The Slippery Comfort Zone

published on Jul 26, 2016 by I. Nacheva

When it comes to the development of human resources, managers and organizational consultants often speak about the “resistance to leave the comfort zone”. The expression is appealing and frequently used, but have you ever asked yourself what exactly does that mean?

In our digital world many people will start their research on the topic from Wikipedia. There you will find a baby article which describes the comfort zone as a “psychological state”, in which a person feels familiar, at ease, in control and experiences low anxiety and stress. Plus, we can add that being in the comfort zone is the desired state for the majority of people and if you search hard enough in Internet you will come upon some articles with tips on how to increase your comfort zone. It turns out that this is a very important topic, especially if you want to be stuck and never really try something new.

But there is another zone, and it is called “out of comfort zone”. This is the space where the person is out of his ordinary places or activities. This is a state of relative anxiety — a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than the average as a result of being in the unknown. This space is called "optimal anxiety”. If we go too far away from our comfort zone, the anxiety level is going up. When we cross certain levels of stress, there will be too much anxiety and we will be no longer productive. At this point the performance is also going to drop off.

It is already proven that going out of your comfort zone and operating on the level of "optimal anxiety” increases your creativity and performance level. The brain response of this higher level of stress is an enhanced cognitive processing, including better concentration and focus of attention. So if getting out of comfort is such a positive thing, how can we achieve it without being too stressed?

Well, our answer is: take the courage, but do not overdose. It is all about establishing balance. To go out of your comfort zone you should commit changes in your everyday life. We are not speaking about taking major decisions for the future or turning your life upside down. These changes should be smaller but persistent. There are some advices in order to prevent overstressing.


Аdvice № 1: Change your daily routine

We all have set our daily routine. We go to the office by the same route, we take our breakfast or coffee from the same place every morning, we start our day by checking the mail etc. Daily rituals and habits are not bad, but slowly they can turn the daily life into daily cycle – no progress, no development, no way out…

The change could be one small element in all this routine. It is going to push you to step outside of your comfort zone. A few days after, you can try another habit. If you’re trying to expand your business try a new marketing channel or make one extra meeting with a new client per day. This can be enough to change your perspective.


Аdvice № 2: Not to change all at once

If you launch too many changes, your stress level will increase sharply. The stress limit is a strongly individual characteristic. Your body can tell you where the borderline is: when you are at the "optimal anxiety” zone, you feel curiosity, you are enthusiastic and energized, you are more focused and your tonus is high; when you overdoze with changes, you became nervous and/or washed-out. Then you are overstressed.


Аdvice № 3: Try new things

Another way to exit the comfort zone is to try new things. А good idea in this direction is to ask yourself: “What have I done today that I’ve never done before?”. This doesn’t mean that you have to do bungee jumping or sky diving. Try an exotic meal on lunch break, say hello to the unknown person in the elevator, travel to new places - those are also new things.


Аdvice № 4: Go out of office

One of the best working ways to change the perspective in work (and one of the easiest) is to quit the place where you are working every day. You are so familiar with it and it has become your physical zone of comfort. Even if the electricity is off, you know where the stuff is. You can go in the park near the office or at the coffee with the impressive sight instead and work for a while from there. This is a good way to fight with breaks when you have an important task and you need to be concentrated.

 If you are brave enough, you can share your optimal anxiety zone with your colleagues working outside the office with them. This is an absolute necessity when the team performance is low or remains stable for a long period, when all the team needs an inspiration and creativity injection.


*For more information on the topic, we recommend also this:

White, Alasdair (December 2009): From Comfort Zone to Performance Management: Understanding Development and Performance. White & MacLean Publishing. ISBN 978-2-930583-01-3.