The Comfort Zone
Ahhhhh, the Comfort Zone. Something each one of us is intimately familiar with. Like our favorite pair of pandemic sweatpants, it’s safe and warm. It’s been easy for me, and I’m sure for you, to automatically put on those same sweatpants day after day. Likewise, many of us have gotten stuck in the Comfort Zone. Whether it’s binging a Netflix show (guilty) or scrolling through social media or isolating ourselves at home, there are better ways we can be spending our time. I can always tell when I’ve been spending too much time in the Comfort Zone. I feel lonely, bored, unmotivated, and, as an old Aerosmith song so aptly puts it, “my get up and go must’ve got up and went.”
It’s time go get your get up and go. Time to tug on a different pair of pants. Like those fabulous stretchy leggings that look like dress pants – they’re still quite comfortable, but in them, we are ready to face the world, to be challenged and to move forward. Time to step out of the Comfort Zone.
The Stretch Zone
As you can see from the graph below, challenge and performance are low to medium in the Comfort Zone. Very little learning or innovation takes place in this zone. Most of us need to spend some days in the Comfort Zone, days that are calm and give us space to rest, and recharge, to reflect on our experiences and learn from them. But then, we need to tug ourselves out of the Comfort Zone and into the Stretch Zone, the Area of Best Performance. In this zone, we are running on all cylinders, rocking at life. The level of challenge is just right because we are stretching ourselves to be at our best.
I’ve created this acrostic for the word STRETCH that shows the benefits of the Stretch Zone:
Stuck in the Comfort Zone
The Stretch Zone is where the magic happens. It’s where we feel closest to, if not smack dab in the middle of, our purpose. So why do we so easily get stuck in the Comfort Zone? In the wise words of Dr. Seuss,
And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
is not easily done.
It is not easily done, but understanding some of the common obstacles that keep us stuck in the Comfort Zone is one of the ways to break free. Below is a list of some of the common obstacles that we must face and overcome in order to move forward. Fear and insecurity are at the top of the list because, in my experience, they are the deepest roots holding us back. For instance, if I’m afraid to try something new (fear), I tell myself that I can’t (negative self-talk), and convince myself I don’t have what it takes (negative mind-set). I think back to other times when I tried before and failed, and make my list of excuses. My motivation dwindles, I let boredom become a habit, and I loose my sense of hope that things will ever change, so I resist even trying. And the cycle continues.
TUG Yourself Out of Your Comfort Zone
So, what can be done to overcome these obstacles? When a client comes to me for coaching, they usually have a desire to step out of their Comfort Zone, to stretch their capabilities. Some of them have a specific goal in mind, some of them do not. They know that they want or need to change, but they are looking for some guidance, support and accountability to make those changes. We begin our coaching process by identifying and defining their Tenacious, Ultimate Goal (TUG):
Tenacious, Ultimate Goal (TUG)
te·na·cious /təˈnāSHəs/ adjective: persisting in existence; not easily dispelled.
ul·ti·mate /ˈəltəmət/ noun: the best achievable or imaginable of its kind.
goal /ɡōl/ noun: the destination of a journey.
A TUG is a goal that keeps tugging at you, keeps you up at night, keeps surfacing. It may be something that you’ve often dreamed of doing; a passion or calling, like writing a book or switching careers. Maybe something new has you floundering outside of your Comfort Zone because recent circumstances in your life have forced the issue; like a health concern or a life transition, and it’s time to regroup and take control. Maybe you’ve decided it’s time for something more in your life: more purpose, more adventure, more intentionality. Or, maybe something less: less yelling, less chaos, less busyness. Maybe, you’ve decided that it’s simply time to do the work of un-slumping yourself, and claiming some of the benefits of the Stretch Zone. Your TUG is a Journey and it may take until the end of the month, the end of the year, or the end of your life to reach the final destination.
TUG Yourself Into the Stretch Zone
Once the TUG has been identified, these are the steps that I walk through with my clients:
- Clarify your vision. A powerful tool to help you move into your Stretch Zone is to define and imagine what success looks like to you. What would the Stretch Zone benefits look like specifically for you? Creating a vision for your life helps you find new solutions for your life.
- Make a plan. Get the swirling ideas, goals and dreams out of your head and onto paper. Focus on creating and prioritizing a thorough, but manageable list of actions that must be taken to reach your TUG destination.
- Identify the obstacles. Review the list of obstacles identified in the list above. Which of these obstacles could threaten to keep you in your Comfort Zone? What is your strategy for dealing with them when they do get into your way?
- Rally your supporters – Remember you don’t have to go it alone. Who are the people that can support you in accomplishing your TUG? As a coach, I provide my clients with support, en[courage]ment and accountability. I also encourage them think about the other people in their lives that can come alongside them on their Journey.
The Panic Zone
A word of caution: when taking risks, if you stretch yourself too far, you can enter the Panic Zone. Here, the challenge level is high and can cause stress and anxiety. Performance falters, and you’re left feeling empty and exhausted. Sometimes, you may find yourself in this zone because of a problem or crisis, but you should not stay here long, as it can be harmful to your health. More to come on how to escape the Panic Zone in a future article. In the meantime, here a bit more Dr. Seuss wisdom to keep in mind:
“So be sure when you step,
Step with care and great tact.
And remember that life’s
A Great Balancing Act.”
This is your time to discover the life that lies just beyond your Comfort Zone, to reap the benefits of the Stretch Zone, to move forward courageously toward your Tenacious, Ultimate Goals. The hardest thing you may ever do is leave your Comfort Zone, but you are so worth it.