Cultivating a healthy discomfort in the comfort zone

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What you need to know:

  • Many times we find ourselves in a comfort zone, a psychological state in which one feels at ease because they’re not being tested.

No story in modern history intrigues me more than the story of Ernesto Che Guevara. Che, as he was popularly known, was born in Argentina in 1928. Being born of a middle-class family he was well educated. Although he studied medicine and qualified to practice as a medical doctor, his observation of widespread poverty and oppression as he travelled around his native Latin America led him to conclude that the medical profession was too ‘safe’ a space for him to contribute towards the radical change he thought was required across the region he called home. A meeting with Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in 1955 introduced him to the solution he considered necessary, armed revolution. So, taking it as an opportunity to learn the vice, he joined Castro’s ‘26th July Movement’ and played a key role in the eventual success of its guerrilla war in Cuba, many miles from his homeland of Argentina, against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

The revolution successful, Che took up a ministerial position in Castro’s new government, but it did not take long before he once again begun to feel the need for more action that would ‘prepare’ him for the ultimate goal, leading armed revolution in Latin America. So off he went again, this time to The Congo in Africa to support and personally take part in a revolution there by training the rebels waging war against what they considered a dictatorial government. While there, he felt that the African rebel leaders he was working with were not committed enough to their cause and were therefore not worthy of his time. So packing his bags once again he was back to Cuba for a short re-energizing and strategizing break before he set off for Bolivia in Central America to start the campaign he had been training for. Unfortunately for Che this time mother luck had some quite unflattering plans for him and during his rebel campaign in the Bolivian mountains, sometime in 1967, he was eventually captured and assassinated, bringing his adventure or as some may term it, his ‘restlessness’, to an end.

Some psychologists who have studied Che’s character have put his restlessness down to the thought that he may have suffered from a condition called ‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’ (ADHD) whose sufferers tend to present with restlessness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Another school of thought though, to which I belong, put it down to his ‘discomfort’ in the ‘comfort zone’.

Like Che, many times we find ourselves in a comfort zone, a psychological state in which one feels at ease because they’re not being tested. People inside this zone tend to be content with their environment and are not driven to try out new challenges or to gain new experiences. Rather, they stick to the tried and tested which means they are not growing and as a result neither are those around them. Unfortunately, unlike Che, many times when one is in a comfort zone, they don’t realize it until it is pointed out to them and even when they do find out they are quite often reluctant to do anything about it. The truth though is that dangers abound for one who’s perennial habitat is in this zone. For one, by failing to test the waters for new ideas and experiences their ability to grow is inhibited, and as we all know, innovation is bred from a willingness to travel the road less travelled so there is a high risk that innovation is stunted as well. Lack of growth also inhibits one from discovering their true potential so they suffer the disadvantage of not being as competitive as they would otherwise have been.

The issue with living in the comfort zone is that the longer one stays there the harder it is for them to come out. There are many reasons for this with the topmost being that for long one has been comfortable with not taking any risks outside what they feel comfortable with, so naturally they will suffer from the fear of uncertainty. Getting out means abandoning one’s fixed habits and trying new things, and trying new things means the possibility of failure. For long one has not witnessed failure and suddenly they face the risk of it and are thus scared of taking that first step. Staying within the comfort of a risk-free environment is the option that seems most sensible to take, and as this complacency sets one sinks deeper and deeper into the zone.

It is however possible to come out if one determines to do so and it starts with the realization that you are in a bad place. This could come from feedback or introspection. That realization alone should breed discomfort which should trigger a change plan whose fist step should be to challenge your beliefs. Challenge the fear of trial but mostly challenge the fear of failure in so doing recognizing that within failure lies opportunity to learn. Hopefully by doing this you will be reminded of the fun and pleasure of discomfort, of living on the edge, of your existence before you dropped into the unholy zone, and this should start to breed creativity.

Finally, by coming out one begins to feel the boost in self-confidence that comes with the new world you find yourself in. Your resilience will grow because of your repurposed relationship with fear, and you will finally be on your way to getting to the peak of your performance. Have no doubt though, it takes courage to take the first bold step out. Be encouraged however by the thought that the comfort zone may feel like a beautiful and comfortable place, but the truth is nothing grows there, ever!