Comfort zone is a state where you remain relaxed in a familiar environment thereby limiting your opportunities for growth and improvement.
What are some of the goals you have wanted to accomplish but never managed to?
- Wanting to make more money
- Switching jobs
- Exercising regularly
- Eating healthy
- Reading more books
- Starting your own business
When you aim for such goals the first time, you begin with all the energy. But, you soon realize that you have to change your routine and lifestyle to make your dreams come true. Putting in effort is hard, isn’t it? So, what do you do? You postpone your goal and rebound to your old habits. That’s when you’re in your comfort zone.
In this article, I will cover: What the comfort zone is with examples, along with its dangers and methods to step out of it
- What is your comfort zone?
- Why is the comfort zone dangerous?
- What are the examples of comfort zone?
- How do you get out of your comfort zone?
- 1. Simplify the first step:
- 2. Aim for smaller goals when you begin
- 3. Identify the source of your comfort zone
- 4. Try methods that you’re comfortable with first
- 5. Get an accountability partner
- 6. Use the cookie jar method
- 7. Use the 5-second rule
- 8. Break your day into chunks
- 9. Consider the worst-case scenario
- 10. Reduce overthinking
- Why do we stay in our comfort zone?
What is your comfort zone?
The comfort zone is a situation or an environment where you feel at ease. It involves known techniques, low risks, familiar situations, and effortless routines that yield acceptable results. Due to the lower levels of stress and a high degree of certainty, you find yourself in control in this zone.
As far as the results aren’t worrisome, you choose to put in the smallest amount of energy and remain comfortable. Psychology describes such behavior as the path of least resistance, where human beings prefer to put in the minimal possible effort to achieve the result.
The approach works well in many scenarios. For example, when you have to buy groceries from the nearby supermarket, you choose the shortest possible path to reach the store.
But, always choosing the most comfortable path can prevent you from achieving what you’re capable of.
Why is the comfort zone dangerous?
Comfort zone is the place where you aim for just enough results so that they do not hurt.
A simple depiction below portrays how you make a compromise with your goals and effort.
To achieve good results, you need to sweat out and complete tasks that make you uncomfortable. For example:
- You have to work more hours to make more money
- You have to upskill yourself to switch jobs
- You have to huff and puff to exercise and lose weight
- You have to reduce watching TV to read more books
All these activities require you to stretch yourself from your current routines. When you fail to do so, your skills and performance remain where they are leading to stagnation over time.
What’s interesting is your limits are more in your mind than your body. Your brain convinces you to stay in the comfort zone as much as possible. For example, you never step on stage to give a speech because you believe you’re a nervous wreck. But many amazing public speakers will tell you how they had the same fear until they mustered the guts to overcome it. So, your stage freight stems directly from your mind and not due to a limitation of your abilities.
Your brain creates a similar barrier for many of your goals like making a billion dollars, starting your own technical product, running a marathon, and whatnot. When you convince yourself that your mind is right, you fail to reach your full potential. You choose the comfort of instant gratification over chasing long-term goals which mean the world to you.
Over time, staying in the comfort zone turns into a norm that you can no longer step out of. It’s like standing in wet cement. The longer you stay in there, the harder it becomes to break free.
What are the examples of comfort zone?
Even if you’re self-motivated, you’ll find yourself leaning towards your comfort zone often. The consequences can range from negligible to catastrophic depending on the degree to which you exhibit such behavior and the type of tasks you prefer to stick to.
Here are a few examples of the effect in real life:
1. Sticking to a job you hate
As per a survey conducted in 2018, the majority of employees are not actively engaged with their jobs. A good chunk of people hate their job too. Yet, how often do you find such disgruntled employees switching to a different organization? I’d guess not as often as they whine about how miserable their workplace is.
Switching your job requires effort to prepare, apply, and appear for interviews. Besides, the uncertainty of how the future at the new organization might unfold turns into another reason to stick to your current job.
Have you noticed how employees remain at an organization for years together? One reason for such loyalty is when the person genuinely enjoys working there. A second reason people stick to an organization is that they’ve grown comfortable. Their rapport with coworkers and the familiarity of the environment prevents them from finding better opportunities.
2. Not making an effort to exercise
If you’re overweight, you’d agree that you need to shed a few pounds. But if you lie on your couch with a bag of chips, a hamburger with a double patty, and a large soda, you are deep within your comfort zone.
