The Comfort Zone
Everyone likes to be comfortable. We gravitate toward environments that are climate-controlled. Parking lots have become battlegrounds where people engage in emotionally intense, but physically lethargic competition over the parking spots that are right next to the building. Walking is considered a chore—except in certain organizations where taking the stairs or doing a lap around the building is desperately offered as the cure for advanced physical atrophy. And unless you’re in a posh fitness facility, sweating is right out. We expect to be constantly sheltered from the rain—almost to a maniacal level. We’ve gotten to the point where our society all but demands it. Imagine the reaction you would get if you showed up to a business meeting wearing soaked clothing because you walked outside while it was raining.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t make an effort to appear presentable at work. But maybe, as a society in general, we’ve lost a bit of perspective on the value of stepping out of our comfort zone. We’ve certainly come a long way from the Stoic view of suffering or discomfort as being a natural part of life and embracing suffering in order to benefit from it. In fact, it seems we’re at the point where most people go to inordinate lengths to insulate themselves from anything less comfortable than heaving one’s self off the couch to meander to the refrigerator.
It’s a well-established fact that humans are genetically predisposed to avoid pain. And it makes sense from a survival standpoint. Our body’s neurological system is programmed to keep us alive. Our brain signals us to keep from putting our full weight on our foot if we step on a spiky plant. And it tells us to step back from the fire if we get too close. So far, this is a good thing.
But this predisposition to avoid pain holds true in the psychological realm as well as the physical. We have a tendency to remain cloistered in jobs, social circles, and situations in which we are comfortable—where there is little chance of feeling vulnerable. Seeking comfortable environments may generate a feeling of serenity—not always a bad thing. But permanently sequestering one’s self in safe spaces will provide comfort at the expense of personal development.
You see, we’ll never grow if we don’t step out of our comfort zone. If we aren’t stretched, we won’t learn. If we stay where we are comfortable, we don’t have to contend with our physical limits. We don’t have to struggle with new environments and experiences. And we don’t temper our spirits and learn to more effectively deal with hardship. We only grow when we step out of our comfort zone, expand our boundaries, and push our limits. The old military admonition to “embrace the suck” is grounded in this philosophy of not just surviving hardship but thriving within it.
It’s been said that we should learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. This isn’t easy. It takes practice and a willingness to embrace discomfort. But there are small steps that you can take to begin the process. Start small, and look for ways to challenge yourself. Uncomfortable situations will force you to develop new skills. As you use your skills, you will begin to experience success. And with skill and success comes confidence. Your confidence increases your sense of comfort in difficult situations and will impel you to once again, step out of your comfort zone.
Your comfort zone should be always expanding. That’s really the only way to become more than you are now and to better equip yourself to help those around you.
The comfort zone is simply a place to catch your breath between battles. Step out, embrace the hardship, and experience a more meaningful life than you’d ever find by completely insulating yourself from discomfort.