Seeking advice: Overcoming the Comfort Zone in Productivity
@easymoneyme and @randomroger already posted superb responses to your challenge, and I would echo everything in their lists.
The following list is based solely on my journey with running. It's not so much advice as it is my experience on this journey.
To date, I've run something like 10+ marathons and nearly 20 ultra marathons, in addition to many shorter, yet still challenging events. I don't do a great job of keeping an exact count, and I know others have achieved far more than me, but I feel like I've endured many difficult challenges, exposing myself to areas far outside my comfort zone.
1. Pick something you're willing to do even when it sucks.
Because everything will suck sometimes. The more challenging it is, the more it will suck. If you don't see the value of continuing through the day-to-day challenges, you'll quit and you probably should anyway. With running, I wake up at 4 am, I go out before the sun rises, it's often cold/hot/raining if I'm on one of the local mountains I'm encountering wild animals, I'm tired, my body is sore, and I have about 20 things I know I need to get done that day that I should be doing. And yet, I still put on my shoes and run. The experience is that valuable to me and I do it even when it sucks.
2. It doesn't have to be a passion.
But if you endure the challenges, it will probably become a passion. I hated running for years until eventually, I got better at it and I soon fell head over heels for it.
3. Everyone is on a different journey.
So never compare yourself to other people's achievements. This is incredibly common in running. Everyone is looking at everyone else's race results, and with the proliferation of Strava, now we can analyze everyone's pace per mile, pace up a climb, pace down a climb, and even their heart rate, type of shoes they are wearing, route selection, and so much more. So I could lose my mind worrying about these things, or I could set a challenge, create a plan for it, and execute. This is exactly what I do, and if someone thinks I'm too slow on this hill or my heart rate is too high or some other bullshit, well that says a lot more about them than it does about me.
Run your own race; set your own pace.
4. As soon as you finish a big race, start planning the next big race.
I think this one gets at the heart of your issue. To train for a 50-mile mountain race, for example, I have to invest months running 5-7 days a week for many miles on difficult terrain. I have to spend hours doing boring yet essential stretches, and I have to do some sort of strength training every day. I have to forgo Netflix, go to bed early, get lots of sleep, and wake up early. Every day.
So when I go through all that discomfort and I complete the race, there is exhilaration followed by a letdown. This is such a common human experience. We marshaled all our energy for some incredible goal, and when we get there we don't know what else to work toward. Olympians report this phenomenon all the time after the games come to an end.
So after the race is over, I enjoy a huge burger, I sit around the fire with my friends and shoot the breeze, and I let the joy of the accomplishment sink in. And then, the next morning, I wake up and start looking for the next race.
5. The best way to stay motivated is to do the thing every day no matter how you feel.
I already alluded to this in #1, but the best way to stay motivated is to just do the thing every day. If you're tired and not inspired or distracted or any number of other excuses, that's fine. Just go through the motions. You don't have to run your fastest pace every single day. Just go out and run. A shorter, slower run is far, far better than no run at all. Keep the streak going and the long arc of time will deliver what you desire.
6. Find your tribe.
In running, it's easy to do it all by yourself. I do the majority of my runs alone. It's fantastic for many reasons, but if we're talking about breaking free from your comfort zone then one of the best things to do is to identify people who are on a similar journey. Runners often run with friends or join group runs for camaraderie, which is fantastic, but they also do it to challenge themselves. You will always run faster if you're running with someone just a little bit faster than you, which will pull you right out of your comfort zone.
7. Get a mentor.
Critical. A mentor or coach is there to push you beyond your self-perceived limits.
8. Cut the fat.
I have a habit, good or bad, of overscheduling myself. I'm ambitious and I want to do a lot of things. But if those things conflict with my running, or anything else on my very short list of highly-valuable activities, then I cut them out. It becomes all too easy to stay in your comfort zone, and not challenge yourself when you are chasing after multiple goals at one time.
9. Remember your why.
You picked this activity or goal for a reason. When you are feeling too comfortable, and you don't want to challenge yourself, go back to your reasons for doing the thing in the first place. You picked something challenging for a reason, so what is it? Keep that reason as close to the front of your mind as possible. For me, it's signing up for a big race that I'm excited to run. That keeps me going every day, and it becomes my short-term why. My long-term why is to get out in nature and go on adventures. Those visions keep me challenging myself.
10. Don't sweat it too much. Life is short.
So even if you are in your comfort zone more than you want to be, don't let it bother you too much. Yes, do what you can to challenge yourself and get more out of the experience. But sometimes it doesn't happen. Sometimes you are just in your comfort zone, and that's okay. There are days I have crappy runs and I'm okay with that. It's part of the process. We're all going to be gone soon enough, so there's no point in wasting our short time on this planet beating ourselves up all the time. Enjoy the ride.