We have all heard this phrase:
“You have to get out of your Comfort Zone – you have to push yourself to the next level”
But do we actually know what the Comfort Zone is and what are the pros (and cons) for pushing people out of it?
What is The Comfort Zone?
The comfort zone is a behavioural space where your activities and behaviours fit a routine and pattern that minimises stress and risk. It provides a state of mental security. You benefit in obvious ways: regular happiness, low anxiety and reduced stress.
The origin of the comfort zone dates back to a classic experiment in psychology in 1908, where psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of relative comfort created a steady level of performance.
The Comfort Zone seems like a good thing then – If I am comfortable why the heck should I step out of it?
You are right – it does sound a safe option, however to maximise performance we need to be in a state of relative anxiety — a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal.
This is called “Optimal Anxiety”. It is just outside our comfort zone. Optimal anxiety is that place where your mental productivity and performance reach their peak.
Hhmmm, hang on…. “increased performance” and “enhanced productivity”…. This sounds like “do more stuff to me…”
Well, if you have that attitude then stay in the comfort zone!
But if you do, you may miss out on career and personal development so don’t complain if this happens!
If you are willing to step outside of your comfort zone here are the benefits:
1. You will be more productive.
Comfort kills productivity because without the sense of unease that comes from having deadlines and expectations we tend to do the minimum required to get by.
We lose drive and ambition to do more and learn new things. We also fall into the “busy trap“, where we claim we are “busy” as a way to stay in our comfort zones and avoid doing new things.
2. You will deal with new and unexpected changes
According to research one of the worst things we can do is pretend fear and uncertainty do not exist. In the modern world, uncertainty and change are a constant – we need to be aware of this and embrace it.
By taking risks in a controlled fashion and challenging yourself to things you normally wouldn’t do, you can experience some of that uncertainty in a controlled, manageable environment. Learning to live outside your comfort zone when you choose to can prep you for life changes that force you out of it.
3. You can train your brain to push your boundaries in the future.
Once you start stepping out of your comfort zone on a regular basis it gets easier over time.
You will become accustomed to that state of optimal anxiety or “Productive discomfort” and be more willing to push further before your performance falls off.
4. Brainstorming and creativity increases.
Seeking new experiences, learning new skills and being receptive to new ideas inspire us and educate us in a way that little else does.
Trying new things can make us reflect on our old ideas and where they clash with our new knowledge. We learn more and challenge tradition: a positively uncomfortable experience can help us brainstorm, it can help us see old problems in a new light and tackle the challenges we face with new energy. It also creates collaboration and teamwork.
So, there are some excellent benefits for getting out of your comfort zone – but a word of warning: do not push too far too quickly as too much anxiety may lead to stress and you could enter the Danger Zone – where our performance drops off sharply.
So next time your boss says “You need to get out of your comfort zone” – accept it, embrace it but also ask why and set some clear goals and expectations over a reasonable timeframe to get your optimal performance. Try using my Employee Life for this.
Even better, get proactive – if you are looking for that next step in your career or that new challenge then think about what this looks like.
Go to your boss with your ideas… learning and development is a two-way process so why wait for that performance conversation or career planning that is set in the diary?
Push them out of their comfort zone!
General Manager, Consulting