Geo Roberts Blog

What Comfort Zones Do We Have?

What comfort zones do we have?  One approach to this is to look at all the areas of our lives that demand our attention from time to time.  One of the most helpful for me and many others has been the concept of the "Wheel of Life".  If our comfort zone were depicted as a circle like this:

Outside my comfort zone

Situations I am not sure of

Big Crowds or People I do not like being around

Situations which remind me of failures I have had in the past

Our Comfort Zone

Our Comfort Zone

Outside my comfort zone

Places I have never been

People who are new to me

Experiences which evoke unwanted emotions or conflict

If this represented the whole of us, and the edge of our comfort zones represented the edge of the circle (which of course it does not because our CZ's vary in distance out depending upon our perceptions for each area), we could say every situation/relationship/location/environment inside the circle we are "comfortable and confident", and every place outside is "uncomfortable and not natural" for us.  Dissecting the circle and labelling each segment with a name might then give us a more sophisticated CZ:

Areas of Comfort that can affect our zone


We might find certain segments mentioned place us outside of our comfort zone more than others.  Yet if we have a failure in one area outside of our comfort zone, it can affect the boundary of our whole zone.  We might even find we begin to build a wall around the whole thing.  This could lead to the downward spiral we spoke of in the earlier blog.  On the other hand, if we have what we deem as a successful venture, it can lead to us being more confident in other areas as well!  As you reflect, where has your comfort zone shifted either outwardly or inwardly recently?  What impact, if any did it have on other areas?  We'll explore next blog as promised what happens if we stay in any one of our comfort zone segments too long.

Why Not Just Stay Within Our Comfort Zones We Are Confident in?

It's harmful and unfulfilling, that's why!

What have I missed out on in my life because I have shrinked back from learning to enjoy swimming?  Well for one, my wife loves it!  We could have had many more enjoyable times in the water with our family playing water sports and swimming in the world's oceans and seas.  It is one of the best ways to keep fit as it exercises so many muscle groups and the cardiovascular system all at once.  I wonder what beaches of the world we have missed walking on together because it does not attract me in the slightest?

The second reason staying in our comfort zone is potentially harmful to us is because we were designed to grow, learn and  explore new things.  By definition staying in our CZ actually erodes our ability and imagination to try different experiences.  It leads to prejudices setting in and we get stuck in a rut. Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying for some people what could have been written on their gravestones is, Born 1745.  Died aged 25, Buried aged 75.

Our Comfort Zones are like muscles.

We all know that our muscles atrophy if they are not used.  So do our comfort zones.  Ask any person who has been laid off from work for awhile or who has taken time out to have a family, and they'll tell you.  Even what we used to feeling comfortable doing becomes uncomfortable and we lose our confidence and determination to venture out.  We get "out of the habit".  Resistance sets in.  There seems to be a negative, downward pull like gravity that leads us to stay well and truly locked into our shrinking comfort zone in quiet desperation.  It can lead to downward spiral of depression, even suicide.  A friend of mine just recently did take his own life.  He was a very successful husband, combat veteran who had dedicated over 40 years of his life serving his country he loved.  He then decided to retire. he and his wife bought a beautiful home, car and all the trappings of success in one of the top places to live in the USA.  He began to make new friends, renew old friendships and make a positive contribution to his alma mater, the USAF Academy.  But something in him said, "You are worth less now because you are not getting paid for what you do".  Although there of course may be many extenuating circumstances that could have led to him taking his life, I believe a contributing factor was he was not being stretched out of his comfort zone any more in what he felt was a meaningful way.  He slowly grew more and more depressed, despite looking to everyone else including his wife and closest friends as if he had it all together.  I weep when I think of him, and wonder what would have happened had he known how important his life is, and how valuable he was to those who knew him?  We are designed to leave the "safety" of our comfort zones if we truly want to live well and be happy. 

Let's explore this a bit further by taking a closer look at various comfort zones we all have, and answer the question, should we stay or should we go?

Trapped For Life In a Swimming Pool

Mr Toth, the swimming instructor at the USAF Academy in 1964 looked down at me shaking his head.  I was gasping for breath and spitting water, thinking to myself how glad I was to being alive.  He then said to me in broken English, "Cadet Roberts, you will have to take remedial swimming."  My euphoria from still being alive quickly turned to humiliation, as I realized I had just failed one of the earliest of many tests at the Academy.  Here I was, a fresh graduate and valedictorian from the small high school I attended. I was the first ever appointee to an military academy recruited to become an Air Force officer and gentleman from our community.  I could not swim!  Was this going to be the first of many experiencs where the harsh reality that I was a poor performer would show?  All I had to do was swim the 25 meter length some 5 times in a given timeframe, and I'd have passed.  

