Your Comfort Zone: Friend or Foe?

DrFacilier-kotecki

We need to spend more time IN our comfort zones.

There, I said it.

In the self-improvement culture we live in, we’re constantly advised to shore up our weaknesses and do things that are out of our comfort zone. It’s apparently the magic path to success, riches, and enlightenment.

And I think it might be robbing the world of the best we have to offer.

Of course there is a pearl of wisdom in this adage. Trying new things is a great way to grow, build courage and collect wonderful experiences. But it also has the potential to lead us astray. Here are a few pitfalls:

It can trick us into thinking that we can be self-sufficient.

Its easy to get caught up believing that we can achieve anything, provided we’re brave enough to step out of our comfort zone and take it. But we were designed to rely on each other. That means nobody is great at everything. Each person is great at some things, okay at most things, and terrible at others. Although it goes against the myth of the self-made hero, we’re most efficient when we’re using our strengths to help others achieve their goals while relying on other people’s gifts to achieve ours.

It can subtly send the message that we’re not good enough.

No matter how big our comfort zone is, it’s always too small. There’s ALWAYS something else we’re afraid of, uncertain about, or uncomfortable with. I could spend all my time running on the treadmill of expanding my comfort zone, trying new experiences that scare me. I could go streaking. I could sky dive. I could eat snails. I could go deep sea diving and play pinochle with sharks. I’m sure I’d collect some cool stories, but at the end of the day, what have I built? What value have I added to the world?

It can downplay our strengths.

We have a level of comfort with the things we kick butt at. Give me a paintbrush, some tubes of paint, and a blank canvas, and I am in my comfort zone. Slide me under a car to change the oil…not so much. Sure, I could step out of my comfort zone and learn how to fix and maintain my own car. But try as I might, I’ll never be more than a mediocre car mechanic. The world’s all stocked up on mediocre, but it could always use more greatness.

I believe that we’re called to be great. And the only way I know how to be great is to spend a LOT of time doing something you’re already pretty good at. There are no shortcuts. Spending a lot of time expanding your comfort zone is an excellent way to collect stories, but it can also be distraction that keeps you from focusing on what it takes to become great.

I’m not convinced that the comfort zone is the enemy we sometimes make it out to be. Perhaps it’s there to give us a clue as to how we should be really spending our time. Maybe we should actually be spending more time IN our comfort zones.

What do YOU think?

Comments

  1. Leslie says:

    Hey Jason! You may want to check out the work of Danielle Laporte and Marcus Buckingham. Danielle is a firm believer in following your desire and doing what makes you happiest leading to a life of ease. Marcus talks about workplace and productivity when you follow your strengths.

    • Familiar with both of them, Leslie, and you’re right — they’re great!

      We got a chance to hear Danielle in person a few years ago in Portland at the World Domination Summit. She has a cool vibe and a lot of wisdom!

      Hope you’re doing well!

  2. Patty Borkowski says:

    I SO agree! Used to have a magnet in my office that had the famous Eleanor Roosevelt quote “Do something everyday that scares you.” I really tried this – then realized maybe I don’t want to be scared every day. Not my favorite feeling.

    So I altered the quote – “Do something every day that makes you feel good.” And altho it makes me feel good to do selfish things like eat ice cream and watch old movies, it also makes me feel good to make others feel good; so more of the time, I concentrate on that.

    I am a quote-a-holic. Love to read quotes, find new thoughts and inspirations. But have learned that with every one, I need to try them on. One size quote does not fit all. Or me.

    • Patty, such great wisdom! I love the idea of “trying on quotes.” I too am a quote-a-holic, but it’s great to be reminded that even though each one may express some great truth, they may not be true for everyone!

      Good stuff, Patty, thanks for sharing!

