Get Over the Hype – 5 Reasons the Comfort Zone Isn’t Your Enemy

by Alli Polin on August 25, 2015

The comfort zone is not your enemy

Seems like everyone and their grandmother writes about why you need to break out of your comfort zone. Heck, I’ve written about it more than a time or two. It’s as if there is a cult of personal development and leadership bloggers proselytizing the evils of the comfort zone. Even worse, if you dare stay within your comfort zone, you might as well shrivel up and blow away into irrelevance now. Sounds like fun, right?

Here’s the truth: Your comfort zone serves a purpose and it’s not your enemy. Your enemy is your fear that this is it, the end of the road, the buck stops here, (add your favorite cliche here). Does that mean that most people are consciously cowering and shaking in their comfort zone? No.

Let’s get one thing out of the way, sometimes our comfort zone is intensely uncomfortable but we stay put anyway… a bad relationship, poor eating habits, terrible boss. In these cases, from the outside, most people would argue change is not a choice. From the inside, it’s far more complex. There are some exceptional pieces out there to help you tap into your mental toughness through seemingly impossible change.

5 Reasons the Comfort Zone Isn’t Your Enemy

1. It feels good… And it’s okay to feel good. You have permission. 

Simply, it feels nice and cozy in your comfort zone. You’re at ease, there’s no stress, in fact, there’s often mastery. Frequently I’ll describe it to my clients as their sweet spot.

I’ve had a few clients tell me that their comfort zone is when they’re in crisis. Crazy to hear but it’s when their serenity kicks in, and they thrive on solving challenges. When there’s no tension, they’re bored, which is totally outside of their comfort zone.

Others have described their love of a particular sport, like swimming. In the pool, they are most in flow emotionally and physically. Ask them about running and their entire demeanor changes. Their discomfort with even the thought of running is palpable.

There’s something wonderful about feeling masterful. Knowing your stuff and making a difference is important. 

I love to bake challah from scratch whenever I get a chance. Our family only needs one, but I bake three or four loaves every time. (Clearly, I have no clue how to halve a recipe). One of my favorite parts about the baking is the sharing. I bring loaves to neighbors, teachers at school and give them to random delivery people who happen to come to our home at the right time.

Recently, my neighbor asked me what other breads I make, and I responded with the truth, none. I have no idea how and more importantly, have little desire to branch out from my favorite. The smell alone grounds me in family, love, community and all sorts of wonderful feelings. A nice rye or sourdough wouldn’t do it for me.

Allow yourself to enjoy feeling good. As long as it’s not stopping you from living or engaging with the world at large and people who matter, do it. Feel the ease. Be safe. Rest up… because change is always coming.

2. Your comfort zone is not a forever zone; it’s ever shifting

For some of us, leaving the comfort zone is a leap, like moving overseas. For others, it’s at a snails pace, so slow, they don’t even know it’s happening.

Here’s the one thing you can count on: You comfort zone is on the move. 

When I moved from the USA to the Australian Outback people thought I was insane. Talk about making a leap. Three years in and I have new routines, new favorites, new safety zones and a whole new comfort zone. Yup-A-Rooney.

Instead of running away from your comfort zone in an impossible game of hide and seek, notice it, acknowledge it and accept it. Engage with your new comfort zone with intention. Explore and get to know the boundaries, the intricacies, and the holes that you desperately try to avoid.

I’ve worked with new coaches in the field for several years. Coming out of their coach training program, they use their new skills and processes by the book. Not only do they understand them, but have demonstrated them to achieve professional recognition and certification. However, every new coaching client brings fear of walking outside of the path that they practiced over and over in the classroom.

Then something slippery and wonderful happens… the blend. They realize that their lifetime of experience is blending beautifully with their new skills. Their levels of confidence, competence and creativity are on the rise, and they see opportunities to go “off book” and make an impact. Their comfort zone has made a leap, and if you ask them when it happened, they can not pinpoint a single moment it time. It happened in the living of it, not only the learning.

Growth.

Take a moment to do a mental inventory of where you’ve been, where you stand today, and where you most want to go. Chances are, you’ve moved. Ground yourself here, lean in and celebrate your new mastery before stretching towards what’s next.

3. Change thrives with rest and recovery

If you’ve ever started a new workout routine, you know that it’s easy to take it too far. You went from couch potato to the treadmill and lifting, pulled something and retreated to couch potato once again. Was it a bad move to step beyond your limits? No, but there is a stretch and a breaking point too.

Rest and recovery aren’t what losers do when they’re just too tired, lazy or afraid to keep pushing forward. It’s what top athletes do to increase their performance. It’s a key element of self-care, and it’s non-negotiable.

Recovery within your comfort zone enables repair, mobility and focus on core strength. Funny how physical training overlaps with personal development best practices.

You tried a new approach and fell flat? Reflect and regroup.

