Are Comfort Zones Traps or Treasure Troves
During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I participated in the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee. This 4-month, 1021 km race was a major physical stretch for me. When I began on May 1, 2020, I was a couch potato and rinkside cheerleader. By mid-August, I was comfortable walking 10-15km a day.
When I started, I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t be able to build my strength and stamina to the point that I could average the necessary daily distance.
During May, I pressed forward, one step at a time. I started with 3 km every other day – well behind the necessary pace and slowly increased the distance and frequency for 10 days. Close to the end of the month, I set aside 4 days and did a series of slow 16km days in a row to catch up. I pushed through my discomfort and proved to myself that I could do it. After that, everything got easier. I went way outside my comfort zone. But by the time I had been doing it for three months, my body was craving a 5km walk before breakfast. I had found a new comfort zone.
When people talk about comfort zones being traps, they are talking about the things we need to feel comfort with that stop us from taking advantage of opportunities. If you won’t step outside the comfort of familiar foods, for example, then a trip to a foreign country can be incredibly challenging.
But, not all comfort zones are traps even if you won’t step outside them. Sometimes our comfort zones are places we excel.
When I direct a play, there are large parts of the process that are easy for me now that were hugely challenging when I started 30 years ago. Each play has moments that are challenging and specific problems that must be solved, but scheduling rehearsals, getting the cast generally in the right place on stage, and coordinating the process itself are simply tasks that get done at the appropriate time.
This is a different kind of comfort zone. This is an example of unconscious competence. I have done it so many times, I can just do it. Like riding a bicycle or tying my shoelaces, I learned a skill and now I have it.
If you are never willing to stretch beyond what is comfortable, then you are trapped by what you already know. On the other hand, if you always push yourself beyond your comfort zones, you may find that you are not using your skills effectively.
How can you tell the difference?
You have to examine your motives. If you are scared you can’t handle the thing you are avoiding, then it is a trap. If you are scared you are stagnating if you don’t stretch, then you might be looking at a very valuable comfort zone.
It is very easy not to notice the things we are good at and comfortable with. And it is also easy to think “this is just who I am” or “this is just what I like.”
There is no right way to deal with comfort zones. The power of observing them and being curious about them is in giving us more consciousness about what we are choosing by default. This consciousness helps create a sense of choice. We could choose something different if we wanted to.
Are there things that feel easy and comfortable to you that other people think are remarkable? How can you claim those as genius zones?
Where might you be holding yourself back because of your desire to stay with what is familiar? How could you stretch a little beyond that comfort into what is unfamiliar? What support do you need, if any?
Where are you quite happy with your level of comfort and see no reason to change?
Changing your comfort zones is a choice. What you do becomes familiar.
What do you want to change? What do you want to keep?
The choice is yours.