Comfort zone? More like comfort zombie...
Mar 18, 2016
From the perspective of growth and expertise, I think one of the most dangerous places to be in one’s life is in your comfort zone. That place where the challenges and efforts presented are totally within your grasp and your chance of success is nearly guaranteed. Show up, do your thing, and be on your way. It's the personal growth equivalent of being a zombie. A comfort zombie.
Now, if your goal is to not challenge yourself and just keep doing what you’re doing, then fine, be a comfort zombie. The world needs average people to do all the average things that need average results. But don't kid yourself into believing your are in anyway improving yourself or your skills by doing nothing more than the same day-to-day practice of what you already understand. In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. But what is often lost is a very important distinction about those hours. It is how you spend those 10,000 hours more so than just clocking the time. 10,000 hours of driving a car does not make you an expert at driving a car. It makes you someone who spends a lot of time in a car. Sure, you are probably better than someone who just started driving, but you are nowhere near what it takes to compete in NASCAR.
If you really want to improve anything in your life, you need to get out of your comfort zone. Stop being a comfort zombie who mindlessly wanders through the motions. Improvement takes effort and that isn't always fun. Which means, if you are always having fun, then you are probably doing it (improvement) wrong. I'm not saying that growing your expertise can't be enjoyable, but experts in any area of life, push themselves to be so. Practice for the expert is about finding the edges of the comfort zone and stretching past it. One needs to get out of the 90%+ chance of success zone and spend your time in the 50%-80% chance of success zone. That is the sweet spot for real improvement.
Case in point is a conversation I was having with my wife about skiing. She is an avid skier and better than me (don't tell her I said that). She is already very good but wants to be better, so each and every time she goes skiing, she works at something to get improvement. Maybe it is focusing on leg position, or maybe it is taking that run she was afraid to take last time but just knows that is the type of run she needs to go down if she wants to take it to the next level. Each time she heads down one of those runs, it take a lot of effort and concentration and not a little bit of fear to overcome. But at the bottom, she looks back up, breathing hard from the effort and says to herself “Wow! That was fun!” She definitely wasn't thinking that while challenging herself on the hill. It was concentration and focused effort in her stretch zone. Fun when done, but effort when engaged.
You're probably saying to yourself, “Really? I should spend my time doing things I only have a 50% chance of succeeding at? How am I supposed to get stuff done?” Good point and I am not suggesting you spend ALL your time in the 'stretch' zone. What I am suggesting is that when you are trying to get better at something, that you spend the majority of your practice time focused there. Fail a bunch, be a little uncomfortable and be the better for it.
Zombies are comfortable. There is really not much causing them to stretch and reach for more in their lives. When you have comfortable zombies, they tend to gather in hordes. When you have hordes of zombies, you have an apocalypse on your hands. Do your part to keep that from happening. Don't be a comfort zombie.
Can you think of an area in your life you have been hoping for improvement but are really just being a comfort zombie?
Jason is a technologist, consultant, and organizational leader with over 30 years of experience. For the last 20 years, Jason has focused primarily on strategic architecture, privacy, and information security. As a leader and subject matter expert, he has authored numerous papers and articles and is a frequent speaker on these subjects. Jason’s expertise lies in his ability to synthesize the complex nature of technology, strategy, and information security into simple and understandable building blocks. Known for his energetic, focused and light-hearted style, Jason’s personal and professional philosophy is one of openness, empowerment and purpose driven action. Be present. Get a plan. Make it happen.