You couldn’t sustain the effort? Go for smaller steps instead of giant leaps.

You received negative feedback? Let your ego recover.

There are times when you take a step back to move forward. It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, use your time in your comfort zone for rest and recovery, then try again.

4. Danger Will Robinson! Danger!

Your comfort zone keeps you safe and yes, you can argue that’s a bad thing or a good thing. Assuming the comfort zone isn’t your enemy, let’s take a closer look at the good.

How do you separate our the fear from true danger?

Your gut. It knows.

Gut: This is going to be hard.

Fear: Oh my gosh. You can’t do this.

Gut: I need to prepare.

Fear: Help!

Gut: I will need help.

Fear: I’ll definitely fail if I try.

Gut: This is going to hurt and I need to get stronger.

Fear: I’ll never be ready.

Gut: I’m not ready. Here’s what I need to do.

Fear: Impossible.

Gut: I’m nervous and it’s worth it.

Your comfort zone is a pretty grounded place. Your gut is loud and clear in  here, even when the voice of fear tries to drown it out.

Fear sounds irrational. You know those crazy thoughts we all have from time to time.

Gut sounds like the truth. It reaches beyond the fear to keep you safely moving forward.

It’s not a choice between being constantly being airborne or holding on for dear life. Experience the edges, prepare, and leap.

5. You’re not alone in here

I’ll shout it from the rooftops again, the comfort zone is not your enemy… but your saboteur sure is. Make no mistake, your saboteur is lurking in the comfort zone with you.

Wait, what? Should you call the exterminator?

Unfortunately, the only person who can banish your saboteur is you. Above, I wrote about the shifting comfort zone and your saboteur probably wishes you never read that. Your saboteur doesn’t want you to change or grow and will feed you lies about why you can’t. Lies.

Your saboteur is not your gut keeping you safe; it’s that voice of fear again.

Ready for a cool trick? You can actually ask your saboteur to leave. Show ‘em the door and slam it in their face. Sounds so corny, right? It works.

Your comfort zone shouldn’t be your place of “less than” thinking. Be your big, bad, totally awesome self to the max in here. When you grow to the point where you feel suffocated in your current box, you’ll break out… and your comfort zone will grow with you. And you don’t need to wait, you can always leap.

Most of us will spend our lives weaving in and out to push forward to new comfort zones, one after another. The ever-shifting comfort zone allows us to breathe into new mastery and experience more of what life has to offer. Good stuff not only happens on the outside of your comfort zone, but also right where you are now.

Do I still believe that we need to break the frame? That you have to break out of your comfort zone? Let go and try something new? Absolutely. This is not a call to play it small but to appreciate that your comfort zone has a purpose. Acknowledge it before you move on.

If you didn’t have a comfort zone, how would you know when you leaped forward, were in your sweet spot, or just treading water?

Love to hear your thoughts.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™ August 25, 2015 at 7:04 am

Alli,
You hit it out of the park with this one. Among all the blogs about change, you summed it up with this statement:

“When you step forward, it’s okay to step back to rest and recover. Growth is a dance.”

If people could remember this, they would step and dance more lively and much further.

Love it! Thanks.
Kate

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Alli Polin August 25, 2015 at 7:54 am

Thanks so much, Kate! When we accept that it’s a dance, that’s when we can start to enjoy it. Knowing that change isn’t always about moving forward at the speed of light but giving time and space for assimilation as well makes a huge difference.

Thanks for adding to the conversation! Grateful!

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Jon Mertz August 25, 2015 at 7:13 am

A point often missed, Alli, so thank you for raising this. Comfort zones do play a role in life, and getting time to refresh and renew is a key one. Comfort zones give us the space to refuel, which is necessary to navigate all the change coming at us or being instigated by us. Key point! Thank you. Jon

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Alli Polin August 25, 2015 at 7:43 am

Without the refueling, at some point we all run out of gas. We’re all so busy trying to move forward that we miss the power of the pause and standing still. Thanks, John.

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Terri Klass August 25, 2015 at 9:54 am

Excellent post, Alli!

I think you bring up so many important points here about our need to embrace the comfort zone at different points. I love: “Ground yourself here, lean in and celebrate your new mastery before stretching towards what’s next.”
We don’t always take to time to enjoy our new lessons and play around with them. When we learn new skills or we move to a new workplace, we need an opportunity to try them out.

When I first started blogging, my writing was very similar in each post because I was getting use to sharing my thoughts with the world. I couldn’t move out of that spot until I had felt more comfortable and then I could add new dimensions to my posts.

As always, thanks for inspiring us Alli, to think about how we want to grow. 🙂

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Alli Polin August 25, 2015 at 10:29 pm

Love how finding your voice and flow within blogging has taken you from the discomfort of starting to where you are today…. in an excellent groove in your new comfort zone. You raise an excellent point too – in that comfort zone we are empowered to play and experiment. A comfort zone is not the same as being boxed in at all but somewhere we are at home.