  3. kevin says:

    Jason
    Well written
    Learn to amplify your strengths rather trying to develop weaknesses will take one further

  4. Amy Metcalf says:

    I think it is healthy to have a mix of experiences in and out of your comfort zone. When I’m at my job I’m in my comfort zone and I do it very well — sometimes I learn a new technique, which may be uncomfortable to implement at first, but with some time I find the uncomfortable becoming comfortable. :)
    I am an individual that tends to stay within my comfort zone — I have been trying to change that. Through the years I’ve started to ask myself some of those “what if” questions and have had some regrets about passing up certain opportunities. I passed on those opportunities because they were out of my comfort zone.
    I don’t want to have any regrets and have been trying to put myself out there more. I think putting myself out there will allow for more growth in my life as a whole. I tell myself –what does it hurt to just try it? There is a chance I might absolutely hate it and think — oh my gosh, what did I get myself into! Or there is also the chance the experience might add a little magic to my life and I will want to do it again and again! :)
    If I had not stepped out of my comfort zone, I never would have ended up at the Escape Adulthood Summit. The summit was a magical experience for me (I just got happy tears as I typed this) I am excited to experience that again! :)

    • Amy,

      We were so happy to have you at the Summit, and so I am super glad you stepped out of our comfort zone to do it! I have had a number of awesome of experiences in the last 15 years since I started being more mindful of stepping out of my comfort zone. It’s definitely a good habit to get into.

      I definitely think you’re right about the mix. It seems like being mindful of WHY we’re staying in OR stepping out of it is the key.

      Yay to happy tears! Yay to no regrets!

  5. Wow… I needed to read this! There has always been a small part of me that feels I need to have my own business and it needs to be something creative. Truthfully, I like my day job. I love that someone else worries about my taxes, my benefits, etc. I love that I get paid every week and all I really need to do is show up and actively participate. Sure, it’s in my comfort zone, but I’ve found a way to expand myself and take chances within my comfort zone. It’s nice to know that this doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing… :)

    Thanks, Jason!

    • Not at all, Jennifer! I love having my own business and can’t imagine having it any other way, but I know lots of people who have “day jobs” and love them very much. There are definitely pros and cons of both. The important thing is knowing the WHY of your decision (in your case, having someone else worry about taxes, benefits, regular paycheck, etc.) and owning it. :)

  6. Jayne says:

    I kinda dig it out of the comfort zone….I just started as the activity director at a senior living facility. In my second week there I introduced the game “Pass the Pigs” to some of the residents. We were all out of our comfort zone because it wasn’t “crazy eights”. The elderly game players, a handful of dedicated participants partook and it was a challenge for all, me included. There are many variations of scoring, small pigs were hard for the vision impaired, but hey, we had fun. And they talked about it the next day in a somewhat favorable way! :o) New things are scary yet good and I like to branch out. The Residence director said that i should not be introducing new games and ideas cuz it make the residents frazzled. I am a perciever, taking in all opportunites as they come. The boss is a planner and change is hard…she was frazzled while we were having a good time with those pigs even if we did not know what we were doing.

    • Jayne,

      Sounds like the boss was more frazzled than the residents. I think we could all use a bit more frazzling. ;)

  7. Great post! I too needed to read this today. As a single mom, many try to sell the idea of being a strong independent woman… That’s great in theory…. but not always smart in practice. Today I attempted to change a lightbulb on a cathedral ceiling….trying to be self-sufficient… and could not do it. It’s okay to ask help from others…. It’s a sign of strength I would venture to receive help with grace. Thanks for your post.
    Cece

    • Cece,

      I think that being a strong, independent ANYTHING is sort of a myth. It makes us feel like frauds or failures if we’re not, and disregards the reality that we were made to depend on one another.

      Glad the post resonated with you!

  8. At age 76, I am bored to tears by my peers who bury themselves in being “safe”, ie in their comfort zone which goes smaller each day. Too many people rely on TV for knowledge of the world and recluse themselves emotionally, socially, politically.

    • Dorothy,

      When being safe = being stale, Adultitis is sure to set in!

      Your perspective is a true breath of fresh air! I want to be like you when I turn 76!

  9. Cat B says:

    I have a few ways of looking at it. I was in the military for 10 years, before I joined I had never been in any sports or anything and I joined the Marine Corps. I was waaay out of my comfort zone many times. But I had enough fun to stay in 10 years. When it quit being fun, too many politics as you go up the ladder, I was done.
    Some things I enjoyed, like running. I was actually able to stay up in the runs and was faster than quite a few of the guys which was a shock to me. Yet, It took me years to get that good (I ran 3 miles in about 21 minutes & I’m 5’2″ with short legs). I did it by running more often than most of them did and running just outside of my comfort zone. If I stayed within it I would have either stayed the same speed or gotten slower. By staying just outside of my comfort zone I improved.
    So, I would say, find something you love and then work just outside your comfort zone to grow.

