We all live in a framework of ideas, beliefs, and actions known as our comfort zone. It’s what we know and what we’ve always done. But when we get to a point of discomfort either because we’re bored, unhappy, or just ready to spread our wings and move to the next level, our comfort zone becomes our discomfort zone. And if we don’t do anything to move beyond our self-imposed barriers, we become too comfortable in our discomfort zone. At this point it’s no longer a comfort zone, but more of a familiar zone.
As human beings if we’re not growing, we’re stagnant. And if we want to grow, our comfort zone will hold us back. So we’re always needing to stretch the limits further and further out. There’s no growth if we stay inside our comfort zone. When you stay where you are, we call that being stuck. Maybe you’re unconsciously stuck, that is, you don’t realize you’re unhappy, because you’re numb and have become complacent staying where you are. Maybe you’re consciously stuck because you don’t know what to do to move beyond your comfort zone. You’ve tried different strategies but nothing seems to move you to the next level.
Now here’s the paradox. In order to grow beyond your comfort zone which has now become uncomfortable, you have to take actions that make you even more uncomfortable. See if you keep doing the safe actions you’ve been doing, they won’t move you past your limits, and that’s why nothing’s been working. To stretch beyond your previous limits, you have to stretch yourself, and sometimes that feels uncomfortable. You may be doing something different from what you did before but it’s still safe and comfortable. Now, to stretch, you might have to take risks, experience embarrassment, speak out, get rejected, and even fail.
And, you also have to stretch and change your mindset. That might mean seeing yourself in a different light, seeing yourself as the person you want to become. You have to weigh the cost of staying where you are vs. the rewards of moving out of your safe space.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Let’s say you want a promotion at work which would stretch you beyond the work you’ve done before. If you stay in your comfort zone, you’ll do nothing and hope someday you’ll get promoted. If you are willing to be uncomfortable you may ask someone in human resources to let you know of any openings, and when you hear of one, you would call the person doing the hiring and ask for an interview. Or you would even look for a job in another firm where you could advance further. All these actions might feel risky, scary, and like a big stretch. But when you weigh the cost of staying at a dead-end job against moving ahead in your career, you get to decide if you want to be uncomfortable–for a little while. It’s not forever, just until you get to the next comfort zone.
The choice, of course, is always yours. Are you too comfortable in your discomfort zone? Or are you willing to be a little more uncomfortable for a little while longer, to reach a new place of greater growth and a new level of comfort?