Should I Stay, Or Should I Go Now? Is A Comfort Zone Such A Bad Thing?
“Comfort Zone” is a greatly overused and cliched phrase, coined by psychologists in the 1980’s. From its inception, it was grabbed up and used by cheesy corporations and “pop” psychologists in their bid to have us all believe that we can never achieve great things if we don’t face some unfamiliar and uncomfortable personal challenges.
A simple Google search of the phrase gives the first hit as a dictionary definition reading:
a situation where one feels safe or at ease. "the trip is an attempt to take the students out of their comfort zone"
a settled method of working that requires little effort and yields only barely acceptable results. "if you stay within your comfort zone you will never improve"
The predominant school of thought appears to be then, if we are within our “comfort zone” we are destined to under-achieve. We will yield only “barely acceptable results”. In addition, we choose the path of least resistance because we are intrinsically lazy as we don’t have to expend too much energy in pursuit of those “barely acceptable results”.
In our comfort zone we are “in control”. The knowledge of our circumstances is routine, we know what to do, how to do it and what results we can expect. Everything is familiar. Living in that comfort zone is a relatively stressless existence where anxieties are minimised and consistent level of performance can be generated. The question is this… in a society where mental health issues are better understood, where anxiety, panic attacks and depression are increasingly common, is it wrong for individuals to stay in their controllable, predictable comfort zone?
By its very definition, “stepping out of your comfort zone” is to leave behind all that is familiar and routine. It requires us to consciously and actively place ourselves in a position where we are open to insecurity, where we are fundamentally exposed and can make mistakes. We place ourselves in a position of uncertainty, not sure of the outcomes or intrinsically what we must do to achieve the given result. Our existence becomes one of anxiety and fear of failure. Then we look back with the benefit of hindsight and see our previous comfort zone thing in a different light. It’s secure, easy and stress-less position invites us to return and we sprint back to it’s warmth and comfort as quickly as we can. in a society in which cultures shift, technology advances and trends change as rapidly ours is it really of any surprise that most of us wish to avoid the road less travelled and are happy to stay put? Why should we consciously place ourselves in a position of anxiety and insecurity, when it’s pretty likely that we will find ourselves facing something imposed on us which makes us feel a little disconnected and unsure?
“Do something different…”; “Start something new…” ; “Make a positive change…” the stereotypical mantras of self help gurus, who tell us that nothing is really possible if we stay locked inside that intangible zone of "comfortable wellbeing". We are told that if we want truly satisfying work, relationships or lives, we need to push beyond the barriers of our own comfortable bubble of existence and embrace the uncomfortable unknown. Unfortunately for the majority, this approach just won’t last. The initial motivation and energy to embrace the unknown, to go through the “pain” for the “gain” that rests on the other side, quickly ebbs and flows away. We find ourselves left in a naked position, with our limitations exposed to the "monsters" that are the influences of new circumstances. That sprint back has already begun, we return to comfort reaffirming that we should never have tried to change in the first place.