The Illusion of “Outside Your Comfort Zone”

A Brief Thought on Some Incomplete Advice

The prevailing advice seems to be “the key to success is to keep stepping out of your comfort zone”. But I wonder about this sometimes.

Human beings seem to crave comfort and security, by our very nature. In fact, human beings have done, and continue to do a great deal of things just to achieve and maintain comfort and safety. They work jobs they would never normally work, they take risks they would probably not otherwise take, and they spend hours and days planning to ensure that when the chips fall, they end up safe and comfortable again.

Safety and comfort are indeed the destination. While the means to get there may at times require that you step out of your comfort zone for little bit, if there were no possibility of comfort and safety at the end of the journey — nobody would take it.

Now, this is not true of every single action we take. We will do small things that may not look to provide us either safety or comfort. But we do those things inside of a larger framework where we do or will feel comfortable and safe.

I guess that’s why I cringe when I read what I would consider incomplete advice about personal growth — that the key is stop chasing comfort and security. I think that’s short sighted and probably harmful. If people did not chase stability, safety, and comfort, the world would be a scary and incomprehensible place. We’d all be Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight — just randomly doing terrible things — just wanting to watch the world burn.

If I had to venture a guess, I would file this under premature theorizing and oversimplification. Someone heard a piece of advice that sounded great and had seemingly good explanatory power. They ran with it. They got a shiny new hammer, and everything looks like a nail.

I will continue to pursue comfort and safety. So will you. So will anyone you know who isn’t mentally ill. The question is not whether that is true, but how that guides your different decisions. It probably shouldn’t drive your short-term decisions, but it should drive your long-term decisions.

A lack of safety and comfort in the short term can be beneficial. But at some point it becomes detrimental. In short, leaving your comfort zone is just like going to work each day: you should do it very frequently, but once you start spending all your time there, it’s problematic.

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