As A Comfort Zone

Earl Hamilton
• Tuesday, 19 October, 2021
• 11 min read

It’s not limited to a secure cord we’ve built around us but includes both our daily routines and way of thinking. The concept of comfort zone goes back to a classic experiment in psychology conducted in 1908 by psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson, who explained that a state of relative comfort generated a constant level of performance.

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However, they also pointed out that to improve that performance we need to experience a certain degree of anxiety, go out and conquer a space in which the stress increases a little. New experiments confirmed their theory and stated that the motivation and effort to reach a goal increase until the expectation of success or the level of uncertainty reaches 50%, above that figure we begin to demoralize, we lose motivation and the level of anxiety is so high to unbalance and lead us to make mistakes.

The concept of comfort zone refers to a psychological state in which we feel safe and do not experience anxiety or fear. To stay within the comfort zone we must avoid the risks and the uncertainty, which means that we adopt a passive attitude towards life.

That feeling of security is costly because we are also losing the incentives to live and fall into the clutches of monotony and apathy. That is the reason why we stick to certain places, traditions, habits and/or people, avoiding any element that introduces novelty because it also means uncertainty and chaos.

As safe as we feel in our comfort zone, that space will not protect us from the problems, which usually appear in life in an unexpected way generating great uncertainty. Learning to live outside the comfort zone, dealing with novelty, unforeseen events and uncertainty will make us people emotionally stronger who can better handle adversity when it occurs.

Comfort kills productivity because without that small dose of anxiety that accompanies deadlines and expectations, we tend to do the minimum necessary to achieve mediocre results. Another possibility is that we fall into the “work trap”, pretending that we are “too busy” as an excuse to stay within our comfort zone and avoid new things.

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Going a little beyond our limits can make us recover the necessary stimuli and improve our productivity in a thousand possible ways, even resorting to creativity. In the comfort zone there are no great ideas or new discoveries, it is necessary to leave the known to find the inspiration that stings creativity.

Leaving the comfort zone is a bit scary, but when we do it and achieve our goals we experience an incredible feeling of empowerment. A study conducted at the University of Texas revealed that leaving the comfort zone helps us preserve cognitive abilities as we get older.

Keeping the mind active and considering new challenges is essential since it represents an important source of stimulation both mentally and socially. Once we know what the comfort zone is and the problems that can cause us becoming too attached to habits and known things, it is clear that it is necessary to get out of that vicious circle in which we entered ourselves.

In all cases, the secret lies in finding a balance in which this anxiety for the new and unknown generates a positive state not making us feel bad. In the growth zone we can learn new things, enrich our points of view, modify our habits and experiment.

On the contrary, falling into the zone of panic can become paralyzing and frightening, causing us to return scared to shelter in the original comfort zone. In fact, if we make the mistake of completely forgetting about that comfort zone, we fall into the risk of suffering what is called “Hedonic Adaptation”, which means that new things and experiences cease to impress us and no longer make us feel alive, because we have become accustomed to the adrenaline rush they produce.

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Therefore, we don’t have to see the comfort zone as our enemy, as many Personal Growth gurus affirm it’s an opportunity to grow but also a space to comfort ourselves. Figure 4 indicates that all conditions clearly stood above the comfort zone but their horizontal alignment suggests that the operative temperature differential was kept to a minimum.

However, we must understand that the country continues to enjoy a comfort zone in the region, especially with regard to its neighbors. It is the comfort zone in the discussion of a very difficult situation, it is fair and reasonable, and everyone wants to see it implemented.

From the Adventure tourists may be motivated to achieve mental states characterized as rush or flow, resulting from stepping outside their comfort zone. These areas become a comfort zone for predatory offenders to commit their crime with a feeling of safety.

It sat smugly, contentedly, in a comfort zone of its own making..... From This example is from Wikipedia and may be reused under a CC BY-SA license. A place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress.

Photo by Stella Rose on Unsplash They usually get a lot of bad press. We’re regularly told that they’re something we need to ‘break out of’ or ‘smash’ to progress and grow as a human being.

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The term ‘ comfort zone was originally coined by Alasdair White, a Business Management Theorist, in 2009. ‘A comfort zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person, and they are at ease, and in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of anxiety and stress.

White went on to work closely with John Lakehurst to formulate their White-Fairhurst Performance Hypothesis, which states: From their initial observations, White and Lakehurst wrote the ‘From Comfortable to Performance Management’ paper, which still stands relatively unchallenged to this day.

They sought to see how they could ensure that management performed at a consistent and steady output rate. A comfort zone, contrary to all the memes and what the plethora tells us of well-meaning social media life coaches, actually sounds like a pretty good place.

So, why do we continually hold breaking out of our comfort zone in high regard, and beat ourselves up for not succeeding in doing so? A little over a century ago, Robert Yerkes, a celebrated psychologist, began speaking of a behavioral theory whereby, to optimize performance, humans must reach a level of stress slightly higher than normal.

What this means is that, yes, your comfort zone is a brilliant place to exist, but it likely won’t prepare you to handle some of those curveballs' life is going to drop on you like an unwelcome family guest at the dinner table you haven’t set a place for. “Anxiety improves performance until a certain optimum level of arousal has been reached.

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At times, we’ll feel resilient and confident enough to play jump rope with what the definition of our comfort zone might be. But if the same scenario had been presented two or even the year before, during a time when I was heavily committed to keeping safe and maintaining my comfort zone, it’s unlikely I would have taken the chance.

