The Comfort Zone… It Isn’t Always Dangerous

For the past decade or so, I have been hearing and reading about the dangers of being in The Comfort Zone.

Step out of your Comfort Zone “, we are advised ” Growth and achievement do not live there.  Get out! “

I can, of course, see why it is important to stretch and challenge ourselves to take risks and try new things and encourage others to do the same.  After all, more often than not, if we choose to stay cocooned for too long, the Universe will find a way of catapulting us from the comfort place into foreign territory anyway.  Better to make a choice for change than have it foisted upon us, right?  Yes, I get all that.

What’s concerning me is that a place of comfort seems to have become somewhere that none of us would want to be caught dead.  And, if we find that we are, well, feeling comfortable, I’m not sure this, in itself, doesn’t create an uneasiness that causes the devil on our shoulder to whisper something about not doing enough or being enough or living up to our potential.

Wikipedia definesThe Comfort Zone as, “the set of environments and behaviours with which somebody is comfortable, without creating a sense of risk.”

This perspective suggests neutral territory.

Judith Bardwick, who wrote Danger in the Comfort Zone (first published in 1991), refers to it as a place where our sense of entitlement hangs out. Dr Bardwick’s book discusses our habit of expecting something for nothing and our tendency toward righteous indignation when we don’t get it.

This perspective suggests complacency and inertia.

If you subscribe to the latter perspective, it is easy to see how being in the comfort zone can send some pretty negative messages, and for some pretty compelling reasons.

On the other hand, if we were to view it as a place located in neutral territory, it could very well have its benefits.  Here’s what occurs to me from that vantage point:

1. The Comfort Zone can be a place of planning and reflection.

Often, when we are in the middle of change, there is internal noise that eclipses our ability to fully grasp what we are learning.  We simply want to get through it and come out the other end relatively unscathed.

I think though, when the turmoil created by change dies down, the neutrality of our more comfortable place allows for the opportunity to reflect on what we have learned and to plan for what comes next.

2. The Comfort Zone can be a place of respite

We all know that the pace of change can be unrelenting.  In many ways it is exciting to be part of it.  On the other hand, sometimes we simply need to step back and take a deep breath.  Giving ourselves a short break from the pressure and risks of unrelenting “newness” just might, in the long run, help us to re-energize and go back in with greater enthusiasm and focus than we otherwise might have.

So, to me, the danger does not lie in being in the comfort zone, not if you look at it that way.   The danger perhaps lies in staying there too long.  The question is, how long is too long?

Anais Nin once said, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

Perhaps that is when we realize that being in the comfort zone is no longer serving us, or anyone else ; when comfort is in danger of morphing into pain.

What do you think?


Filed under Change Management, Leading Change, Self Knowledge

8 responses to “The Comfort Zone… It Isn’t Always Dangerous

  1. Hi Gwyn,
    This post really pushes the “nothing comes easily, there is no free lunch, who said life was supposed to be easy, work is hard work (and so many more) buttons that reflect our basic Western collective beliefs about life and especially work.
    Just the words – comfort zone – evoke visions of complacency and resignation.
    While I get that too many of us shy away from living with boldness and courage tending to hang out in the “safety” zone, we also don’t relish in the value of our comfort zones. I think of them as rest zones. Letting go of the grip.

    I don’t think many of us even know what our comfort zones are – and surely how long to stay there to as you say – reflect, rest and allow our creativity freedom to do its work.
    Thx for the thoughtful post,

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Louise,

      Yes, your thoughts echo some of the things that went through my head prior to writing this. And, you make me think that just as we have to be disciplined in testing our boundaries and exploring new territory, so do we owe it to ourselves to be okay with simply resting for a time, without judgement.

      Thank you for your comment and for adding value to the post.

  2. Gwyn,

    I love it. The ability of anyone to do anything all the time is simply not true. Each of us has real limits, that are worth pushing, when it’s time. I’m watching the roses pop where I’m living right now and there is this one bush that just isn’t ready. But when it is, how much sweeter will it be.

    It’s never wrong to take your time when what you’re doing is what you love.

    You’re the best,

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Jon,

      No amount of pressure can make a rose bloom beautifully before it’s ready. There are ways to force it, I expect. But the quality of the blossom might very well be compromised. I love that!

      Thank you for the wisdom of your comment.

  3. Hi Gwyn,

    I have always said and am big a proponent of the fact that discomfort is a function of growth. If you are comfortable, then you are not growing. While I still believe this to be true you offered another perspective. We can’t always be growing. It is important to take time for planning and reflection and have a place for respite.

    I love how you positioned this piece, being in your comfort zone isn’t dangerous but staying there is. How long is too long? When the world starts to pass you by it’s too long. When it’s unhealthy to stay there, it’s too long. When the consequences of staying out weigh the benefits of challenging ourselves, it’s too long.

    Thanks for the thought provoking piece!

  4. Gwyn Teatro

    Hi Kelly,

    Thank you for exploring the notion of the comfort zone with me and for adding clarity to the intent of the post.
    Like you, I also believe that if there is discomfort in the air, there is also probably some learning going on.
    To differentiate between times when we are in reflection (or simply resting) from times when we are hiding and in denial, I like Louise’s terms, “Rest Zone” & “Safety Zone”
    It may be semantics but somehow I think that making a distinction gives us permission to regroup without the stigma associated with inertia.
    What do you think?

  5. Hi Gwyn,

    I like the idea of the “rest zone” and the “safety zone.” It does help to understand where you are in the moment and perhaps explore why. Staying too long in either zone can turn out to be detrimental to the individual or the team. Sometimes people just need that little push to get them from one zone to the other.

    As you said understanding where you are gives us that permission to regroup without the stigma. It’s kind of like understanding the difference between venting and complaining. Knowing this information can also help others help you.

    Thanks for the thought provoking conversation!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Kelly,

      Thanks for coming back. You have added an important point. Sometimes, we all need a little push to get us going. And, understanding where we are in our grow/rest cycle is really critical to letting others know when we are ready for that “little push”.

      Thanks again for coming by and for spending the time!

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