Help! I am drowning!

Help! I am drowning!

Growing up in the middle of Nebraska I never took swimming lessons, It was not part of our high school curriculum.  It was, football, basketball, and track and field in those days.  Certainly not swimming.  We did not even have a local pool until I was a teen ager to go swimming.  Yet I did swim a bit at our local river nearby to our ranch.  It was a fast flowing stream that had one place about 10 feet wide where the water was over 6 feet deep.  All the rest we could walk in or simply lay on our back and float.  You can imagine  when told to swim 75 feet 5 times without stopping how shocked I was when, having completed one and 1/2 laps in the middle of water well over my head, I was literally exhausted!  My lungs were crying out for air and every muscle in my body was shouting, "STOP!"  So I did.  I simply let my feet sink so I could stand up for a minute and catch my breath.  That is when the panic swept over me.  I could not touch the bottom!  I swallowed at least a gallon of chlorinated pool water and thought, "This is it! I'm gonna die!"  Luckily I did know how to dog paddle enough to come back up to the surface.  I quickly scanned the horizon to see the closest bulkhead I could swim to, and then splashed my way over to the side.  My comfort zone had truly been expanded into the panic zone!  Guess what that experience did to me?  Did it make me want to go swimming again, or did it make me want to never go near that pool?  

Because I was told to, I gutted my way through the remedial swimming, and even became proficient enough I passed all the other water based elements to life at the Academy and beyond in my military career.  Yet I never enjoyed it much.  Going to the pool or beach, even with my family was just something I tolerated, but I never really looked forward to it.  Even today, it is probably my least favorite form of exercise.  I have "trapped" myself in a comfort zone which says, "I tried it once, and I didn't like it."  Can you identify with similar comfort zones in your own life that have become comfort traps?  How do these impact you?  

In our next blog we'll explore reasons why habitually staying in our comfort zones can be harmful or limiting to us.


What is a Comfort Zone and How Can It Trap Us?

Isn't it great to have a relaxing weekend and take some time to chill? So the idea of us having spent some time in our "comfort zones" seems readily identifiable.  We love our comfort zones.  It is a great place to relax, let down our guard, just be ourself.  Laze around all day, no stresses or strains.  Eat and drink what we want, when we want.  Surround ourselves with the pleasures of family and friends, or simply stay home alone.  The Oxford Dictionary says it's "a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress".  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary calls it: "a place, situation, or level where someone feels confident and comfortable." Personally, I like the Cambridge English Dictionary version which states that a comfort zone is a place in which "someone's ability or determination are not being tested."  Supposedly it first came into use in our language back in 1923.  Wonder why that was?

By these definitions, each of us have our own individual comfort zone, and these comfort zones apply to all areas of our lives.  For instance, I know of someone very comfortable in front of 1000s people, yet in small group settings felt out of place.  I love being on an airplane and flying, where for some people, they are terrified.  Put me on a 10 meter diving board and ask me to dive in, and I'll panic, yet flying at supersonic speeds in a combat aircraft were normal places of work at one time.

So what is the problem with having different sizes and types of comfort zones?  Well, there are two reasons I can think of right away.  One problem with a limited and unchanging comfort zone is that they can become comfort traps -- we get stuck in them so that when asked or forced to do something where our abilities or determination are tested, we decline.  There is a big "NO" communicated in our brain that causes us to freeze, make excuses or actually shrink back and form a buffer zone of protection around ourselves.  We say, "I tried that once and it did not work," or, "That's just not me".  Psychologists say this reaction is our natural way of protecting ourselves from perceived danger.  We fear or are suspicious that going out of our comfort zone on this occasion will cause us harm, or feelings of inadequacy.  Worst yet, it may get us to relive past experiences where going out of our comfort zones caused us mental or physically pain.  Our imaginations can run wild as we recall past failures.  Our confidence takes a big hit.  No wonder we shrink back.  This happened to me once years ago and I have never forgot it.  I'll tell you about it in the next blog,  Before you read it, please reflect for a moment on experiences in your past may have caused you to get stuck in a comfort trap.  Talk it through with a friend or loved one.


Our Comfort Zone becomes a Comfort Trap

Our Comfort Zone becomes a Comfort Trap

We Cannot Learn To Fly On A Weekend!