Along the lines of Yerkes ‘Optimal Anxiety’ theory, these zones provide you with the options to see what growth looks like for you. Your growth zone exists outside your comfort zone but is not a place of stress, on the flip side, it’s a space of opportunity.

The worthy thing to note here is that these zones are ever-expanding, depending on our learning curves and the work we put into becoming the person we want to be. The comfort, growth, or panic zone for one individual will look rapidly different from the next.

It is filled with the things that fuel me, and I take no shame in retreating to it when I’ve emerged too deeply into the panic zone. Yes, a lot of magic can happen when we take a chance and step over into an area of growth.

That there is a space, you have purposely created in life that nurtures you, while also allowing you to be productive, calm, and consistent. Life is full of opportunities to step outside the comfort zone, but grabbing hold of them can be difficult.

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After all, if the feeling of comfort signifies our most basic needs are being met, why should we seek to abandon it? What holds people back most of the time is their frame of mind rather than any distinct lack of knowledge.

This article looks at the shifts in thinking required to step outside of comfort and into personal growth. Along the way, we’ll outline useful tools, tactics, and examples to help make leaving the comfort zone as rewarding as possible.

Now firmly embedded in cultural discourse, the metaphor of ‘leaving one’s comfort zone became popular in the 1990s. In 1907, Robert Yerkes and John Dodson conducted one of the first experiments that illuminated a link between anxiety and performance.

The Yerkes–Dodson Law (Yerkes & Dodson, 1907) is true not just for more tangible types of performance, such as being given a stressful new task at work, but also in many life areas such as understanding ourselves, relating to others, and so on. When leaving the comfort zone, fear doesn’t always equate to being in the panic zone.

As the below diagram shows, fear can be a necessary step en route to the learning and growth zones: Yet persevere long enough, and you enter the learning zone, where you gain new skills and deal with challenges resourcefully.

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After a learning period, a new comfort zone is created, expanding one’s ability to reach even greater heights. It’s important to state that like most behavioral change attempts, moving into the growth zone becomes harder without some level of self-awareness.

In reality, the process of moving from the comfort zone to a growth zone may not be linear. While occupying the comfort zone, it’s tempting to feel safe, in control, and that the environment is on an even keel.

A full list would require a separate article, so here are four top-line, broadly applicable examples. As long as the decision to leave the comfort zone aligns with a person’s values, this shift is akin to making a bid for self-actualization.

With a fixed mindset, people believe they have set doses of each ability, with a corresponding ceiling on how much they can achieve. It inspires us to learn and take healthy risks, leading to positive outcomes across life domains.

A habit of expanding our comfort zone equips people to handle change and ambiguity with more poise, leading to resilience. Taking this further, statistician Passim Tale (2012) introduced the concept of ‘antifragile’ systems, which thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors.

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Goals that lead to higher self-efficacy are specific, not too difficult, and short-term (Rayleigh, Lloyd, & Walsh, 2009). Leaving the comfort zone means a phase of trial and error, during which at least some level of success is inevitable.

Both entail a ‘stress response,’ but whether they’re perceived as positive or negative is a matter of labeling. An essential step toward internalizing the growth mindset is to embrace neuroplasticity research.

Once understood, less courage is needed to make the first move away from comfort because failure itself becomes integral to the journey. The point is to identify bottlenecks: areas of life where being too comfortable does more harm than good.

Leaving behind the comfort zone doesn’t mean recklessly throwing caution to the wind. Patiently fostering self-awareness while intelligently assessing each zone’s boundaries is a sure way to make the process as smooth as possible.

Turn off your smartphone and television while having dinner, decide what to wear more quickly, or just slow down to take in the surroundings on a walk. Skills like public speaking, negotiation, and leadership can represent a new challenge for many people.

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Sticking to a healthy diet can be as challenging as it is rewarding, with self-efficacy growing as you hit milestone goals along the way. Aiming high with exercise is emblematic of leaving the comfort zone and a great way to get the ball rolling.

Exercising creativity is a good way to train yourself to have a growth mindset and let go of a need for perfection from the outset. While exploring alternative perspectives can be uncomfortable, it enables growth and insight by challenging entrenched beliefs.

When employed sensitively, honesty can be a tremendous catalyst for personal growth. Whether being straight with yourself in a private journal or telling someone close how you feel, honesty forces people out of their comfort zone.

Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning. PositivePsychology.com is an excellent repository of tools you can leverage in supporting clients to leave their comfort zones behind.

Our Toolkit offers various worksheets and exercises designed to help people enter the growth zone and realize their potential. Exercises challenge them to analyze how their anxieties stop them from pursuing goals that would be meaningful to them.

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The four zones are explored in more detail, with questions to prompt clients to apply the knowledge to their own lives. Ultimately, the goal is to trigger a positive upward spiral of personal fulfillment.

For any client reluctant to depart from a comfortable routine, reflecting on their future tombstone could be a remarkable incentive to step into a growth mindset. Recognizing opportunities to leave the comfort zone isn’t always easy; neither is seizing them with conviction.

It’s crucial to cultivate a mindset that lays strong foundations, paving the way toward the growth zone. This includes seeing yourself as inherently adaptable, reframing stress, and believing in your ability to endure fears and doubts.

Or, you can become receptive to opportunities for growth, challenging your personal status quo and seeing what you’re capable of. Not only are disappointments curbed and regrets avoided, but we also reach our highest human potential, acting as an inspiration to others.

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