    • “find something you love and then work just outside your comfort zone to grow.”

      Freaking LOVE this, Cat! I wish I had written it ;) Great advice!

  10. Anonymous says:

    learning to step outside of your comfort zone is very scary! Having someone new come into your comfort zone work space can change things in a minuet to major positive or negative feelings and change everything. sometimes these moments can become a growing time of strength for the positive. Learning to work with different types of situations has changed some of my ideas in life of what is really most important. I for one enjoy my comfort zone to read, study music and listen to those who are willing to share their talents. you have done that in your meetings. I loved the red shoes and have shared that with others in the work field. practice, practice! makes one become better in there efforts to become the best they can be. take the step outside of your comfort zone and see where it will lead you, Breathe and enjoy the moment !!

  11. Deb B. says:

    I love this thought! Perfect timing too. Last year I enjoyed your conference for Wyoming Child &Family Development. I tried being in a risk vs comfort zone… discovered I don’t really feel comfortable “moving on” after my divorce and leaving my support net of comfort behind. Looking for companions closer to “home”. By the way, as I lay back on my couch telling my mom my story of the risky guy gone bust, I looked up and joyfully burst out, “I found Pokey!”I It broke the serious moment &I made me smile for days!

  12. Jason–

    I agree!!

    However, “Comfort Zone” for me does not = Strengths… I am a believer in operating in your strengths and not allowing the weaknesses become your focus! I know of a study where they took a set of “good readers” and a set of “bad readers” and trained them on speed reading… guess who excelled and went off the charts on speed reading… Yup the “good readers!” The “bad readers” improved but only slightly! Why spend a lot of time trying to improve what you are not good at and become mediocre when you can invest in what you are good at and become GREAT! Just as you pointed out in your blog
    However, when I hear Comfort Zone I immediately think of a place where I have become so accustomed to everything that there are no surprises and no challenges. A place where I could go through life with my eyes closed and still get the results that everyone expects and accepts. I don’t believe that is a good place. To go there for a rest ok… but I can’t live there I’ve got to have challenge and surprises in my life on a regular basis!

    I’m sure definition is where our disagreement lays…

    Love your philosophy… hoping to make it to the summit next year!

    BTW: If you haven’t check out Strength’s Finder 2.0, by Tom Rath Has an assessment of your strengths!

    • Ron, I agree with your distinction. We’re definitely on the same page here!

      And I do hope you can make next year’s Summit! Make sure you’re subscribed to our Insider newsletter to get first notice when tickets go on sale. Probably in a month or so!

  13. Anonymous says:

    I get what your saying and I agree for the most part. However, a lot of what you talk about is about leaving your comfort zone in a way. Barbarian spaghetti, pajama run, or feeding a giraffe with your mouth. There is a certain level of leaving your comfort zone in your philosophy.

    • You’re quite right about that! Like I said in the post, leaving your comfort zone can be a great and important thing. I think some of the other commenters have done a good job talking about finding the right mix of “stepping out” and “staying in.”

  14. Great discussion! Neat to hear how people find balance when dealing with their comfort zone. I read this on Saturday right before I gave a talk at a conference for work. Something that makes me uncomfortable. But I was talking about teachable moments in our lives and their impact. Sharing stories of those impactful moments was comfortable. So hello…perfect timing.

    Needless to say this is a great topic and I appreciate your thoughts and what they brought out of me.

    Jen

  15. This reminds me that kids don’t develop reading fluency by pushing themselves, but by reading where they are comfortable, doing more of it, and liking it. As I study Spanish, I find that I dread it, if I’m stretching too much. It’s better for me to practice what I already know and move on when I feel ready. One of my friends teaches languages and says the language acquisition part of the brain overlaps the pleasure center so much that if you’re not having fun, you can’t learn it, period. I figure the part where I left my comfort zone was when I went to Guatemala ;)

    • Super GREAT perspective, Lynn; thanks for sharing!

      Our culture totally underestimates the importance of FUN!