Many coaches and consultants say: "Leave your comfort zone, overcome your fear and lack of self-confidence to learn and grow."
The comfort zone is that psychological space in which one feels secure, safe and at ease. Why would anyone want to leave their comfort zone? Who wants to be uncomfortable?
Well, one motivation is to be more effective and happier; to perform optimally. In conventional thinking there is an optimal performance zone that is outside of the comfort zone. There is also a zone of impaired performance that is entered when the level of stress becomes too high. The goal of achieving and sustaining optimal performance motivates people to learn to be ready to confront and manage change and work well under stress.
Don't Leave It, Expand It
Do people have to leave the comfort zone to achieve optimal performance? Yes and no. Yes, people must step out of their comfort zone to begin learning. No. The comfort zone can expand to make any situation comfortable. Stepping out of the comfort zone can be a onetime event - a leaping out of the nest - or a series of small steps to test the waters and gradually become comfortable in what were once uncomfortable situations. In effect the comfort zone expands to include a learning zone. There is a new relationship with comfort.
To transition to this new relationship with comfort, understand what comfort is and how it is related to attachment, fear, stress, anxiety and performance. Discomfort impedes performance unless one is comfortable with discomfort.
Performing optimally requires a healthy level of stress, concentration and challenge. Concentration requires the effort to manage the tension required to overcome habitual tendencies and the attachment to the pleasure of the comfort zone. One who thinks that stress and effort are uncomfortable resists movement out of their comfort zone. One who is comfortable with stress can intentionally make change or adapt to unintentional change.
What is Comfort?
The comfort zone is comfortable. There is a sense of being at ease and relaxed, physically and psychologically. Comfort and discomfort depend on one's perception and one's perception is subject to change. For example, to some, slouching against a wall is comfortable while for others standing erect, and supported by their skeleton and muscles is comfortable and slouching is uncomfortable.
Slouching has the long-term effects of diminishing personal energy and causing posture related aches, pains and injuries. Staying in the comfort zone - being comfortable - will be uncomfortable in the long run. Believing this, the perception of comfort begins to change. One becomes comfortable with the short-term discomfort of changing habits, strengthening the body and healing the injury. One actually enjoys the transition because it brings with it health and self-confidence.
Similarly, performing an easy task that has been learned over time is comfortable to some and boring to others. When it comes to relationships, staying in the comfort zone when faced with conflict and change misses opportunities for personal and relationship growth. Sometimes, even abusive relationships seem more comfortable than the hard work of confronting the abuse and making a change.
Comfort in Chaos
Attachment to the pleasure of being comfortable, fear, low self-confidence, inertia, lack of support and low motivation are the most common culprits that keep people anchored in narrow comfort zones.
Expanding the zone means learning, setting goals and objectives and, most importantly, being willing to leave the nest. Leaving the nest means overcoming attachment, fear and other obstacles. Success increases self-confidence.
The initial leap of faith - jumping out of the nest - occurs when one knows that the nest is too confining. Then there can be an immediate and permanent comfort with the unknown territory outside of the nest. There can also be a gradual process with forays into new territory to build greater self-confidence. The comfort zone expands until there is comfort in chaos. One can handle anything, guiding and directing when possible to achieve objectives. There is acceptance of uncertainty. Fear and other negative emotions may arise, they are included in the comfort zone. One becomes comfortable with chaos, the unexpected and all the emotions.
Cognitive Readiness Factors
We live and work in changing, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times. Sometimes it feels as if we are in free fall having jumped out of a plane without a parachute. Sometimes it feels as if there is no solid ground, with everything constantly changing. To be comfortable in the midst of chaos one blends multiple intelligences (IQ, emotional intelligence, social intelligence, among others), clear thinking and mindfulness. These enable the factors that contribute to cognitive readiness, the ability to thrive in uncertain and unexpected situations. Those factors are situational awareness, being aware of one's own mental processes (meta-cognition), creativity, communication, resilience, adaptability, relationship skills, managing conflict, problem solving and decision making.
Yes, there are a lot of factors to cultivate. It begins with an intention to become more at ease in the storm that life is in these changing times. Start with mindfulness training. It is the foundation for the factors and helps to manage the stress that accompanies change.
Then, it takes self-assessment to see what obstacles are getting in the way. Self-assessment and intention lead to a concerted effort to improve the factors that need to be developed and fine-tuned.
Or, if all of that is just too much, cut through - relax and let your training, intelligence and intuition guide you. When gripped by anxiety, rest back into your new comfort zone. Each time you do that your comfort zone expands. You will be at home in the peaceful and safe eye of the storm. Then you will be ready for anything.
2019 George Pitagorsky