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Is Your Own Personal "Comfort Zone" Holding You Back?

Apr 18, 2008
Recently a start-up social marketing Silicon Valley executive was quoted as saying "If you are comfortable when you launch your site you waited too late."

In other words, if one felt comfortable then this secure, comfortable feeling was an indication that one had fallen behind the innovation curve, a detriment to success. The implication was that innovation is inherently a tenuous and uncertain thing and that making it into a 'comfort' thing is very bad strategy.

Theodore Roosevelt called the comfort zone the "the Gray Twilight" and those that dwelt there "poor spirits". They neither enjoyed much nor suffered much and in fact in his opinion they didn't really live very much either.

If we look back to the origins of social psychology and evolutionary psychology we quickly learn that never were our ancestors in a so-called comfort zone. Life was tough and a daily struggle for survival. That doesn't mean there was never time to relax and enjoy...just not much time.

The most recent human evolution theories speculate that human gene mutations occurred 50,000 and a million years ago. These mutations were important because they increased the size of the brain and cranial capacity.

The 'purpose' of these mutations was to give our human team the survival edge; being able to think has distinct evolutionary advantages.

The ability to think gave both the individual and the tribe the edge. When things got difficult the thinking brain could figure out ways to find a solution.

Our noble cousins the apes and chimpanzees could not do that or at least do it on our level. That's why our monkey-looking ancestors are called hominid and those "other animals" are called apes.

The net result is one species is in the zoo and the other on the outside looking in.

The hard truth is we are not wired for comfort. We are wired for challenge and contrast. Maybe feeling "comfortable in one's own skin" is not how we are wired. Can our very own self-certainty be holding us back?

Are we mistaking self-confidence for a free and inquiring mind? Is a free and inquiring mind, arguably our evolutionary advantage, inherently uncomfortable?

Can routine achievement and success leave one in a comfort zone that dampens both potential and true innovation? Are free, inquiring and open minds threatened by social norms and conformity? Do the comfort zones of achievement and success actually prevent further achievement and success?

Does the establishment of our comfort zone make us averse to any risk that threatens our hard earned comfort zone? Is that the real reason so many of us are resistant to fundamental change?

The concept can be expanded from individuals to tribes, communities and societies.

Do societies eventually become self-certain and comfortable bringing about their decline? Do societies get tired or just lazy?

Is the concept of "resting on our laurels" simply another way of saying the comfort zone has been reached and "that's all folks?"

Certainly Silicon Valley has proven that those living within their own comfort zones create very little and cannot compete successfully with those that do. Without the driving edge of curiosity and an inherent disdain for the status quo comfort zone little innovation takes place.

What if Michelangelo or Thomas Edison had stayed in their respective comfort zones?

Interestingly a few realize this psychological nightmare and artificially construct challenges that will get them out of their comfort zone; the implication being that if they are comfortable and do nothing they will accomplish little.

On the lower end, motivation for change occurs when one slips from the comfort zone to areas of pain, anxiety and frustration. No motivation or change occurs until the pain threshold is passed and unfortunately the human capacity for absorbing anxiety and frustration is very high.

Then there are others that feed on challenge, exploration and the thrill of the new. The biggest risk they view in their lives is settling into their comfort zone 'black hole' and never being able to get out. When they start feeling comfortable they know something is wrong. Terribly wrong.

After a while those in their long term comfort zones have little say, learn little new and may in fact be the victims of negative brain plasticity. Anecdotally we can see this in our everyday lives; those that camp out in their comfort zones have little thinking capacity, few ideas and not much of interest to say.

This leads us to the distressing conclusion there is no cure for stupid. Potential is only realized when the individual moves out of their comfort zone.

In the end, each of us determines if there is anything good to say about being in one's own "comfort zone". But the evidence clearly points to "comfort" as an obstacle to success.
About the Author
Jack Deal is the owner of JD Deal Promotional Marketing, Santa Cruz and Monterey, CA. Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com/blog/personal_development and http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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