Comfort Zones – Why they are not that comfortable

Comfort Zones

Why the comfort zone isn’t comfortable.

Your comfort zone is the place you stay because you find it’s easy being there or less scary than trying something new or doing something different.

Staying in the comfort zone keeps you safe and comfortable. You don’t have to face the unpleasant feelings of fear, doubt and uncertainty that arise when you step out of your comfort zone.

And you are not alone. Fear of change and failure keeps most people in their comfort zone.

And staying in your comfort zone is normal because it illustrates what scientists call the normal distribution curve, or bell curve. The bell shape of this curve highlights the distribution of population characteristics and performance.

Measure any population on anything, such as income levels, intelligence, athletic abilities, and even beliefs and values. You will find there are a few people at one extreme and a few at the other. Most of us are somewhere in the middle between any two extremes. This is where average lays and perhaps surprisingly,  even the most successful people are often average on many dimensions.

Being average keeps us safe because we are ‘like most people’ we fit in  and there is also safety in numbers. But, being in the middle, doing or being like most of our fellow humans generates a similar performance. An average performance, and an average performance gives us average results.

It takes a significant event, sometimes an external event outside our control, to break us out of the thinking and the actions we engage in that cause us to stay in this comfort zone. Many of the successful people we met could recount a life changing event that caused them to stop reconsider and then go with a new perhaps more uncomfortable plan.


Short term versus Long Term


Today I will do what others won’t so tomorrow I can do what others can’t.

This quote attributed to Jerry Rice, a former professional American football player, sums up the trade-off for discomfort and the potential hardship of leaving the comfort zone. Being in the comfort zone seems comfortable in the moment but staying there will not bring us the rewards or results we desire. Instead, staying there can sentence us to a life of  regret about the things we did not achieve and the dreams we failed to pursue.

We ran one session that gave delegates the chance to talk about advice they had received over the years. Along with the classics for young people like ‘Risk your time not your money’ were some other words of advice from older relatives or mentors. The most significant of these was about regrets and the consensus was that in old age we are more likely to regret what we didn’t do, didn’t attempt did not try than the things we had done.

This comfort zone thing is worth thinking about……

The Jerry Rice quote has morphed over the years and a more popular version used to describe how changing what we do for the better gives us better things to do:

“I will do today what others will not so that I can live tomorrow like others cannot”

To get better than average results we have to do or think non average things and by definition this usually means we must operate outside the comfort zone.

Those door-to-door sales people who choose to stay in a warm car don’t make as much money as those who get out and start knocking.

Why people default to the comfort zone

Most people do average things because not only is it more comfortable but it’s also more comfortable doing what others do. It is harder being different. The way crabs behave when they are trapped in a basket illustrates how hard this can be. Operating within your comfort zone is easier or less unpleasant than doing the alternatives and it’s an easy choice if we don’t think about it much.

To create change for the better, you have to change your thoughts and, more importantly, your actions. To be more successful now, you have to take new actions and think new thoughts. Chances are that many of these new thoughts and actions will sit outside your comfort zone. Not thinking or doing them means most of us remain where we are in the comfort zone. We fail to move on as we hope to or could do because the price of the change appears to large. In practice this is hardly ever the case but with a comfort zone view point it can be enough to stop you dead in your tracks before you even start.

Avoiding average

Expecting change to happen whilst doing more of the same is one definition of insanity.

Are you prepared to think and do things differently to get what you want?

Will you step out of your comfort zone to get more of what you want and less of what you don’t want?

The key question is whether it’s worth doing it to you or not.

There are too many people doing hard things because they think they should, because they think success must be hard.

The real question to assess any effort outside your comfort zone is ‘Does what you do give you that which you are doing it for?

It’s easier than you think

The good news is that most people stay in their comfort zones and only a few make the effort or take the risk to step outside the zone.

Some people find it easier than others to leave their comfort zone and these people have a head start in getting different results to others.

But you only have to make small changes to begin generating significantly better results.

Most of our effort shave longer term effects its hard to quantify

If you plan on living for more than 10 years and most of us do simple things done every day transform things over this kind of timescale. 

Think 10 minutes a day for 10 years :

  • 10 press ups 10 sit ups
  • Walking
  • Many skills and even  musical instruments can be learnt in
  • Eating 300 calories less
  • Drinking an extra litre of water
  • Meditation or mindfulness
  • Practising gratitude
  • Breathing
  • Stopping and thinking
  • Stopping and not thinking
  • Stopping and planning

You can add in anything you want to be have or do and 10 minutes a day for 10 years will give you much of what you want.

Just choosing to do a few things consistently that others don’t, won’t, or can’t do will make all the difference to your performance in any chosen activity. Once you see what the uncomfortable things deliver it’s easier to keep doing them. When we asked our delegates to talk about a successful change accomplished by a move from their comfort zone most people also told us they were amazed how quickly the new activity became business as usual.

How quickly they had incorporated the activity into their idea of ‘acceptable’ or ‘comfortable’. Today’s discomfort can quickly becomes tomorrow’s normal. This is great as long as it’s taking you where you want to go.

This is all about choosing the right ladder and making sure your ladder is up against the right wall. This means when you climb to the top you will have what you want. Many of our delegates were forced to stop and review things when they cam eon our programmes. It is amazing to see how many people had spent long periods of time or vast effort climbing the wrong ladder and equally some who had reached the  top were shattered to find out what they had won was nothing they really wanted at all. They had got lost in the climb itself and not stopped to look around. The reward was not all they had hoped.

What to do next?

There is a lot written about starting slow to show yourself that you can change things. Pick one thing you can change and change it. Then stick to it. Understand this is not about what this change gives you. This is about showing yourself and your Monkey that you can pick things change them and stick to the change at will. It’s a habit and a skill worth cultivating.

  • It could be 10 press-ups or 10 squats every time you stop to use the facilities.
  • It could be saving a small amount every week.
  • It could be saying good morning to three strangers every day.
  • It could be eating no meat for one day a week.

On the other hand if the things you choose to play with do give you more of what you want or less of what you don’t want then any small change will contribute to your track record of doing things to get the life you really want.

However small, taking that first step will change whatever it is you’re working on for the better and, more importantly, you will show yourself that you can change things.

We’ve talked about 10 minutes a day for ten years

There is no doubt even this small control over what you do changes things but its so easy to do so much more and to do it more quickly.

We love challenges. They get things done in a positive atmosphere of progress and often give successful participants belies and skills that last a life time. Even those of us who are passed the half way mark can get a big kick out of making positive change.

Doing something today that makes all your tomorrows better can make a lot of sense. 

If you want to step out and try something new check out our 12 Week Challenge.

It will help you reengineer your relationship with your Monkey and give you the challenge mentality which you can subsequently target (with your Monkeys help) at any other area of your life you wish to adjust.