comfort zone

The comfort zone: The imaginary boundary

It took some time to accept that the advantages of moving out of my comfort zone on a long run are larger than the disadvantages. It helps me for example to learn and also empathise with my clients.

Teams have often to cope with uncertainty and take risks that lie outside of their comfort zone. But it is not easy for them as it is not easy for me and people seem to believe that we move outside of our comfort zone when there is a sense of urgency and the pain is high. Maybe you can find another personal advantage such as that life is less worthy without surprises, but Pain? Who wants that? I ask myself, why do I have to push for something when instinct says “no”? 

What is the comfort zone?


Comfort zone: A situation in which you feel comfortable and in which your ability and determination are not being tested.

Cambridge Dictionary

Why do we sometimes manage to reach out to something that feels scary and accept uncertainty and sometimes we just say “no Thank you, I’d rather stay where I am”? Are we sometimes brave and sometimes not?  How do we overcome basic instincts?

Surprises force teams out of the comfort zone

Some people talk about sense of urgency. I do too. You also maybe know slogans such as “No pain, no gain”, or I have heard sentences such as “if the pain is not large enough no one will change anything”. This seems to be true in most of the cases where something has to change. On the other side have you ever met anybody that took a good decision while she or he was under pain, pressure or felt this sense of urgency?” Maybe in the case of pure survival where immediate action is necessary, but otherwise not.

It seems that there is a crucial moment that initiates actual change between

  • the state of logical awareness that something has to change, the feeling of pain and
  • the actual decision to move out of the comfort zone.

When I look back how I took apparent bold decisions and stepped out of my comfort zone it was because I acted from a position of safety and not being desperate or felt pain. Any direct action out of a painful situation lead to more pain. Painful situations are of course good learning opportunities, but

a) they still remain painful and

b) it is very unlikely that someone will take the time to learn under such conditions. 

Create a safe team environment first

We should all know by now that learning and personal growth can only take place under safe conditions. The degree of resilience is simply higher and the mind is open in order to cope with the uncertainty of new situations.

To make a long story short, I believe that before initiating successfully the step to change or adapt there is the need to create a safe environment.  You may quote me on the following:

Comfort itself as the act of strengthening is the key step before we extend our comfort zone.  

Do not try to initiate change when the team is “in pain”. You can apply pressure but only for a very short period of time. No doubt: Sense of urgency is key. Nevertheless people understand the necessity for change under urgent situations but moving forward is a separate step that requires to feel quasi safe.

Are you feeling kind of safe? 

Do not misunderstand me: I do not believe that you can move outside of your comfort zone and feel safe. That would be inconsistent and paradox. The point I am trying to make is how much uncertainty can you or your organisation take?

As a matter of fact it is a good strategy to do small safe steps. The word “safe” in this context is usually misunderstood. It means that the potential damage that can occur is small and the feeling of uncertainty small enough to not become fear. In this way you can probably manage to keep a clear mind also outside of your comfort zone and work on solving an apparent simpler problem first.  

Can we try something out?

The modern theories about finding solutions to difficult problems are based on the idea of doing small steps (building small habits/capabilities) where failure feels controllable. Maybe you can trust in this strategy that it will lead you to a greater result than the small changes that you initiate. Do not push yourself or others when they are already in a strong emotional state (e.g. of uncertainty).  Support people to move back to some safe state (not back into the comfort zone) and then choose and plan the next small step. 

How do you avoid to return to the comfort zone?

Actually this can logically never happen after you started to act outside of your comfort zone consistently with small steps. Actually this cannot even happen after succeeding the first step. Unfortunately small steps are hardly acknowledged and appreciated. I observe this illusionary expectations of big achievements in a very short period of time and this is what frustrates people and leads a big step backwards instead of forward. It also takes time to recover after a big failure. Picture your comfort zone as something which changes over time and keep in mind that people need to feel at every step that they are extending it rather than moving away from it.  

Photo by Coen Staal on Unsplash