3. Sticking to your usual method of doing things
No matter what your profession, you tend to get used to the usual method of doing things. For example:
- A writer following the same writing style he always has
- An IT professional working on the same technologies for years together
- A sales executive using the traditional techniques on every prospective customer
4. Comfort zone in relationships
When a couple starts dating, both make an effort to impress the other person. The guy brings flowers for the lady, while she watches sports events with him. Once dating turns into a long term relationship or a marriage, couples tend to take things for granted. They no longer feel the need to make their partner feel special.
5. Thinking you have no talent
“Hey, I cannot do that. I do not have the skills.”
Do you make such statements when you’re facing a difficult task? Chances are, you’re making up reasons to avoid taking a risk so that you can stay within your comfort zone.
Because you have to put in the effort to overcome a challenge, using your skills as a limitation seems like the easy way out. Often, not only do you convince others but also yourself that you lack the talent to get the job done.
How do you get out of your comfort zone?
Each person has different reasons to remain rooted to where they are. Based on your circumstances, personality, the goal in question, and motivational levels, each of these tips can produce varying effects. Based on your obstacle, you’re the right person to determine which among these pointers is worth trying out.
1. Simplify the first step:
For many of the tasks you procrastinate, performing the first step is the most painful. Once you manage to sail past that barrier, the rest follows without as much discomfort.
- The hardest part of waking up is sitting up on your bed
- One of the biggest barriers to working out is getting ready and showing up
If you make the first step easy to bear, you’ll increase your chances of making progress. If you plan to go for a jog in the morning, keeping your clothing and footwear ready the previous night makes jogging a tad bit easier.
2. Aim for smaller goals when you begin
Aiming for massive goals has its advantages. But, if you expect gargantuan results in a short span, you could demotivate yourself when things don’t move as expected.
If you’re broke and you want to make a million dollars, aim for 5000$ first. If you look at the final goal as one single piece, you’ll overwhelm yourself and give up. But, if you break your target into smaller chunks, you build momentum and motivation to keep going. Once you achieve one milestone of your goal, step it up, aim higher, and inch closer to your final goal.
3. Identify the source of your comfort zone
The story of the falcon and the branch teaches a valuable lesson about the comfort zone.
Once there was a king who received a gift of two glorious falcons who were considered to be the best. Thrilled by their rarity, he handed them over to his best trainer to hone their skills. A few months later, the trainer showed up at the King’s chamber.
“I have some news for you, your majesty. One of the falcons is flying majestically in the sky but unfortunately, the other bird has not budged from its branch from the day it arrived.”
But the king was hell-bent on training both the falcons. He summoned renowned sorcerers and healers to tend to the immobile bird, but no one succeeded. The King had run out of options and had no clue on how to make the falcon fly.
The next day, a farmer approached the King and mentioned, he’d like to try. The King has no hopes because well-known people had failed at the attempt. But, since he had nothing to lose, he allowed the farmer to proceed.
When the King stood beside his window the next morning, he noticed both falcons flying right next to his room. Astonished by the feat, he immediately summoned the farmer to know the secret behind his success.
The farmer replied with his head bowed, “It was simple, your highness. I cut off the branch on which the falcon was seated.”
The moral of the story is, eliminating the source of your comfort zone can force you to pursue the goals you’ve been postponing.
4. Try methods that you’re comfortable with first
If you have never worked out before, don’t try to pick the most effective exercise for losing weight. Take your interests into account too.
Even if running can help you lose weight the quickest, not everyone enjoys it. If you’re one of them, you can try lifting weights, playing a sport, taking a long brisk walk or swimming.
Likewise, to cultivate a habit of eating healthy, do not go from a diet of burgers and pizzas to that of salads and lean meat right away. Cut down unnecessary calories from the food you least enjoy. Maybe the coke or the chips?
If you have to learn swimming, would you start in the swimming pool or dive into the ocean? Common sense, right? Unfortunately, not many apply the same logic to their goals.
If you try to swing from one extreme to another, your body will struggle to deal with the sudden change and give up before you gain momentum. Instead, start easy and give your brain time to adapt. You can increase the challenge one step at a time.
5. Get an accountability partner
An accountability partner is a person you share your goals and deadlines with. You can pick your friend, coworker, relative, or any other person you deem appropriate.
An accountability partner works best when both of you discuss your goals with each other and hold each other accountable. As human beings, we do not like to fail at a commitment we’ve made because our ego doesn’t like it.
If you’re keen to chase challenging goals, having an accountability part can make you more responsible and serious. Make sure you connect and discuss often enough(at least once a month).
I am passionate about writing and growing my blog, but on some days, I hate the feeling of putting words on paper. But if I write only on the days I feel like, I will fail to accomplish my goal.
Whenever my shoulders are drooping, I use the cookie jar method to imbibe motivation within myself. This method was devised by David Goggins, the man who ran a 100-mile ultra-marathon without regular practice.
