Get Comfortable With Discomfort: Pushing Beyond Your Limits As An Agency Owner

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In this week’s episode, we are digging into expanding your comfort zone and getting comfortable with discomfort for personal and professional growth. I discuss the four stages of learning and share strategies to expand your comfort zone. 

Ultimately, the goal is to continually push beyond your limits and achieve sustainable growth - doing so in a management and incremental way.

Beyond your comfort zone lies excitement and development!

Topics Covered In This Episode:

[00:00] Introduction: Getting comfortable with discomfort

[01:18] Why do we stick to what we know, instead of leaving our comfort zone?

[02;50] I used to avoid looking at the metrics in my business - sticking in my comfort zone

[03:36] The benefits of stepping into discomfort

[04:00] The 4 levels of learning and comfort, learning and fear zones

[08:15] The way to expand your comfort zone by taking small steps into your learning zone

[10:18] Reframe discomfort as growth, develop yourself (rather than results), celebrate wins and find support

[13:43] Learn more in my fortnightly value-packed live Agency Accelerator LIVE Workshops 


"While it's comfortable to stay in your comfort zone, it's not a place where you are going to grow as a person and as a business owner.” - Rob Da Costa
"Turn off that internal self talk that will discourage you from doing anything slightly scary and just get on and do it!" — Rob Da Costa

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 Full Episode Transcription

In today's episode of the podcast, we're talking about getting comfortable with discomfort and pushing beyond our limits. As an agency owner, I'll share a story from my own experience about why implementing proper metrics made me feel really uncomfortable and how facing that discomfort led to important growth. For my business as a leader, it's natural to avoid discomfort and to stay in our comfort zone. Owns. But know that real growth happens when we lean into challenges that feel uncomfortable. Today, we'll discuss why we avoid discomfort and the many benefits of facing it and feeling the fear and doing it anyway. And I'll share some strategies to push past your limits. So, another action-packed episode and let's dive in.

I'm Rob Costa, and this is the agency Accelerator Podcast. As someone who has stood in your shoes, having started, grown, and sold my own agency, I know just how it feels in the ups and downs of agency life. So this podcast aims to ease your journey just a little by sharing mine and my guests’ experiences and advice as you navigate your way to growing a profitable, sustainable and enjoyable business. So let's be real here. Discomfort feels really risky, and it also makes us afraid of failure. It makes us perhaps look incompetent, or we worry about being judged. Following our usual habits, our usual routines, and doing what we've always done feels safer and it feels easier. We're biased towards avoiding potential losses rather than gaining from new things.

As we're saying that again, we're biased towards avoiding potential losses rather than gaining from new activities and new things. And I think our ego and our identity really get tied into remaining in our competence and in our comfort zone. But avoiding discomfort leads to stagnation. It leads to arrested development, and also it leads to not doing some of those crucial things that will make our agency a success. After all, we've all got a natural skill set and a natural propensity to certain areas. And there, of course, it's understandable that we avoid other things. And of course, that means we struggle to get to the next stage of growth. And we're frustrated about why the same things keep happening.

And part of it is to do with sticking to what we know and sticking in our comfort zone. Now, of course, if you've got a team, you can delegate some of these tasks that we're not naturally good at, to other team members who perhaps will have those skills in the areas that we're not good at. But when you don't have a team early on in your agency, of course, you don't have that luxury. So of course, that means we have to do everything ourselves, including those things that make us feel uncomfortable. Now, in the spirit of being open and honest, which of course I always strive to do in these podcasts, for me, I hate the detail. And if I'm honest, I have an aversion to knowing my numbers. Yet we all know that is not a good way to run any kind of business. For a long while, I avoided implementing comprehensive metrics to track my business.

I told myself that I was too busy servicing clients, that the metrics weren't that important, that even if I recorded them, I didn't really use them, and that I could estimate our performance accurately enough without rigorous tracking. But to be honest, these were just excuses which sound really bad when I say them out loud. And they were driven by my discomfort with data, with analytics, and the potential of exposing poor performance. So that perhaps explains why we avoid discomfort. But let's just spend a few moments talking about the benefits of actually stepping into discomfort. Facing discomfort builds confidence and it builds resilience. It grows new skills and new capabilities. And discomfort provides a fresh perspective and fresh insights.

