Featured Article

Quit Getting Comfortable

By Lee Colan, Ph.D.

Comfort certainly has its advantages—our comfy chair in the living room, a comfortable routine at work, a comfortable relationship. With all the advantages of comfort, here are some things you should know about the comfort zone before you explore the edge.

The comfort zone is where most of life is played. It is certainly where most of sports is played. Consider a football field: 90 percent of the game is played between the 20-yard lines. That’s why they call anything outside that area the “red zone”—it’s where the difference in the game is made. It’s okay to feel good and play well inside the comfort zone before you explore the edge and go for the score.

But staying in the comfort zone too long can get boring. We get soft and unfocused; we don’t have to be as sharp. If we make our comfort zone as big as our life, we not only lose our edge, we can even lose sight of the edge. We must ignite our own sense of adventure if we want to see what the world has to offer us and what we have to offer the world.

It’s pretty safe in the comfort zone. We know the boundaries, the landscape, and the other comfortable players in the comfort zone. There is little or no risk; a misstep here or there is not very costly. But like the football team that’s trapped between the 20-yard lines, we cannot win in the comfort zone. Because the risk is small, so is the reward. Learning and growth occur when we are uncomfortable. Think of the defining moments of learning and growth in your life. Were you hanging out in your comfort zone? No, you were hanging over the edge.

So, in case you’re hesitating to explore the edge, here are four comforting questions to help you move forward.

1.  Who else has done it? You may think you’re in unexplored territory, but it’s unlikely that you’re trying something no one else has ever tried. Look around to find others who have explored the same edge that you might be anxious about. Whether your comfort zone ends at the edge of learning a new skill, speaking in public, making a financial investment, expressing your feelings, or quitting a bad habit, someone else has been at that very same edge. That person can help support you, prepare you, and encourage you to win.

2.  Can I dip my toe in first? No one says you have to hurl yourself headlong into every new endeavor. Try it out first. Start small. When you reflect on the first time you tried anything new (leading, speaking, rock climbing, painting, playing a musical instrument), you probably remember how uncomfortable you felt. But you stepped out and did it, and you soon discovered that it wasn’t as hard as you had expected, right? After awhile, what was once the edge became your comfort zone as you built your competence—and competence builds confidence.

3.  How bad can it be? Often, the fear in your mind paints a darker picture of things outside your comfort zone than is really the case. Remember, the victory is in the exploration itself more than the success of your attempt. Thomas Edison said, “Genius? Nothing! Sticking to it is the genius. I’ve failed my way to success.”

4.  How great can it be? Your dreams are usually bigger than your comfort zone. You must be so passionate about your dream that, instead of feeling that you have to leave your comfort zone, you are magnetically drawn to the edge.

So, quit getting comfortable and explore the edge!