Your Uncomfortable Comfort Zone

By: Robert White Tuesday July 9, 2013 comments

I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from leaders and executive coaching clients on the chapter in my book Living an Extraordinary Life about comfort zones. The chapter “stands alone” well so I thought you might find it valuable in your personal and professional journey.

“To myself, I seem to have been only like a boy playing on seashore, diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than the ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” - Sir Isaac Newton

“In the heating and air conditioning business, they’ve come up with a descriptive term that is also a powerful metaphor for risk avoidance. The area on the thermostat in which neither heating nor cooling must operate – around 72 degrees – is called the ‘comfort zone.’ It's also known as the ‘dead zone.’

All of us have areas of life that we will not enter and boundaries we will not move beyond. For even the most adventurous of us, that is perfectly normal. It could be the high altitude mountaineer who is unwilling to ask a woman out to dinner. Or the cool stunt man who risks his neck every day and yet is terrified to speak in front of a group. (Surveys consistently show that public speaking is the biggest single fear of most people – death comes in at fifth place on the list.)

Our comfort zones are natural, and they help us survive, yet they are misnamed because they are not truly comfortable. More accurately, they are just “habit zones.” The big problem with living in one's comfort zone is that we know at some level there is more to life than our present experience. The trouble is, we don't want to risk going out and getting that something ‘more.’ By not going for it, by not jumping out of our comfort zone, we create a chronic low level of frustration, mediocrity and discomfort. Staying firmly in our safe routines – our so-called comfort zone – is not all it's cracked up to be.

Think about it. If life in your comfort zone is safe but often tedious, and if you feel there could be a lot more to life if you could just go for it, then what is holding you back? If you are living in a free society, not in prison or dire poverty, if you are not shackled in chains and are of reasonable intelligence, then what is preventing you from breaking out of your comfort zone and doing what you really want to do? If you’re like most people, what you say to yourself is: ‘I don’t have enough money,’ or ‘My partner won’t approve,’ or “It’s too late to start,” or any of a thousand other excuses.

In fact, what is actually getting in the way of you jumping out of your comfort zone? From my experience, it’s only one thing: fear of risking. Fear based on limiting beliefs.

When we use the term, “limiting beliefs,” it sounds rather abstract and artificial, like some kind of conceptual barrier. As a result, you may imagine that surpassing or going beyond your limiting beliefs is an easy task, requiring merely a little thought and reflection. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The life or death stuff called beliefs

Imagine that you’re three or four years old, and you wake up in the middle of the night. It’s dark, and you’re alone. You call out for your mother, but no one answers. You start to cry, but still no one comes. You begin to scream and wail, but it’s pitch-dark and you’re all alone and no one comes to pick you up. You’re gripped by fear, the fear that you’ve been abandoned, that no one will ever come. You rock yourself to sleep. When you wake up in the morning, your mother’s there. You had no way of knowing that she had just gone down the hall for a few minutes to start some laundry. If this kind of thing happens repeatedly to you as a child, what’s the belief you’re likely to form? Something like: ‘No one, not even people who say they love me, will come when I need them. I can only depend on myself.’

How serious is this belief you formed on limited information? It’s a matter of life and death. And what kind of fear is associated with our bottom-line limiting beliefs? The fear of death, the fear of not surviving. That’s why breaking out of our comfort zone can actually seem life-threatening. That’s why it invariably takes courage to break out of our comfort zone. We have no way of knowing what's on the other side or whether we will succeed.

What’s really on the other side is excitement, enrichment and growth – and, before long, another comfort zone to explore.”

Robert White

About the Author: Robert White

Robert White is a Speaker, Author, Leadership Trainer and Executive Mentor who teaches the art and science of mastering executive challenges. He specializes in integrating a heart centered, result-oriented and transformational leadership approach to being effective. His experience includes founding and leading companies doing high-impact experiential learning events with over one million graduates.

Robert’s culture change work has been praised by corporations like JPMorganChase, Progressive Insurance, Duke Energy and The American Cancer Society.

Additionally top business experts and authors Ken Blanchard, Jimmy Calano, Kathy Gardarian, and Robert Wright, plus thousands of training and mentoring clients, have endorsed his professional knowledge and skills.

Robert authored the best-seller “Living an Extraordinary Life” available in English and Mandarin. He is a contributing author to “Being Fuller” a compilation from students of Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller and “One World, One People,” a photo journal of mankind’s journey to oneness.

Today you’ll find him speaking at conferences, hosting masterminds, mentoring today’s emerging business leaders and teaching everything he knows about fostering entrepreneurial success and building an entrepreneurial mindset in established, growth-oriented companies.

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