And it makes space for us to be innovative. And it allows you to lead by example and model courage to your team. Growing learning and fulfilment all lie outside of your comfort zone. Talking of which, there are three zones that we can operate in our comfort zone, our learning zone, and our fear zone. So let's dig into what each of these three actually means. Your comfort zone contains things that you already know how to do really well, and therefore, of course, you feel really confident about doing them. You're not particularly challenged here. And whilst it feels really safe staying here exclusively, I guarantee you, especially as an entrepreneur, will lead to boredom.

And of course, it will lead to a lack of fulfilment in your job. And it will also lead to that sense of going around in circles and not actually growing your agency. So I think we all probably acknowledge that while it's comfortable to stay in your comfort zone, it's not a place where we're going to grow. Then the second area I mentioned was your learning zone. Now, this contains activities that stretch your abilities and help you and make you gain new skills. Trying these things takes you out of your comfort zone and of course, it can feel uncomfortable. But your learning zone is where growth happens and activities here will eventually become part of your comfort zone as your comfort zone expands. It's those four stages of learning from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence, to conscious competence, and then ultimately to unconscious competence.

I always use an example of learning to drive before you've ever sat in a car. You don't know how bad you are, so you're in that unconscious incompetence stage. Then you have your first driving lesson and you're terrible. You stole the car. You have to think. Now you're at the stage of conscious incompetence. Now you've just passed your test and you're at that stage of conscious competence where you get in the car, you have to think mirror, signal, manoeuvre and all that stuff. And you are consciously good.

But you have to think about it. And then ultimately, after you've been driving for a number of years, you become unconsciously competent where you sit in the car, you don't even think about it and suddenly you're home and you kind of think how did I get here? Because you've gone through those four stages of learning. Now we go through those four stages of learning as we move from our learning zone into our comfort zone where things that are new feel a bit clunky until we've practised them enough that they become unconsciously competent. And we have now expanded our comfort zone. And so that is the learning zone, which is sort of the second stage where we have to step outside our comfort zone. It feels scary, but it doesn't feel disastrous or fatal in any kind of way. Now the third one I mentioned was the fear zone. Now this contains high levels of challenge that are probably well beyond our current capabilities.

Things in the fear zone feel really scary and really intimidating and jumping into this zone without any kind of preparation will be completely immobilising and will force you right back into your comfort zone. So here is an example of that. Let's say that public speaking is your fear zone. You are really scared about standing up in front of an audience. It's your reoccurring nightmare and therefore you avoid it at all costs. Well, if you were to step outside of your comfort zone into your learning zone, an activity that would develop your public speaking by starting small could be, for example, joining a local networking group or running an online event for a small audience. Now, as you practise presenting in this very managed environment, your public speaking skills grow and in time you can take on smaller public speaking gigs like giving a company talk or maybe speaking to a larger audience. And ultimately you will step into the bigger space of standing on stage and speaking to an audience.

Because you have gradually stepped through your learning zone and you have expanded your comfort zone. You haven't gone straight from your comfort zone into that scary fearful zone, which is if you were scared of public speaking and the first thing you're going to do is stand up electron in front of 1000 people. Well, of course, you're probably going to run a mile. So the key here is to move from your comfort zone to your learning zone and keep expanding it there. And then suddenly what was in your fear zone just becomes something that you're very naturally comfortable with doing. Now the key here is to balance time in your comfort and your learning zones while minimising paralysing time in the fear zone. So seek incremental challenges that stretch you whilst managing your fear. Too much time in your comfort zone, as I said earlier, leads to complacency and boredom.

But on the other hand, excessive time in your fear zone will hamper your growth and will kind of have you saying, oh, I told you so and you will go right back into your comfort zone. So your goal should be to continually expand your comfort zone by taking on appropriate learning zone activities. As I just kind of outline with the public speaking, this gradual expansion of your capabilities rather than trying to conquer your fears all at once will lead to sustainable growth for you over time. And with practice, even some of your fear zone activities will eventually become learning zone activities. As I use the example of public speaking, when I finally faced my metrics discomfort, it paid huge dividends. Tracking metrics revealed insights about what was working and what wasn't working in my business and therefore what I should do more of and what I should do less of. And of course, these things that we fear are very rarely as bad or as difficult as the stories that we tell ourselves. And it's worth me saying again that most of the things that we fear are very rarely as bad or as difficult as the voice in our head tells us, which kind of keeps us in our comfort zone.