Goggins suggests making a mental note of all your triumphs and victories in advance. No matter how big or small, recall as many as possible and place them in an imaginary jar.
Consider each of your accomplishments as a cookie. Whenever you find yourself lacking the enthusiasm, take a fictional cookie out of the jar and eat it. In other words, you must remind yourself about winning a comparable battle before.
The thought pumps in extra energy into your veins to keep going, no matter how hard the current obstacle seems.
7. Use the 5-second rule
Mel Robbins wrote a book called the 5-second rule to overcome simple forms of procrastination. As per the rule, you must make a mental countdown 5-4-3-2-1 and immediately doing what you plan to postpone.
When the alarm sounds, count 5-4-3-2-1 and sit up. When the episode on Netflix ends, count 5-4-3-2-1, and get to work.
As simple as the technique sounds, it is highly effective in beating procrastination. You can use it to take the first step out of your comfort zone.
8. Break your day into chunks
If you’ve repeatedly postponed your long-term goals, set aside dedicated time each day instead of waiting for a long span of free time. Such a technique is called time blocking.
For example, if you have to complete writing a book using this method, you assign 1 hour of your schedule every day instead of writing at a stretch. Finishing a small portion of your herculean goal won’t seem challenging or scary. Little by little, you’ll make progress faster than you anticipated. To eat an elephant, taking one bite at a time works best.
9. Consider the worst-case scenario
Fear prevents you from taking risks because you worry about the worst possible consequences of your actions. For example:
- You worry about going bankrupt by quitting your job and starting your business
- Your fear falling from the skies by sky diving
- You stress about making a fool out of yourself by public speaking
When you’re anxious about making a decision, ask yourself what the worst-case scenario is. If you can deal with it, proceed to take the risk.
If you’re worried about public speaking, ask yourself what’s the worst case of speaking in front of 1000 people. If you did badly, you’d make a joke out of yourself. But what if the audience was only 5 of your team members? You don’t need immense courage to deal with the embarrassment if things went wrong, do you?
If you find yourself paralyzed in the comfort zone due to fear of consequences, ask yourself, what’s the worst that could happen. Also, consider the odds of such events. Sometimes they’re as rare as a chicken with teeth, so you can convince yourself to face your fears.
For example, traveling in flight carries the risk of dying in a crash. But, air disasters are so rare that as per statistics, you’re more likely to die in a road accident on the way to the airport than from a plane crash.
10. Reduce overthinking
Overthinking makes problems, especially the little ones, appear more difficult than they are. The more you think and analyze, the more reasons you find to stay away from the decision or action. For example, if you’re thinking about how people will judge you in the gym, you’ll never set foot there to exercise.
Do not go deep into every little decision you have to make. At times, take a leap of faith. You’ll either succeed or learn from the experience.
Why do we stay in our comfort zone?
The decision to remain in the comfort zone stems from 3 factors.
1. The fear of uncertainty
Aiming for better goals involves an element of risk. You might have to spend more time, money, and effort which may not pay off. Depending on the goal you’re chasing, you could face other consequences where you lose what you already have.
Such negative possibilities trigger a fear of the unknown. Grappled by the suspicion, you choose to hold on tight to what you have.
A more straightforward cause for the comfort zone is comfort itself. Chasing a difficult goal requires compromising current convenience for a better future. But, since we’re all living in the present, we give in to the temptation of instant gratification. We laze around instead of putting in the hard work upfront for future returns.
3. Problem vs inconvenience threshold
Even if people know they have a problem, the trouble it causes needs to reach a threshold before they start acting. For example, even if people hate their job, they stick to it because it pays a salary good enough to run expenses and a little more. A layer of flab around the belly does not warrant a strong enough reason to workout.
Each person has a different threshold. For you, the breaking point might be unable to save half your salary while your coworker might live a merry life by having enough to manage expenses.
Irrespective of what your definition is, the moment the inconvenience crosses a threshold, you start acting. Specific events can trigger a response too.
If your job isn’t paying enough to manage your expenses, you hunt for another one even if takes effort
If your weight gain starts creating health issues, you start jogging even though you hate it
If you want to achieve great things in life, you have to step outside your comfort zone. If you stay within your circle of convenience, you’re neither moving nor growing.
The act of doing what feels uncomfortable to you seems impossible at first. But with practice, the discomfort reduces little by little. Over time, you’ll feel comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s when you have broken the shackles of your comfort zone.
How deep within the comfort zone are you currently?
Wikipedia Contributors (2019). Path of least resistance. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Path_of_least_resistance [Accessed 20 Nov. 2020].
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.