Do you think success and excellence come from playing safe and staying within your comfort zone? Or is it achieved when we stretch our personal and professional boundaries; challenge our own limits? There’s a reason why athletes often have a pained expression on their face – they are pushing themselves beyond what feels comfortable in pursuit of improvement.
The comfort zone is a behavioural state where a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, usually without a sense of risk. When you are within your comfort zone, there is a sense of minimal resistance – you feel relaxed, content, unchallenged.
In the same way that some people have a higher pain threshold than others, some people feel more comfortable in a state of discomfort than others. If you were to rate yourself in relation to your desire for comfort (1 being ‘I always like to feel comfortable’; 10 being ‘I constantly push myself out of my comfort zone’), how would you score yourself? There is no right or wrong, better or worse. It’s more about having self-awareness around your own desire for comfort.
As you can see from this diagram, there are different zones we find ourselves in constantly through the day. The first is your comfort zone. This is that familiar territory for you, where you feel anxiety neutral.
When we step outside our comfort zone, or dare to try something new or difficult, we learn new skills, habits and beliefs to rise to the given challenge. This is also where we acquire a greater understanding of our own true potential. This area is called the learning zone and is a zone where we could all be spending more time.
The next layer is called the panic zone because we are experiencing significant discomfort, anxiety and we are probably sensing a high component of risk. Some people thrive in the panic zone. For many people, the panic zone is stressful and generally hinders performance because once we’re pushed that far, we have a natural tendency to want to return to what is comfortable. Elite athletes develop a range of strategies to help them cope and function in the panic zone. This is what enables them to continually out perform their previous bests and achieve excellence.
The important thing to know about your comfort zone is that it’s constantly expanding. Think about something that you do each day in your role or your business that’s an enjoyable challenge, but well within your comfort zone. Now think back 5 years ago. If you were to consider doing what you do today back then, it would have sat outside your comfort zone, probably in your panic zone or beyond. Over the past 5 years, you have learned new skills and techniques and your comfort zone has expanding to encompass these.
Success and excellence aren’t achieved by just staying comfortable. What is one challenge you’re facing in your professional world? Don’t be afraid of a little discomfort. Dare to stretch yourself. Stop procrastinating and give it a go. One of two things will happen – you will grow or you will learn. Both are positive outcomes.
You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve when you go beyond what’s comfortable.