Imagine seeing an advertisement on a social media site or email flyer promising to teach you how to fly on just one weekend.  How many of you would jump at the chance to be the first passenger of a graduate of that weekend course knowing their experience level was one weekend in a classroom learning about how to fly?  That would be crazy, wouldn't it?  Yet tragically, we are all suckers to try the "Get Rich, Famous, and Successful Quick" schemes in almost every area of life.

I have been persuaded by my close friends and family to embark into a whole new world this year.  It will involve me learning to "fly" in a different kind of craft.  It's called the world of social media.  I would love to be able to buy something at the software store like Best Buy, and then plug it in, and Shazam! I'd have a whole plan for how to use the web base tools to get out to a waiting public much of what 70 years of life's experiences has brought me to realize.  Just like the microwave, it would all be done, and I could serve it up to the people who want to know very quickly.  

Unfortunately, developing new skills just does not happen that way.  However, my aim is to slowly put on the internet a series of blogs and videos outlining the "IMPACT! How to Make a Positive Difference" book I wrote in the hope it will resonate with people who truly do want to make a positive difference as leaders in their own world.

I intend to devote 2017 to unpacking a far better way to learn to fly, lead, and develop lasting behavioral change in our lives by using a fundamentally practical and usable way of learning and developing.  It's called the Cycle of Experiential Development which I describe in detail in Chapter one of IMPACT!.

I first heard of the Cycle of Development as it was called then back in the 1980's.  I was going through a development and training program with the Dale Carnegie Organization to become one of their regional managers and instructors.  Sherman Brown, the owner of  the Dale Carnegie Franchise for the United Kingdom was teaching us how to sell the Dale Carnegie programs and convince businesses to invest in their people.  The unique selling point for Dale Carnegie was not the content of the programs, but the way it was conducted.  Rather than "sheep dip" as Sherman would say, participants into one-off events and expect them to change or behave differently, the methodology involved taking our clients through bite-sized modules of how-to topics, gaining commitment to try something new, and then checking up on their experiences the next time the group got together.  This may sound quite sensible, yet back then, almost all motivational training was delivered in intense, one or two day events crammed with content to fill our minds with fresh thoughts, but little time spent in gaining buy-in to do anything differently, and no time at all devoted to reviewing what the attendees did differently afterwards.

Of course, much of motivation and developmental training of the multibillion dollar talent development industry still conducts seminars and events this way despite the evidence that these conferences are not the best way to get organizations and people to change.  Even in the coaching industry we hold Fall Conferences and annual intense two or three day events expecting us to pay hard earned money to "Transform Our Future".  The training effect of these events is real -- almost everyone of us goes away on a high, with the best intentions to put at least some of the ideas and techniques into practice.  I have a shelf full of the books and CD's purchased from these events, yet hand on heart, even with the best intentions in the world, most of it remains there collecting dust.  We just do not need more how-to's to make us more successful, fulfilled, stronger, etc.  We cannot learn to fly in a weekend!

The Awful Dilemma of Staying in Our Comfort Zones for the wrong reasons

Understanding the dilemma of staying in or venturing out of our comfort zones can make a big difference in how we lead our lives.  Of course, all of us could benefit from having the wisdom to choose when it is best to rest inside of our multiplex comfort zones.  If we have been in a highly stressful environment or conflict situation, drawing aside to our comfy chair and a good book or movie with family or loved one does wonders for the soul.  It's like a warm, hot bath on a cold, winter's night.  Perhaps we have ventured too far outside our comfort zone or were thrust outside of it by external events, in either case going back inside is a wise and helpful thing to do.  It is a great place to get refreshed and renewed, especially if we have someone we can speak to about our day who can coach us through the trauma.  Yet we already have discussed how harmful it can be if we stay in or stagnate.  It can lead to us getting way too introspective, negative and fearful.  As we have stated in a previous blog, we can become lonely, depressed and the downward spiral sets in.  Stagnating we saw earlier can be a real problem.  So can having just one area of our comfort zone that impacts the whole of us.  Remember Howard Hughes?  His life and death was a classic case of how staying in our comfort zone for fear of some outside threat-germs for him- took this highly creative, fearless pilot, entrepreneur and billionaire businessman to spend his last few years confined to lying naked on his hotel bed in what he hoped was a germ free environment.  In the end, his fear killed him. Read more about it online in an article by M Dittmann:

So what might be causing you to stay in your comfort zone too long or too much?  Have you had experiences that have turned into obsessions or phobias which serve to keep you locked in your CZ?

Why not write these down or speak to someone about them.  We'll explore in the next blog the opposite scenario where we encounter being to adventuresome or in a traumatic out of zone experience