Ever heard of the word comfort zone? I have, many times. In fact I throw it around like a football all the time when I work with people. “Hmm, I see what the problem is, you are stuck in your comfort zone”. And then the other day I stopped to reflect: what is a comfort zone and more importantly why does it matter?
After much thought it hit me. A comfort zone has less to do with comfort and more to do with our sense of familiarity: places, people, cultures, weather, personal habits and experiences that form part of our lives. Here is the thing though: what is familiar is not always comfortable.
It reminds me of an old couch I owned that someone left on the street when I was living in London with a sign that said, “Take me”. It was a great couch. Every night, for years, I would sit on the same side and at the same angle watching my favourite british comedians. The couch had a spring that stuck out of the cushion that always hurt my left buttock. I sat on that couch for years. It wasn’t very comfortable but the continual ache was oh so familiar. It was a sad day when I bought a new couch and put the old one out on the street with a sign that said: “Take me”.
Our comfort zones are extremely seductive. They make us feel safe and because of that we so often tolerate life experiences that no longer serve us. They breed mediocrity preventing us from being more courageous and stretching ourselves.
Here are a few examples of comfort zones: you go to the gym three times a week and do exactly the same exercise routine. At work you only put your hand up only for projects you feel you can comfortably do well. In your relationships you avoid talking about difficult stuff with your partner and as a result your relationship does not grow.
So, back to the present. We have been thrown a curveball, something unexpected and it has rattled our sense of the familiar. I walk around seeing people with face masks and I have to pinch myself. It feels like a sci-fi movie called 2020. How will I get comfortable with feeling such discomfort, especially since all the signals suggest that this discomfort is not going away for quite a while.
So here it is: we all have to get more comfortable with being uncomfortable. To do this we need to find our confidence and sense of safety in the unfamiliar.
I would like to suggest three things you can do to help you get there.
The first thing is to give yourself permission to feel uncomfortable and say, that is okay. Judging yourself does not help. In fact it makes you feel worse. For example, you are nervous to do a big presentation. You criticize yourself for being nervous and so you feel even more nervous as a result of your criticism.
The second thing is to study yourself. Be your own subject. Take a look under the bonnet of your reactions. Observe your typical responses. Think about other times when you are faced with similar experiences. How did you respond? What emotions were you feeling? What is it about you that made it feel difficult to cope? What did I learn about myself? I find, for example, that when I feel uncomfortable at a dinner party with mostly strangers. I tend to either shut down or stick to talking to people I have met before. I find it uncomfortable talking about superficial stuff like where they are from, what they do and who they know at the party.
The final, and most important step is to dig into your toolbox filled with your strengths, your resilience and coping mechanisms you have learnt from past experience. Explore ways to transform your discomfort into being a catalyst for positive change in your life. Explore the opportunities for difficult decisions you should consider that you have been afraid to make.
One thing we do know is this. The cycle of change is not going anywhere. In fact it is likely to intensify. View your discomfort as a gift. It could just be the thing that will inject more meaning in your life if you embrace it.
And finally, a bit of good news. What is unfamiliar today becomes more familiar tomorrow as you build your confidence to continually adapt to new situations.
So if you want help dealing with your discomfort, set up a 1-2-1 call with me.