Did I catch your attention? Does it seem that I’m swimming against a tide of motivational memes? But what about those inspirational but unspecific and unsubstantiated promises like, “This is where the magic happens”?
Consider this: the human body has very specific comfort zones for things like temperature, blood glucose, and atmospheric oxygen. For example, humans can survive for periods in double digit zero degree centigrade and although our cells start to die at 41C, people can survive a day trip to Death Valley which reaches highs of 55C.
On waking this morning, your fasting blood sugar should be under 100 mg/dl, but if you have just had a good breakfast or lunch it’s likely to be around 140 mg/dl. If you are not a diabetic, your body has a sophisticated method for keeping your blood sugar in a ‘comfort zone’. Too high or too low and you will go into a coma.
At sea level, atmospheric oxygen is about 21% of the air we breathe, but climb a mountain like Everest and at 8000 meters you enter what climbers call ‘The Death Zone’ because you are dying from lack of oxygen. Underwater divers, on the other hand, must be aware of the dangers of Oxygen Toxicity, as increased pressure can result in hypoxia resulting in symptoms such as seizures, brief periods of rigidity followed by convulsions and unconsciousness.
In each of these scenarios, advising someone to get out of their comfort zone would be criminally negligent. “But wait a minute” – the motivators will say, “we are talking about mindset, a mental comfort zone.” Well, I have news for you – our psychology has mechanisms for keeping us in a ‘comfort zone’ for good reasons. We prefer certainty and engage in behaviors to control our environment, because uncertainty causes us stress. Normal personality is a bell curve of variations, but outside of that standard deviation, we enter the realms of bizarre behavior and then insanity.
If the advice to get out of your comfort zone is wrong…
What advice should we be giving to people to grow and develop?
“Expand Your Comfort Zone”
Just as a mountaineer or explorer trains to adapt their body to extremes of pressure and oxygen, or a marathon runner conditions their body and adjusts their diet to handle the distance, so you can condition your mind to handle greater uncertainty and ambiguity, as well as train your personality or leadership style to be more flexibile for different environments and circumstances.
The brain retains levels of plasticity and therefore adaptability throughout life. The key is the intention to change and gradual exposure to greater challenges.
Perhaps it’s just semantics, but as a coach, I’ve found that when people attempt to step out of their comfort zone, they set themselves up for failure, but if you have a clear idea in which area you wish develop, set an intention to do so and follow through starting with small actions and then gradually increase the challenge, you are following a proven psychological path to Self-leadership and success.