Break Your Routine. Become Better Person.

This is the last guest post in this series on personal development. I hope you’ve enjoyed them. I’ll be back from my vacation tomorrow and I’m looking forward to getting back at it.

Getting ourselves out of our comfort zone is a big deal and we stand to benefit tremendously when we do. Craig does a good job of breaking this down and sharing how we can break our routine and grow as a person.


Years ago, I got in trouble.  Not bad trouble, but I put my foot in my mouth with some friends and I regretted it.  It’s not the first time my mouth has gotten ahead of my brain, and my wife would assure me it won’t be the last!  Although it could have been more delicately stated, time has shown me that I may have been on to something.

We were at lunch, and several of my friends were lamenting the fact that “There are no good people to date in Chicago.  The guys are so full of themselves, and the girls expectations are so high it’s impossible to date them…”  You know, the usual late-20/thirty-something lament about dating.

I got married pretty young, so of course I thought I was a wizened old soul, and I found myself saying (with that depth of wisdom that comes from a full two years of married life…); “I know why you’re struggling.  You go to same bars, the same hangouts, in the same groups on the same nights, yet you expect that somehow new people are just going to show up!  Why do you do that?”

After a few days of silence, I was finally allowed to have lunch with my friends again, and the good news is that we are still friends.  But aside from being an insensitive jerk, I think that same sort of situation is at the crux of improving ourselves.

I read a lot about personal development, and I’ve added pieces and parts of what I’ve learned to my MBA courses over the years.  One of the most common refrains in this arena is “Force yourself out of your comfort zone!”  And it’s true.

But I’m always more interested in the HOW, not the WHAT.

HOW do I force myself out of my comfort zone?

And what should I expect to find?

As my friends shot daggers at my insensitive, smug comment, we actually had a good discussion.  At the time, my wife and I were in business school, so our brains were exploding with new insights and our social lives were expanding to absorb new friends.  So the whole thing just seemed so obvious to me, but it’s really not.

The busier we get, the more narrowly we focus.  And narrow focus, of course, can be a great thing.  We focus in, work hard, nail the results, and these things lead to opportunity.  Fine.

But after a while, our opportunities become challenges, the challenges become routines, and the routines becomes stale, and then we find ourselves in a rut.  It’s like what Eric Hoffer said about political movements: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

So how do we tear the fabric of our habits, push ourselves to learn something new and put ourselves in front of new opportunities?

Here are three tactics that break our routines:

  1. Gather insights – Make a short list (5 minutes) of business leaders you’ve come across over the past two years who you believe to be doing something fascinating.  Ask them if you can meet them before work for coffee (no more than 30 minutes for each appointment).  Ask each of these five people; “If you were me and you could choose either a new profession, a self-improvement initiative (like business school or a toastmasters course, etc) or a small research project, what would you do and why?”  Then shut up and take notes.
  2. Open the door – As you sift through the insights you gained from these conversations, settle on something that sounds interesting to you.  Do a little homework and make a list of the first three things you would have to do to make that happen.  Knock out the first one, even if you are thinking you may not follow through with it (1 – 10 hours).  Action creates momentum.
  3. Step outside – Gather your ‘personal board of directors’ (those people who have your back) and tell them what you are going to do, and that you’ve taken the first step.  Ask them for help, and ask them to call you every two weeks to ensure that you are following through (1 – 4 hours).  We all need a kick in the ass, and when it comes from people we love, it locks in action.

You’ll notice I included the elapsed time in each of these.  I believe that if we don’t take this into account, it may seem like these are huge hurdles when they are really very simple and straightforward.

Look at your calendar for next week.  Schedule these tactics above as appointments.  Begin.


Craig Wortmann is the founder and CEO of Sales Engine, a company that helps firms build and tune their sales engine. He is also a Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and author of “What’s Your Story?: Using Stories to Ignite Performance and Be More Successful”. You can find Craig on Google + and Twitter