The term “comfort zone” has become a popular way to describe how we are feeling about various activities we are taking part in – “that pushed me way out of my comfort zone,” or “that was not in my comfort zone,” are pretty common phrases these days. When we talk about our “comfort zone” what we are talking about is our personal orbit, our range of personal activities. Each of us has a daily routine, a weekly routine and perhaps even a monthly or yearly routine. Generally speaking we are creatures of habit and we develop comfort zones we like, and of course, feel comfortable in.
Often, even when we do try to venture out of it, we are quickly pulled back in to it. There is a dynamic called “homeostasis” which is critical to this. Homeostasis has both psychological and physical implications and what it’s pointing to is the fundamental and biological drive for equilibrium and stability in a system, (and yes, we are including human beings as systems). In effect, homeostasis helps create and regulate our “comfort zones.” This is a very important phenomenon to understand. It works for us in critical ways. For example, it helps keep our body temperatures stable. As we know, we all have a set-point for body temperature that is on average 98.6 degrees. The homeostasis in our bodies helps insure that when our temperature fluctuates, it comes back to this comfortable set point. The downside is that when we challenge ourselves psychologically and emotionally in various ways, there can be a “homeostatic back lash,” and a strong pull to go back to our existing comfort zone until we have solidly established a new set point.
So our comfort zone is somewhat like a thermostat. Unconsciously it has been set at a particular point and when we change it, it takes some time to “heat up or cool down” to the new set point.
An amazing example of this is the research that has been done on lottery winners. It has been found that generally, if someone was poor before winning the lottery, they will end up poor again. If they were middle class, they would ultimately end up middle class again and so on. This is a powerful example of what happens when our set points or comfort zones are radically and unexpectedly challenged and how powerful homeostasis can be.
As we discuss comfort zones, set points, etc. we want to be clear that this is not a piece about people who plod along and move slowly or people who seem risk averse. If you are a fast-paced, “go go go” type of person that is your comfort zone. What if you had to slow down, be more reflective, bring your energy “down and in” instead of being an “up and out” kind of person? What if you had to take on a meditation practice? Would you still be in your comfort zone? What if you are a thrill seeker and look for ways to “push the envelope” all the time? What would happen if you lived a more mundane existence and had to experience the ordinary? Would you still be in your comfort zone?
The thing is, if you want new outcomes, bigger results and to achieve your vision are you ready to expand your comfort zone? Are you ready to alter your personal orbit? Are you fortified and prepared for the inevitable backlash that may come from inside you, but also from those around you who may feel threatened or unnerved by change? If you are part of their system, their orbit, their comfort zone, and you change, what happens to their comfort zone? If you aren’t ready to expand your orbit, how can you expect your colleagues, team, or employees to do it?