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Jim's Gems: Change Your Comfort Zone

May 21, 2012
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Have you ever heard that “people can get used to almost anything”? I believe this to be true, especially if it happens gradually. When we get used to things being a certain way, we develop what is called a comfort zone, which is pretty much just what it sounds like. This may be comforting, but it is not always a good thing. As humans, we can adapt to almost anything. But when we adapt to something less than what we are capable of, it is not good.

The British management theorist Alasdair A.K. White said that the human comfort zone is a behavioral state in which a person operates in an anxiety-free condition, usually without a sense of risk. A comfort zone actually sets our paradigms-or mental boundaries-in which we tend to limit our thinking and actions. Essentially, a person who has established a comfort zone will tend to stay within that zone without stepping outside of it.

A simple analogy would be if you are used to cleaning your house every day because you like things neat and tidy, you will be uncomfortable when the sink is full of dishes or the house is cluttered. You will experience stress and tension until order is restored.

Conversely, if you are used to a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and things lying around, it likely won't bother you-unless, of course, you are expecting company. Then, the things you've gotten used to and comfortable with may suddenly become uncomfortable. You may even say to yourself, "That's OK for me, but I don't want my company to see that!"

People who go on crash diets before getting married or attending their school reunion are practicing the same sort of behavior as those who clean out their cars before picking up their bosses, or clean their houses before receiving company. But, think about it: Aren't you worth the same considerations as your boss; your co-worker; your friends; or your family? Don't you deserve to live by the same high standards that you adopt to impress others?

Take a look at your life. What have you gotten used to over time that you never really meant to happen? If you want to change your comfort zone for the better, you need to raise your internal standards and expand your thinking.

Most successful people routinely step outside of their comfort zones to accomplish whatever they desire. If you want to accomplish greater success, you will also need to change your comfort zone. In order to do so, you will have to change your paradigms and adopt a different set of behaviors.

This will be an uncomfortable transition for most people. Stepping outside a comfort zone raises anxiety levels and increases stress and tension. However, the outcome is generally higher levels of concentration and mental focus. Dr. White refers to this as the Optimal Performance Zone , in which the performance of a person can be enhanced and his or her skills optimized. Isn’t this the zone in which we want to be?

Be aware, however, that others-friends, co-workers, or family members-may counter your improvement efforts. They may try to pull you back with a crab mentality. This concept references an interesting phenomenon which happens with crabs in a bucket. If a crab attempts to escape, the other crabs will pull it back down, rather than allowing it to go free. Sometimes, the crabs are almost malicious, waiting until the escaping crab has almost gotten free before yanking it back.

Sometimes, when we are attempting to improve or raise above our station in life, we often find ourselves foiled by others who keep sucking us back in. If this happens, you will need to take steps to counter this effort, or you will be stuck in your old comfort zone.

Changing your comfort zone is not easy, but the reward opportunities are tremendous. Establish clear, ambitious goals, and start taking actions to expand your mental paradigms and work to establish a new comfort zone. Make this a never-ending process and see what wonderful things will transpire.
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