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Getting comfortable with discomfort

I find it so much easier to do things the way I’ve always done them. The familiarity that comes with staying in my comfort zone is, well, comfortable. Even if I don’t get the exact results I want, at least I have some sense of stability and mental security! Unfortunately, certainty and stability are not all they’re cracked up to be in an ever-changing environment!

Here’s a cogent example. The other evening, I was sitting comfortably in my family room browsing Netflix to choose my next movie to stream. I recalled my previous process for accessing movies, which now seems like ancient history! I vividly remember making semi-weekly drives to Blockbuster (five miles from my house at the time), walking up and down the store aisles, reading the backs of the DVD covers to determine if the movie looked any good, waiting in the checkout lane to borrow the DVD, and then scheduling my movie-viewing to make sure I got it back to the store on time (or pay the consequences of a late fee!).

Of course, we all know what happened to Blockbuster! They got comfortable. They continued to rely on what had always made them strong in the past. They didn’t challenge themselves to think differently as the world changed around them. Even when the handwriting was on the wall, even when it was clear that customers were migrating to a more convenient way to get movies, Blockbuster kept doing what they’d always done. They stayed in their comfort zone until there was nothing left to do but close up shop. In 2010, they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Our comfort zone is that space where our thoughts, behaviors and actions fit a secure pattern that makes us feel safe and keeps things minimally stressful. In fact, our brain is wired to keep us in the safety of our comfort zone. We prefer things we know, and favor our familiar routines. Certainty and stability feel rewarding, like a warm, cozy security blanket. Doing things differently means we have to take risks, and we fear the possibility of failure, rejection, criticism or embarrassment.

But as comfy as our comfort zone feels, it is also a dangerous place. The dangers come in three flavors — complacency, inflexibility, stagnation. These hazards leave us mired in fabricated contentment, stalled in stubbornness and susceptible to becoming irrelevant.

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