Merge's Blog

What will it take to step outside your comfort zone (or bungee jump naked)?

I often blog about the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone, of taking calculated risks.  In this post last year – Does risk-taking scare you? – I wrote about the farmer who was asked whether he planted wheat for the season.  Today’s blog post takes this idea further, and it was prompted by what I did last weekend.

Naked bungee jumping for charity!

comfort zoneLast weekend, I volunteered at a naked bungee jumping charity event hosted by WildPlay Element Parks, a North American chain of outdoor recreation parks that feature, in addition to bungee jumping, high-ropes and obstacle climbing, swinging, ziplining and a variety of other treetop activities.  This annual event is now in its 16th year, raising funds for mental wellness programs (through Mental Health Recovery Partners) on Vancouver Island, which is where I live.  Now before you go too far down a specific train of thought, I must clarify that I wasn’t participating in the naked bungee jumping 😊, I was fully-clothed while I managed the registration and check-in desk.

comfort zoneBut, during the course of this sold-out event, I was fortunate to talk to many of the 160 participants and find out more about why they chose to attach themselves to a giant elastic cord, step off the edge of a bridge, free-fall over 150 ft, rebound several times, and if that wasn’t enough, do it in the buff.  The reasons were varied – ranging all the way from “I’m jumping in honour of a loved one” to “I’m recovering from mental, emotional or physical trauma, and this is one way in which I can take control of my life”.  The most common response I heard however – “I wanted to do something that would take me waaaay outside my comfort zone, and this is it”.

What does it take to get people to step outside their comfort zone?

As I watched, many of these individuals climbed to the top of the jump bridge, and then, as the realization of what they were about to do became more real, they started to hesitate.  Agonizing minutes later, as they made their way to the edge of the sheer drop and their knuckles grew white from gripping the metal railings, there was no doubt in my mind that many had begun to question their own sanity.

It was what happened in those nervous minutes between ascending the bridge and making the jump that warmed my heart.  The more nervous the person was, the more support they received.  Friends, family and perfect strangers shouted out encouragement from the sidelines – “You can do it,” “You’ve got this,” “You’re courageous” were just some of what I heard.  I listened to the jump crew offer last minute instructions and comforting advice at the top of the bridge.  I saw the jump master quietly talk the participant through the moments of panic just before the jump.  I grinned and joined in when spectators broke into loud applause just after the jump.  And I watched while people congratulated the jumper later – the more nervous they’d been, the more acknowledgements they seemed to receive.

What is the lesson for leaders?

As leaders, we often push our people to step outside their comfort zone.  We are pleased when they do, and frequently frustrated when they don’t.   But I wonder if we realize how much our support and encouragement can matter.  Do we cheer and urge them on?  Do we offer comforting advice as they take unfamiliar steps?  Are we there to talk them through the difficult moments?  Do we applaud them when they finally take the jump?  And do we acknowledge and recognize them when all is done?  I hope so.  Because if there is one thing my volunteer shift at the naked bungee jumping event taught me, it is that reassurance and praise matter.

If we want our employees to step outside their comfort zone (whether at work or elsewhere), then we need to be cheerleaders, teachers, allies, advocates, and champions, and sometimes all at the same time.  If leaders want to create an innovative, resourceful, and forward-thinking work culture, then they need to support and encourage their people to make change happen.

So, are you creating a workplace culture in which people can successfully step outside their comfort zones?  Are you supportive and encouraging to make change happen?  I’d love to hear about your experiences, either as a leader, or about a leader you know?  Please share your thoughts by commenting below.

2 Comments

  • I largely agree with the principles, Merge–love the article! The only cautionary note I would add is that sometimes the support can be perceived as pressure. If the desired action is something the employee has chosen or is committed to, the support can be very much appreciated and may have been essential to help that person overcome inertia.

    However, if the support and encouragement is to get the employee to do something that is not their choice or that they don’t agree with, there can be a number of negative consequences.

    As I said at the beginning, I agree with what you are suggesting; however, one must be mindful of the context within which it is applied to make sure it will be a win-win for manager and employee.

    Reply
    • Excellent point David, and now that you’ve brought it up, I couldn’t agree more. As I think about what you’ve said, I think the key is to make sure that you have open and honest conversations with your employees about what they hope to do and what they hope to achieve. That way you can know that you are truly helping them, and not pressuring them. Thank you for sharing this important perspective.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.