Not many of us will have been feeling that comfortable lately. With the COVID-19 crisis turning our lives upside down, confining us indoors, changing the way we work and jeopardising our global economic stability and security – we’ve experienced discomfort at levels we’ve probably never imagined before. From our new perspective, we can see that in the developed world, we have often taken such luxuries as plentiful food supply, space, entertainment, travel, education, healthcare and quality of life for granted. We had become complacent about our comfortable lifestyles which meant we were shocked and unprepared as events swiftly unfolded. As the weeks have gone by, as a society we have adapted to our new reality and learned a great deal – to be more resourceful, more sustainable, to problem-solve, to be creative, to be more community-minded. In other words – the discomfort, has actually served to enrich our lives.
I believe the comfort/discomfort idea works on a personal level too. We all opt for comfort as our default setting. It’s human nature to want to be comfortable. Our primitive brains are hardwired to be fearful of the new, to be wary of change – it’s the way our ancestors kept themselves safe in dangerous and challenging environments. But we need to overcome these primal instincts. Usually in our daily lives we are not experiencing danger so these feelings are not serving us. They don’t just keep us in our comfort zones – they keep us in what I like to call, our comfort enclosures. What’s the difference?
The comfort enclosure.
The comfort ‘zone’ doesn’t adequately convey the limiting harm of this phenomenon. A zone is a neutral area – but a comfort enclosure is a restricted space. Whilst I’m not suggesting that everyone need be a thrill-seeking adrenalin-junkie, I believe the effect of the comfort enclosure is pernicious. It restricts you, holds you back – and prevents you from realising your potential.
But how do you know whether you’re stuck in yours?
7 Signs that you might be stuck in your comfort enclosure.
– You can do your job with your eyes shut.
It’s great to be good at your job and it’s a great feeling to know that you can do your job well. But can you do it easily? If you are not challenged at all by your work or are not regularly learning anything new, how can you ever progress and discover your true potential?
– You avoid leadership.
Do you resist opportunities to take responsibility for teams or projects or go for that promotion? Perhaps you just think that you’re not ‘leadership material’ – but is that just a justification for your inaction? You can’t find out whether you could be leadership material until you embrace the discomfort and try it.
– You procrastinate.
Your plans are always in the future because somehow the perfect set of circumstances upon which you will take action never materialises. Are you really just putting off having to do something new or challenging?
– You avoid making decisions.
You are afraid of making bad decisions so let other people make them for you or postpone making them until it is too late to impact the outcome. But being able to make your own decisions is a huge part of having control and ownership of your life and your future.
– You resist change.
Have you avoided opportunities to do something new or step up because it would change your existing status quo? Do you worry that something different would automatically be worse than your current circumstances? Understand that rationally this is not the case. There is no reason why new should be less advantageous – it might be uncomfortable for a while, but it is not necessarily worse – and could well end up being much better!
– You haven’t felt passionate about anything for a while.
Remember that feeling of being totally absorbed by something interesting? Have you felt it lately? If life feels a little lacklustre and flat, it could be because you are not currently growing and learning. Learning new things can be difficult and exhausting – but our brains love to do it. It causes new neural pathways and connections to be made, and achieving new goals – even small ones, gives us a little hit of the pleasure chemical dopamine. New experiences literally open our minds and make us happy.
– You embrace habits.
Do you find yourself doing and thinking the same things you’ve always done? Do you have a habit of seeing yourself in a certain way (as a person who lacks confidence for example?). Perhaps you need to examine your rationale for this. Are there objectively good reasons for doing and thinking those things – or are you doing them because it’s much easier and more comfortable to do what you’ve always done?
If some of these scenarios resonate with you, it could be that you have been living protected within your comfort enclosure – perhaps without even realising it. The good news, is that once you have recognised this fact, you can start to do something about it. The world is full of exciting possibilities and your life and career is there for the taking. You have it within your power to to direct which path you take.
Dance in the discomfort
I urge you to step out of your comfort enclosure and dance in the discomfort (read my blog on this here). Whilst humans have a primal instinct to keep themselves safe – it is also a critical part of human nature to grow, to take risks and to explore. Think of the early Homo Sapiens who embraced the unknown to walk out of Africa and discover new continents; the explorers, adventurers, scientists, inventors and artists who have advanced humanity in countless ways. We can’t all be expected to be groundbreaking pioneers for human-kind, of course, but we do all have it within our power to try, to fail, to learn, to grow and to reach our full personal potential. This undoubtedly involves some risk, difficulty and discomfort – but it is where a full and meaningful life can be found. My advice to you is this: don’t wait for your path ahead to be clear and straightforward before taking action and don’t base your decisions on how comfortable you feel about the action you need to take. Being outside of your comfort enclosure is what it really means to live.