then authorship?

Andy Molinsky: When I lived in France I became fascinated with organisational behaviour and social psychology, but at that time I was not aware of these phenomenons from an academic point of view. What I knew though is that I was fascinated by how people were able to adapt and change. I was also fascinated about intercultural communication, workplace dynamics and workplace culture. After I returned to the US after France, I asked myself: what is this? How can I learn more about these areas?

Eventually I landed on doing a PhD in organisational behaviour and psychology. For my PhD dissertation I ended up studying people from the former Soviet union in the US learning to adapt their own cultural behaviours during their job search process, like interviewing, networking or making small talks. All these things were incredibly hard for them. Even if they knew intellectually what they needed to do, actually doing these things were super hard for them. This was the topic of my dissertation: how to adapt and adjust your cultural behaviour. From there I started to do and work on lots of academic work on this topic. I also started to do teaching and training. All of that culminated in 2013 with the book Global Dexterity.

Agnes: What makes an individual thrive? What makes an organisation thrive in a world where practically it is not possible to be in an uncomfortable situation?

Andy Molinsky: Another phenomenon I have noticed is that sometimes in our own culture the norms and rules might be consistent with who we are in our personality. And, sometimes there are in contrast with who we are in our personality. But, then when you go into a new culture you might actually end up finding more or less of a fit with your personality. So, it could happen that certain aspects of your personality might not have been expressed in a way in your native culture.

Agnes: We, at the WorkLife HUB work mainly in the inter-relation and inter-section of people’s work and their non-work lives. We look at passion and whether you can be really happy and fulfilled in your work and private life. We also often hear this idea that you either born talented, outspoken, go-getter, or not. This might stop a lot of people in crafting their own happy and successful lives. Your thesis is that people need to push themselves, which is a learnable process. Am I right?

Andy Molinsky: Yes, it is learnable. If something is outside of our comfort zones, it is very hard to do. It is almost like a magnet, we are pulled back into our comfort zones. This is exactly what I address in my book, Reach. It is about the challenges and opportunities of stepping outside your comfort zones. Why this is hard? What holds us back? How can you actually overcome those challenges?

"If you train your muscles to step outside your comfort zone in one situation you probably not only going to learn how to be more successful in that situation but you start to learn how to learn."

My view from my own personal experience, and from interviewing many many people from a variety of professional background. For instance, in the book I interview people executives, managers, entrepreneurs, small business owners, priests, goat farmers, rabies, teachers, students, actors etc. I find that people are able to reinvent themselves and step outside their comfort zones, take on tasks, jobs or responsibilities that they never realized that they would be able to do. It is certainly not rocket science, but a little bit more complicated than some of the online available information that describe this question. It is more than just jumping off a cliff with a parachute, or skydiving etc. These “the magic happen outside your comfort zone” phrases might be true, but these sources doesn’t really tell you how to do it.

Agnes: What is the essence of the strategy that you are proposing in the book, Reach?

Andy Molinsky: In the book I first talk about why it is so challenging to step outside our comfort zones. It is important to first understand what is it that holds people back. For instance, I talk about the psychosocial roadblocks people face, like authenticity, likeability, competence, resentment, morality. The first part frankly is to try to understand what is holding you back.

In terms of strategy I find 3 important ones. The first is conviction. It is about trying to locate for yourself what’s in it for you, why this is really important for you to recognize and own it. This can be professionally or personally key for some people.

Agnes: Is this a muscle that can be trained?

Andy Molinsky: It is a good metaphor, indeed. If you train your muscles to step outside your comfort zone in one situation you probably not only going to learn how to be more successful in that situation but you start to learn how to learn, which ultimately leads you to be more successful in the second situation.

Agnes: What is the second strategy?

Andy Molinsky: The second one is customization. We have a bit more power to sculpt or craft, tweak, slightly adjust the situations that are outside of our comfort zones to make them feel just that little bit comfortable, natural and authentic to us. That is a real boost. You can customize your body language, your prop, something to the event. Every time, for example, I was nervous speaking in front of public so I would wear a special ring that represented courage to me because of the stone in the ring was found by my great uncle when he was serving in World War II. This stone and ring always represented courage to me.

Manipulate the context a little bit, the timing, language, the situation etc. There are many ways that we can customize, but I guess this brings the power back to your hands in situations where otherwise we would often feel helpless.

Agnes: Brilliant, very helpful and conceptualized. What is the third strategy?

Andy Molinsky: The third one is clarity. When people step out their comfort zone they tend to look at the worst possible cases, psychologist call this catastrophizing. Our worries go to the extreme, driven by our fears. For instance, when we speak in front of public we tell ourselves that it is going to be a total flop, a disaster. We can also go to the other extreme, the unrealistic, that I am only going to give a talk unless it is the best Ted Talk anyone’s ever seen. Fear and anxiety drive our prediction and worries about the future into extreme categories. I find that people who are most successful in taking a leap were able to bring it to the centre.

Agnes: What are some of the tools that organisations or managers can use to encourage their employees to take some risks?

Andy Molinsky: There are lot of ways, and they can run the gamut. I was recently at an organisation where the CEO has made this top priority for all his high level managers, he had them go through a series of experiences and trainings all year in this topic. He believes that for his organisation to grow, for him and his employees acting outside their comfort zone is the essence and a priority.

In smaller organisations managers can help employees develop “just right challenges” strategies or plans. These help workers figure out stretches that aren’t incredibly hard stretches for them to make, but likely result in some small and early wins that will build up their courage and confidence to be able to keep on the track of stepping outside their comfort zone. There are many examples in the book as well. Organisations and managers can help with the customization piece. They can help employees understand the ways through which they can customize. Perhaps, they can even offer them with some tools and ideas on how to customize.