Interview with Andy Molinsky: On stepping out of your comfort zone

Vera: Congratulations on your new book ‘REACH’ on stepping out of the comfort zone (CZ). This will be different for everyone but generally what is a comfort zone and what are the signs that one is in it or headed fast there?

Andy: Thank you!   When you’re in your comfort zone, you feel confident, comfortable and natural.  I think that we all have at least three “zones” – a comfort zone, a learning zone – where we experience a bit more anxiety, but not an overwhelming amount, and then a panic zone – where the anxiety is very high and we likely avoid these types of situation altogether.


Vera: The notion of comfort zones is often tackled as an unhelpful place to be. Can one expand their comfort zone or it’s simply about getting out of the comfort zone and if the former, how does one determine what’s stretching enough?

Andy: I know – comfort zones get a bad reputation!   But I don’t think they’re necessarily unhelpful. There are certain times and circumstances in our personal and work life when it’s perfectly acceptable – and even smart – to stay right inside our comfort zones.  So, think about whether the situation in question is something you care about improving at, and if now is the right time for you.


Vera: You make the point about knowing one’s purpose being fundamental to the journey of getting out of one’s comfort zone. Could you unpack the purpose/out-of-comfort zone connection?

Andy: Sure.  Having a purpose – understanding what’s really in it for you and why you care about the situation in question is essential for mustering up the courage, especially since these are so often situations that run against the grain of our personalities and habits.  So, think of a sense of purpose as fuel, or an engine, for propelling you to do something (making small talk with someone you don’t know, networking, speaking in public) when every bone (or psychological bone) in your body is instinctively telling you not to!


Vera: No doubt the issue of stepping out of one’s comfort zone takes practice. For the person who steps out and falls flat on their face, what’s your advice on how they get back on the horse so to speak?

Andy: Think back to when you started learning anything in your life.  Chances are that anything challenging and meaningful took time.  And that’s the same here.  Try to adopt a “learning” approach towards slip ups and think of mistakes as “data” for improvement.


Vera: Conviction, customization and clarity is the three pronged framework you share for succeeding in the ‘discomfort zone’ if I may put it that way.  What is ‘Customization’ and how does it work/help?

Andy: Customization is the ability to make a situation your own – or to put your own personal spin or touch on a situation so it feels just that little bit more natural and comfortable to you. And what was so exciting in my research was how many different ways people can do this and how helpful it really is!


Vera: One area where comfort zones can limit productivity & success is within organizations. What organizational behaviours would you say hold the most potential for driving an organization’s success?

Andy: I think it’s essential to develop and promote a “learning culture” in an organization, where people are supported and encouraged to step outside their comfort zone – where it’s valued and where the inherent difficulty of the process and courage required is understood and celebrated.   I think that a culture like this pays many dividends down the road.


Vera: What’s the farthest you’ve personally gone from your comfort zone and how did you judge if the results were worth the ‘pain’?

Andy: I am stretching all the time!  Right now in fact I’m in the middle of creating an online course to help people learn to step outside their comfort zones – and that has required me to do all sorts of things outside my comfort zone, like starting a small business, ultimately selling my course and so on.  But I know it’s worth it because I really believe in my message and ideas!


Andy’s profile

Andy Molinsky is a Professor at Brandeis University’s International Business School, with a joint appointment in the Department of Psychology.  Andy received his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and M.A. in Psychology from Harvard University. He also holds a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in International Affairs from Brown University.  Andy’s work helps people develop the insights and courage necessary to act outside their personal and cultural comfort zones when doing important, but challenging, tasks in work and life. His research and writing has been featured in Harvard Business ReviewInc. Magazine, Psychology Today, the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, NPR and Voice of America. Andy was awarded as a Top Voice for LinkedIn for his work in education. His first book, Global Dexterity (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013), received the Axiom Award (Silver Medal) for Best Business Book in International Business & Globalization and has been used widely in organizations around the world, including Boeing, AIG, the US Air Force Academy, and the Clinton Foundation, among others. His new book Reach was published with Penguin Random House in January 2017.  He teaches, consults, and lectures widely to university and corporate audiences. More on Andy’s work at


For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here.