Escape: How To Get Out of Your Comfort Zone


Watching Steve McQueen jump over a high wood fence on a motorcycle in the 1963 classic film The Great Escape is one of my favorite movie scenes. We all watch in anticipation, asking ourselves this one important question: Can he do the impossible?

This clip inspires us to see others overcome obstacles because, for a moment, we’re along for the ride; we experience the feeling of breaking through barriers to see what lies on the other side. When it comes to our own lives, however, we’re less adventurous.

Barriers take on the look of a wall designed to keep us confined and not a hitch in the plan that demands we use our resources.

Why can Steve McQueen jump the high wood fence on his motorcycle but we can’t escape from a bad relationship, change jobs, start a business, or lose 20 pounds? He is defining his future; we are stuck with an inevitable destiny.

A Different Approach 

Our approach to barriers is what determines our success. Strong minds use the same strengths that made them successful to get them through the tough times.

In our culture, we use the barriers that life presents us as a shield from risk, uncertainty, and discomfort. We hesitate to move out of our comfort zone. It’s easier to logically accept the facts surrounding our disappointment and not actually feel the disappointment. We convince ourselves that everything is “fine the way it is” so we don’t have to feel the regret of a life not well lived.

The only difference between a rut and a coffin are the dimensions. ClickToTweetThis

Getting Out of Prison

Our barriers can take many shapes and forms. It’s uncomfortable to acknowledge that something in our life is holding us back from experiencing a deeper part of who we are as a person. It’s even more uncomfortable to do something about it. To protect ourselves, we disengage. We pretend that it doesn’t matter if we don’t overcome an obstacle in our way. We don’t complain. We maintain the illusion that the walls surrounding us are not really keeping us imprisoned.

Steve McQueen’s character in the movie, Virgil Hilts, wanted out of prison. When taking a long look at the barrier in front of him, he knew it would be hard and he knew it would take all of his resources if he were to be successful.

3 Ways to Break Free

Let’s take a closer look at how he moved out of his comfort zone by using his strengths:


Virgil Hilts was persistent. He attempted many prison breaks and he never gave up. Persistence is the ability to maintain action regardless of your feelings. You press on even when you feel like quitting.

Persistence is an essential characteristic of a strong mind that can overcome obstacles. It is not stubbornness; it is getting yourself to do something you don’t want to do and not allowing yourself to come up with an excuse to avoid working toward your goal.

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Calvin Coolidge


In the movie, McQueen portrays Hilts as both bold and a bit irreverent. Boldness is our willingness to venture out and do the right thing at the right time, regardless of the barriers we may encounter. It comes from a confidence in ourselves that we can move beyond our comfort zones.

There is a difference between being reckless and accepting risks, however. A bold person is well aware of the risk and has decided to go through with the decision anyway, ready to accept the consequences if things don’t work out. They might make a mistake, but inaction will lead to emptiness and regret. It is often far more fulfilling to take a risk and fall flat on your face than not having taken it at all.

Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


If one prison break didn’t work, Hilts was flexible enough to immediately start planning on another one. Each time, incorporate what you’ve learned from the last experience into the next one.

Often, we have very little control over our environment. Even the best of plans can fail because people, markets, and business are not predictable. If we are going to survive in today’s world, we will need to learn how to navigate through the confusion that exists in relationships, investments, and life.

In my book, Secrets of A Strong Mind, I talk about how mental toughness is the ability to be flexible enough to act in the moment. As I learned as an FBI agent, it was essential for my survival to have a mind that was strong and flexible so I could respond from a place of strength. In a hostile and unpredictable environment, it is important to stay in the moment.

There is no time for trying to remember business school formats or emergency preparedness plans. This may sound easy, but it requires flexibility while breaking through barriers.

It’s OK to make plans; just make them in pencilClickToTweetThis

Breaking through barriers means embracing risk, uncertainty, and stepping into the unknown. Move out of your comfort zone by utilizing the strengths that have made you successful in the past. They will help you get through the tough times facing you now and in the future.

How have you moved out of your comfort zone? What strengths surfaced as you moved out of your comfort zone? How did those strengths help you move forward? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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LaRae Quy
LaRae Quy is former FBI Agent and Founder at Empowering the Leader in You
She helps clients explore the unknown and discover the hidden truth in self & others
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L2L Contributing Author


  1. Doug Ramsey on June 20, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    This a solid post that addresses the widespread problem of psychological inertia that affects all people. Ellis would remind us that “insight is generally meaningless to human beings” which helps explain why it is so very hard to change our bad habits, self-defeating behaviors, and irrational thoughts. Perhaps we humans are predisposed to these negative thoughts, behaviors and self-doubting attitudes. Regardless, your post is a clear and concise call for brutal self honesty, reasonable risk taking, and proactive behavior that will benefit all of us. Thanks for the learnings…

  2. LaRae Quy (@LaRaeQuy) on June 20, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Hi Doug

    It’s great to hear from you! I always enjoy reading your posts!

    In fact, science has proven that our survival brain (the limbic system) does have a negativity bias . . . back from the days when we wanted to get lunch – not BE lunch. As such, we run away from obstacles much faster than we run toward challenges . . . we do need to rewire our thinking and escape from bad habits, self-defeating behaviors, etc.

    So glad that this post was useful to you. Have a great day!


  3. Bill Benoist on June 23, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    Hi LaRae,

    Your post highlights one of the main differences between the tactical side of management and the strategic side of leadership. Without leadership, we are not going to grow.

    Quick side note – Based upon your enjoyment of The Great Escape, you might very well like the book “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage” which takes the ideas of persistence and boldness to new levels – at least it did for me 🙂

    Thank you for a great post

    • LaRae Quy on July 9, 2013 at 6:26 pm

      HI Bill

      I’ve read the book you suggested “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage.” It’s a great read and certainly does take persistence and boldness to new levels.

  4. René Broekhuis on July 4, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Reblogged this on René Broekhuis and commented:
    Especialy now in an uncertain environment it becomes even more important to push yourself out of your comfort zone to go beyond performance to reach success.