Each of us has a comfort zone. Mine is different to yours, yours is different to your neighbours. In fact no two people will have the exact same comfort zone. The interesting thing is that our comfort zones will change over time based on our thoughts, actions, experiences, and skillsets. You would expect that over time your comfort zone will expand as you participate in more experiences, however the opposite can be true if we continually have the same experiences our comfort zone can regress or shrink if we aren’t training it. The same thing happens to you muscles when you stop training them, they begin to atrophy.
To train and improve our comfort zone we first need to understand what it is. The Oxford Dictionary defines the comfort zone as “As situation where one feels at ease or safe” it can also be “A settled method of working that requires little effort and yields only barely acceptable results.” We can all identify situations where we feel at ease or safe. For some this is sitting around chatting with friends, for others it is singing or painting, it may be running or swimming, or you may feel a sense of discomfort even thinking about these activities, and for some they may even give you the shits. We can also identify these methods of working that require little effort that we can perform if not automatically, then almost. Most of us have tasks we do at work that require little thought or effort because we have done then so many times that they come automatically to us. It could be analysing numbers, writing a report, or pressing the correct buttons on the machine we are using. However these examples don’t give us an understanding of how or why these things are comfortable for us, but others aren’t.
Our comfort zone is a behavioural space that we tend to spend most of our time in. Some of us more than others. It is a space where our behaviours and activities fit a routine and pattern that minimises our stress and perception of risk. Operating within these behaviours and patterns provides us with a sense of mental security. For the most part this behavioural space isn’t governed by any actual threat to us, but rather what we perceive as threatening. It’s true that there are things outside of our comfort zone that are dangerous, jumping off something super high, trying to steal food off a lion, or swimming with open wounds next to a great white shark. However there are a lot of things outside of our comfort zones that aren’t actually dangerous. Chances are that you or someone that you know is scared of public speaking. A quick Google search tells me that no one has ever died from public speaking (although feel free to correct me, it wasn’t the most in depth research). I’m sure that not many people have ever been injured from public speaking either. A bad presentation does feel stink, I’ve given a few so know what I’m talking about, but it doesn’t usually cause any lasting problems.
Usually public speaking terrifies people because it’s unfamiliar, we haven’t trained ourselves to do it, and because everyone else tells us how scary it is. Our experiences, actions and behaviours have placed it outside our comfort zone (for now). There are multiple examples of people who have overcome this fear of getting up and speaking in public, who are now comfortable standing up and giving a kickass talk in front of thousands of people.
When we can identify these behavioural patterns and actions we take to minimise our stress and keep ourselves “safe” we can work nudging the boundaries of these and expanding our comfort zone. I’m not saying that to get out of our comfort zone we need to go tandem skydiving with a great white shark, but rather that “Uncomfortable is OK” and we can train ourselves for this.