The comfort zone is, well, comfortable. It’s the reason we all love it so much. Warm, safe, and secure, there’s nothing in the comfort zone to frighten us.
But that’s a blessing and a curse. Sure, it feels great for the most part, but nothing ever really happens in it.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
We are slowly learning that comfort can kill - physically (sitting is the new smoking), mentally (your brain can turn to metaphorical mush), and emotionally (you experience neither highs or lows). We may think we adore the comfort zone, but the comfort zone does not reciprocate. It’s unrequited love. It turns out we should be striving to get out of the comfort zone the same way we would try to get out of a shark-infested swimming pool (the sharks might not attack...but they very well could).
Comfort bad. It sounds paradoxical, doesn’t it? Comfort, and being comfortable, are supposed to be good things. And perhaps they are when done in moderation (isn’t that always the rule?). But as a society, we’ve become addicted to comfort on every level.
And that comfort can be dangerous.
See Also: How to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
1. Risk vs Reward
It’s said that necessity is the mother of all invention. We push ourselves and create new things when we need to for some reason. The comfort zone kills that. Shoots it dead. There is no need to stretch because we already know how to accomplish everything we need to do.
Our brains assess using a risk vs. reward equation. What are the potential problems, repercussions, and consequences of doing something? What’s the best case scenario (the potential rewards)? Typically, we weigh those against one another and opt for action when the reward seems greater than the risk. In the comfort zone, though, there is almost no reward worth taking any risk. Everything is clicking along, so why shake the boat? We become complacent. We become both risk and reward averse.
2. No Pushing or Learning
Remember when you first started learning a new skill, or started a new job? Think back to the first few weeks or months. If you’re like most people, you probably put in a lot of time and effort figuring out how everything connected. Exploring different methods and techniques of accomplishing your goals. Learning the procedures.
You were willing to explore, play, and ask for help because you wanted to improve and didn’t want to look bad in front of your new colleagues and superiors. Turns out, we need that. A little anxiety or stress is a crucial component in life. When we’re concerned about losing our job, or looking foolish in front of others, or not living up to expectations, we’re motivated to improve and get things done. In the comfort zone? There is no anxiety. There is no stress. We complete everything with minimal effort, minimal time, and produce minimal results.
Want to experience that rush again? Take on a responsibility that you can’t do with your eyes closed. Something that requires more than autopilot from you. Scare yourself...just a little. Volunteer to teach the department something, or to run the next meeting, or whatever.
3. Communication Breaks Down
In the beginning, before we got comfortable, we asked a lot of questions. We spoke to our coworkers, and managers, and higher-ups much more frequently. We had questions about everything. We shared our progress, obstacles, and stumbles. Communication was a large part of our existence. But not so in the comfort zone. There’s no need. We know how to do everything. We understand everything. We just get it. We anticipate and avoid typical problems. Talking with others about anything - good or bad - just slows everything down.
Communication leads to collaboration and the sharing of ideas. Without it, things become stagnant. It’s like a pond with no water source.
4. No New Connections
Creativity is essentially forging new connections between old ideas. Connecting something to something else in a way no one thought of before. We use it in the “creative” arts, of course (visual arts, music, theatre, writing), but creativity is crucial for business, too. It means improving products and services. It means creating new ones. It means delivering above and beyond. Apple didn’t stop with the Mac computer. They improved it over time. Then they branched out into MP3 players (iPod), tablets (iPad), and smartphones (iPhone). They changed the industry. That’s creativity at work.
The comfort zone, though, has no need for new connections. They serve no purpose. Everything is being adequately completed. Apple could have just continued with the Mac. It was working for them. But thank goodness they didn’t. You need to look at your industry, examine the trends, predict the direction it’s heading.
5. Resistance and Disinterest
When you’re comfortable, you have little patience or interest in anything that takes that away from you. Every time a colleague or superior suggests something new, your first instinct will be to resist. Why bother when everything is going so smoothly? New products, new processes, new ways of thinking, new delivery systems...it doesn’t matter. A mind in comfort will try to stay there. But businesses don’t grow with that kind of mindset. And a business that isn’t growing is dying. It needs new. It needs innovative.
Even worse, you may not feel it’s worth the effort to speak against new ideas that you recognize as flawed or doomed from the start (providing it doesn’t impact you in any way). So long as someone else is doing it, you won’t question or challenge their thinking, and that can quickly lead to mediocrity. If they want to waste their time doing something that you know won’t work because of this, and that, so be it. It’s no skin off your nose. You’re comfortable.
Businesses need employees that are committed to improvement, where good enough is never good enough. In the comfort zone? “Good enough” is the slogan. Keep it up, and your boss may start seeing you as lazy and uninvolved with the company.
6. Missed Opportunities
When opportunity knocks, you have to open the door. But that rarely happens in our comfort zone. We just can’t be bothered. Sure, a promotion would be nice, but you’re already so comfortable in this position. Sure, you could network at the big conference, but you’ve already got a few connections. Sure, you could take on that new account, but you’re on cruise control with the accounts you currently manage. We don’t push, extend, or aim higher.
The comfort zone can be pleasant. No argument. But over time, it can lead to mind-numbing boredom. Imagine having to do the same thing, in the same way, every day for the next 35 years. Would you be excited on Monday morning? Would you feel content and fulfilled? Of course not.
We need to periodically step back and examine. Can and should things be done differently to improve overall efficiency (even if it means more work during the transition)? Is there a void or demand in your industry waiting to be filled?
And most importantly, is there something else you’d rather be doing with your life (even if it means starting over at the bottom and working your way back up)?
8. No Self-Understanding
Being comfortable does nothing for understanding yourself. Your likes and dislikes. We don’t discover those parts of ourselves until we step way outside of our comfort zone to explore. The things (and people) you end up loving more than any other may be out there waiting for you right now. Step out and join them. If you never leave your comfort zone, you’ll have no clue about your true likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses.
You should always feel a little uncomfortable as it means you’re pushing yourself, learning, striving, reaching, growing. And that’s the recipe for success at work, at home, and in life.
“Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.”
Are you stuck in the comfort zone? What’s your technique for breaking free of it? Leave your thoughts in the comments below...