Most of us like to operate in our comfort zone. By definition, our comfort zone encompasses those things that we’re familiar with, that we know and are confident in. Tasks that fall into our comfort zone are those which we are competent at and find relatively easy. We don’t tend to find these sorts of tasks terribly demanding or challenging. The situations that would fall into our comfort zone are those in which we are confident operating in.
Although our comfort zone is quite a cosy place to be, in many ways it’s also a dangerous place to be. We don’t tend to develop or improve when we operate in our comfort zone. We do not tend to learn very much in our comfort zone. Many people believe that we would become more confident by doing tasks we’re comfortable and familiar with. However, our confidence becomes limited to those things that are within our comfort zone. Our tendency often is to restrict ourselves to doing those things we are comfortable with and we start to shy away from things which would push us into uncharted territories. In a sense, we create a more solid wall around our comfort zone which starts to act as a barrier, stopping us from attempting new challenges. We start to believe that if we can’t do something right now, we won’t be able to do it and so we don’t even attempt it. This is one of the strongest reasons for regularly operating in your discomfort zone and always challenging yourself to push the envelope. The evidence will tell you that you can take on new challenges and become good at things you’ve never tried before.
We grow when we enter our discomfort zone. By consistently exposing ourselves to challenges and demands, we develop and learn. In fact, our comfort zone gradually expands to include the new challenges. As we become more familiar with the demands and become more competent in them, those situations and tasks become comfortable.
Entrepreneurs often operate in their discomfort zone. It’s also true of surgeons, teachers, musicians, traders and many other walks of life. They take on new challenges, they innovate, they push the envelope. The world of business is incredibly dynamic, as is medicine, education, science, the performing arts and every other field you care to think of. As a human race, if we didn’t step into our discomfort zone, we would never have discovered anything. Explorers would never have charted the earth. Technologists would never have invented the microchip. NASA would never have launched anything into space. On a much more personal level, peak performances occur when we operate on the edge of our capability. They are not a product of our comfort zone, they are a product of our discomfort zone.
Many multi-billion pound businesses such as Google use this principle at the core of their creative process. They know that when their people are free to play with ideas, they become creative. When we are free to play and express ourselves, we become creative. When we are engaged in an activity for the simple pleasure of doing it, we will often experiment, try things differently and explore. We use our imagination to help us find new possibilities. This process leads us to finding creative solutions. When we have a trusted environment where there is no judgment or fear of failure, we tend to be more willing to give things a go and see what happens. The more boundaries we have, the less experimentation we tend to do.
So why don’t we all habitually launch into our discomfort zones? There are several reasons. Some people would see this as risk taking. Some people initially don’t like the sensation of being uncomfortable. When we enter the discomfort zone, we often encounter uncertainty and a loss of control. The further out you go, the more out of your depth you feel. There are less familiar landmarks. The world you see often seems a lot different to the world you’re used to. There is often an incredibly steep learning curve. We often experience a series of set backs. We encounter hurdles that we’ve never crossed before and questions we have never been asked before. Inevitably it requires a lot more work. We sometimes take emotional hits along the way if we don’t get the results we were looking for after all of our efforts. We could start to question ourselves and ask whether we’re actually capable of taking on the challenge we’ve set ourselves. It may take a long time to see results.
Great performers know that mistakes and failure are inevitable when stepping into the discomfort zone. The difference is; they do it anyway!
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan.
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