Tremendous addition. Thanks, Terri!

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Randy Conley August 25, 2015 at 10:49 am

Hi Alli,

Thank you for this insightful post! I needed to hear your words of encouragement that “it’s ok to feel good.” It’s easy to fall into the trap of always feeling like you need to do more, achieve greater things, or be pushing the boundaries. Your message reminded me that it’s ok to appreciate being in your comfort zone and rest in the security that provides. Our comfort zones should provide a launching pad of continued growth and learning and not be prison bars that hold us back.

My best,

Randy

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Alli Polin August 25, 2015 at 10:32 pm

Randy –

Thanks so much for reading and commenting too! Glad that it resonated with you. It was a great reminder for myself as well. It’s okay to be happy where we are.

Your launching pad comment resonates with me too. This post is definitely on the longer side, but had a piece about how our comfort zones are a little like trampolines as opposed to a prison, and deleted it before hitting publish. Thanks for bringing that concept forward so eloquently!

Thanks,

Alli

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John Bennett August 25, 2015 at 3:33 pm

To me, ‘Mastery’ is more than ‘learned well’ and more than ‘applicable to situations.’ I believe mastery is achieved when one is comfortable utilizing the core knowledge skills in non-obvious situations (‘wonder if it might fit in some way here’) AND in stressful situations where they need to be habitual – applied without too much thinking.

This is not meant to suggest in any way that you should not consider using them before mastery. But it does suggest one be even more self-assessing, likely revising (and further learning / mastering) even more frequently. Even with mastery, I suggest “without too much thinking” in stressful situations…

Interestingly, the Twitter #SocialLeader chat last evening related to extroverts and introverts as leaders. I’m still processing the chat but I’m wondering if introverts might ‘recharge’ more frequently within their comfort zone than extroverts…

Finally, I’m going to try the ‘slow increase’ approach to good health suggested by @james_clear in his latest blog post (in my case, starting with walking). His whole message is about rest and recovery – an obvious key point I’ve missed in the past and find so encouraging now. Nothing whatsoever wrong with R&R!!!

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Alli Polin August 25, 2015 at 10:36 pm

We’re on the same page with mastery. For my clients who are coaches, their comfort zone was really small and it continued to expand as the moved from conscious competence to unconscious competence. We will never get there unless we take our new skills out to play.

Disappointed I missed the #SocialLeader chat. I’ll have to look for the recap. Your comment about it has me thinking. I do believe that introverts tend to need more introspection to recharge. Whether that’s because introverts need more time in their comfort zone than extroverts is questionable and very interesting to ponder. Limbering up my fingers to do some research on it.

Rest and recovery has been a hard lesson for me to learn but it’s definitely preferable to giving up! Hope your “slow increase” approach works well and you’re enjoying your walking.

Best,

Alli

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John Bennett August 26, 2015 at 11:36 am

Really like the phrases ‘conscious competence’ and ‘unconscious competence’. And it never gets to unconscious without engaging…

I’m always conflicted on Mondays as the #vachat (Virginia educators) happens at the same time as #SocialLeaders chat. This past Monday, I followed both – with reasonable success. I found the “Fast Company” piece on introverts, extroverts, and ambiverts quite helpful. Mentioned in the ‘call’ for the chat.

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Alli Polin August 26, 2015 at 7:52 pm

I’ve read that article in the past and skimming it again now. Great one. Thanks for the reminder, John!

As for engaging… that’s the heart of everything, isn’t it? We may think we are out there on our own but everything in life happens through relationships.

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Ingrid August 26, 2015 at 3:13 am

I really enjoyed this post Alli.

I remember saying to my last boss that it was important for me to stay within my “comfort zone” for a little while so that I could consolidate what I had learned, and appreciate the skills I had gained, from being outside my comfort zone for almost a year.

Sometimes you just need to rest and take stock.

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Alli Polin August 26, 2015 at 7:55 am

Great story to share here. A year outside your comfort zone is HUGE. No wonder you needed some time to breathe again.

Grateful for your addition! Thanks, Ingrid!

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LaRae Quy August 27, 2015 at 6:31 pm

I loved this post, Alli!

I was smiling all the way through…love your attitude and you are spot on—find ways to shut up that horrible, negative little voice and let life be an adventure!

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Alli Polin August 31, 2015 at 9:55 pm

Thanks, LaRae! Whether we call it a devil, saboteur or a gremlin… all they do is hold us back. Here’s to more adventure!

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Scott Mabry August 31, 2015 at 11:17 am

In a society that tells us we are never quite enough or doing enough…this is a great reminder. Thanks Alli.

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Alli Polin August 31, 2015 at 9:55 pm

We are all enough, now, in this minute.

Thanks so much, Scott.

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