Okay, so let's use the last part of this podcast to share some strategies that you can lean into to help you start stepping out of your comfort zone and ultimately growing your comfort zone. So to push past discomfort, start small by identifying minor challenges that you can tackle first, e.g. the public speaking example I shared earlier. Or how about encouraging people or indeed ourselves to pick up the phone instead of hiding behind email, which is a very easy thing to do, and perhaps picking up the phone and talking to people is a bit more uncomfortable. But that's a good example of stepping into your learning zone. So set that as a task. Turn off that internal self-talk that will kind of discourage you from doing anything slightly scary and just get on and do it.

Reframe the discomfort as excitement and growth. Focus on developing yourself and not focus on getting results immediately communicate your intentions to try new things with your team or if you're on your own, find an accountability partner and then celebrate small wins and hitting mini milestones that will help you build momentum. Get a coach or a mentor for support and accountability. And as I said, if you don't want to do that, just get someone who's on a similar journey to you and have them as an accountability partner and extract learnings from the new things that you've done by post morteming your experiences and actually writing down what three things I learned, what three things I'm going to do differently in the future, and then repeat this cycle to tackle new challenges and, as I say, ultimately expand your comfort zone. In my case, I started small by simply tackling basic metrics like revenue and profitability. The wins built my confidence to expand that tracking into more areas such as leads and conversations and how many leads I needed to have a conversation and how many conversations I needed to actually win a new client. And ultimately that meant I grew my confidence around my analytical skills and I consciously made sure I was looking at those analytics and updating them every week.

And then I was debriefing each time with an attempt to learn and improve and just get more comfortable. And this meant that I was growing my confidence and my skills around metrics, and they became a strength, not a weakness. So leaning into discomfort is required if you want to grow and if you want to be fulfilled as a leader. It builds confidence, it builds skills, and it models courage. To your team. Start small and focus on growth, not on immediate results. This is really important. We live in a world where everything is immediate.

We want results immediately. If not, we give up and move on to the next shiny new object. But in this case, you need to be really focused on the growth and not on necessarily the immediate result. So, for example, if we said, well, we're going to phone people rather than sending emails, well, it may not make much difference to start with, and if you're not careful, that will lead you to think, oh, well, there's no point feeling uncomfortable about doing this, I might as well just send emails. But the reality is, the more you focus on getting better at it, the better the results will be. With practice, you can get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Stretching beyond your comfort zone is critical if you want to avoid stagnation. As I said earlier, that sense of going around in circles and taking one step forward and one step back, pushing past my discomfort with metrics was really transformative when I ran my agency, and I've been able to carry it on into my coaching business.

It unlocked performance insights and new capabilities, and it gave me the courage to tackle other uncomfortable growth areas as well. Now, I hope this gives you the motivation to get comfortable with discomfort too. And I'm going to wrap this episode up here and say, do step outside your comfort zone into your learning zone. So I hope you found that useful. Thanks so much for listening. A couple of things before we wrap this up. First of all, I'm running my Fortnightly Agency Accelerator Live workshops on a Wednesday morning at 09:00 a.m. These are all value and no sales events. Tackling one of 13 topics that I know is a challenge for you because I've seen it in a challenge with the many hundreds of agencies that I've worked with. So that's every other Wednesday at 09:00 a.m. For 45 minutes, all value, no sales, where I tackle a topic for 25 minutes, and then we open up for q and a for 20 minutes. So I will put the link to that in the Show Notes, you can register and save your seat. And second of all, if you've enjoyed this episode and found it useful, please do consider leaving a review, especially on Apple podcasts, as it helps the algorithm. Show my podcast to more people just like you, which means I can help more people. I've left a little video in the Show Notes telling you how to do that, and I really appreciate it if you would do that. But otherwise, have a fantastic rest of your week and I will see you next Thursday for the next episode of the Agency Accelerator.

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