Comfort Zones

The term ‘comfort zone’ is something that most people are familiar with. Yet on the Webster’s Online dictionary the only definition you get is: “The temperature range (between 28 and 30 degrees Centigrade) at which the naked human body is able to maintain a heat balance without shivering or sweating.”

I kind of like that definition because it conjures up what people experience when they get jolted outside their comfort zone in the terms described by Wikipedia: “The comfort zone is a behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk (White 2009).”

In other words, when we get pushed outside of our comfort zone we experience being vulnerable (naked) and very likely we have associated physical reactions to that state such as increased heart rate, sweaty palms, reddening face, feeling sick in the stomach, tight in the chest etc. and then we do stuff to deal with that experience – we might make a joke, or blame someone else, or withdraw, or pretend we know something, or justify ourselves.

The funny thing about comfort zones is that whilst it is generally accepted that we all operate within them, if I asked you to describe what yours is you would probably have a hard time doing that with any kind of accuracy. The truth is that the only way we know we operate inside of a comfort zone is through the experience we have when we are outside of it, when we are uncomfortable. The experience of being uncomfortable indicates we are outside of our standard ‘behavioural, ‘anxiety-neutral’ condition, and for most of us that is a rare occurrence.

Not knowing what constitutes and defines your Comfort Zone can be a handicap in the game of being a better manager or leader. It means you have a blind spot and until you have identified what it is that is dictating your behaviours and actions you cannot effectively interrupt them to adjust and impact your effectiveness and performance.

Here’s 3 things you can do in the space of 30 minutes that will help you to define your Comfort Zone:

Reflect on and write down in what situations, including which conversations, do you feel uncomfortable?

In each of those situations, what do you experience physically?

In each of those situations, what do you do to get yourself back to feeling comfortable again?

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