Are your days routine, orderly, or predictable? Have you questioned your authenticity, competence, or likeability, or avoided situations that might challenge them before? If so, you fit the demographic of nearly every working person, from CEO to goat farmer, and may just be limiting yourself, and your capacity for new skills and experiences, to the fraction of your potential that exists inside your “comfort zone.”
Comfort zones are what speaker Bill Eckstrom defines as “order,” where work is done but boundaries are not pushed (2017). Author Andy Molinsky exemplifies struggles with them; from actors like Natalie Portman competing in her industry, officers repossessing property, doctors performing painful surgeries on kids, to priests delivering last rites, people cringe at uncomfortable roles, let alone engage them (2017). Yet, Eckstrom insists “only in a state of discomfort can you continually grow” and Molinsky explains comfort as where psychological roadblocks like anxiety and questioning of self (authenticity, competence, likeability, and morality) deprive people of the clarity to achieve gains that are not only attainable, but likely (2017). After all, the mentioned work of actors, officers, doctors, and Priests would be as unattainable as it is considered necessary, qualified, and respectable, had these persons remained in comfort zones.

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Eckstrom and Molinsky’s explained wealths of personal, social, institutional and global opportunities outside comfort are scientifically substantiated. In a study, “Expanding the boundaries of primary care for elderly people,” it was found that recognizing familial and personal physical expectations of patients, and many therapists constantly challenge those comfort zones, lead to patients exceeding the physical capacities of unchallenged patients (2000). Moreover, in the article “‘Small’ Acts Are Often Not That Small” it was found that learning and tolerance exponentially increases when people are made to step outside personal comfort zones (2017).

So how does one step outside comfort zones? Eckstrom offers three means to achieve situations of “complexity” rather than “order,” and so achieve the discomfort necessary for growth: either discomfort can be forced upon you (like getting fired), someone can push you to discomfort (like a coach pushing athletic limits), or you can trigger discomfort yourself by challenging an established order (like a 1950’s colored social pioneer who refused to give up a seat on a segregated bus). These scenarios force people to set new standards for themselves and the world. Molinsky offers smaller means to challenge comfort: recognize that feelings of being inauthentic or incompetent in a role are common “(if you feel like a poser, hey, join the crowd,)” find a source of conviction when struggling with how others might perceive or morally judge you for taking certain risks and customize a way of handling it (if you are shy and need to network, script out some meaningful phrases, wear a conversation piece, or bring a friend), or challenge the emotional extremes that anxiety spikes by setting realistic expectations (do not picture worst case scenarios, or decide that you will not succeed at something unless you assure you have perfected every outlying factor concerning it).

Essentially, if psychological roadblocks to leaving comfort zones can be recognized, where and how to challenge them can be understood, and a conviction to do so is attained, the fraction of your potential inside your comfort zone becomes boundless. For more information, watch Eckstrom on TED talk or read Molinksy’s book “Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge and Build Confidence.”

    References
  • Eckstrom, B. (2017, January 31). Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Life . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBvHI1awWaI&feature=youtu.be.
  • Doel, M. (2017). “Small” acts are often not that small. Social Work with Groups, 40(1-2), 21-25. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxygw.wrlc.org/10.1080/01609513.2015.1070256
  • Molinsky, A. (2017, February 9). Escape Your Comfort Zone [Interview by S. Green]. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved May 13, 2017, from https://hbr.org/ideacast/2017/02/escape-your-comfort-zone.html.
  • Netting, F. E., & Williams, F. G. (2000). Expanding the boundries of primary care for elderly people. Health & Social Work, 25(4), 233-42. Retrieved from http://proxygw.wrlc.org/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxygw.wrlc.org/docview/210539885?accountid=11243