Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 17, Issue 38;   September 20, 2017: Comfort Zone Discomfort

Comfort Zone Discomfort

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

The phrase "comfort zone" is a metaphor that can distort how we think about situations in which we feel comfortable and confident. Here are four examples illustrating how the metaphor distorts our thinking.
A lightning storm over New York City

A lightning storm over New York City. Even if New York City is your comfort zone, there are times when it just isn't a safe place to be.

The widely used phrase, comfort zone, is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a place, situation, or level where someone feels confident and comfortable." It isn't a physical place, though numerous restaurants, bars, and children's camps use the phrase for their names. The phrase is a metaphor, and like all metaphors, it identifies something familiar — a zone — with something less familiar — a psychological or behavioral situation.

That identification is literally incorrect. A zone isn't a psychological space. A zone, again from the dictionary, is "a region or area set off as distinct from surrounding or adjoining parts." It's a contiguous region on a surface, such as the inbounds area of a tennis court, or the Greenwich Mean Time zone, or the territory of New York City.

Using metaphors entails risk. The literally incorrect identification of "zone" with "psychological situation" can distort thinking about the psychological space. Here are four issues for which the metaphor can cause muddled thinking.

Dealing with discomfort
The comfort zone isn't a "region or area" distinct from its surrounds. For example, when presenting to your team, you might be in your comfort zone, until your company's CEO enters the room and takes a seat. Clearly, the comfort zone wasn't the conference room; nor was it presenting in that room. In this case, the comfort zone's definition must include the audience. Thinking of the comfort zone as an area, when it's actually an audience roster, can make dealing with the discomfort more difficult.
Taking responsibility for growth
People talk about "breaking out of your comfort zone," or "pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone," as if something external holds one there. Constraining forces might indeed exist, but they're usually internal. Regarding these forces as external shifts the responsibility for making a change to someone else (or something else). That responsibility is ours alone; it cannot be shifted.
Feeling a false sense of security
When we People talk about "breaking
out of your comfort zone,"
or "pushing the boundaries
of your comfort zone," as
if something external
holds one there
feel that we're in our comfort zone, regarding it as a "zone" can create a false sense of security. Real "zones" — that is, regions or areas — are places that persist over time. Zones aren't usually subject to sudden change. Situations are. Situations can be comfortable in one moment and uncomfortable — even unsafe — in the next. To grasp how quickly situations can change, we must think of situations as situations.
Seeking real security
When we think of "seeking a comfort zone," the metaphor compels us to seek a place that's permanently comfortable. This is an objective different from seeking a situation that's comfortable for now, or for some other short period. So we end up looking for something possibly more difficult to find than what we actually need.

Metaphors are powerful. They're also dangerous. Use them with care. Go to top Top  Next issue: Meeting Troubles: Collaboration  Next Issue

Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunLove the work but not the job? Bad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? This ebook looks at what we can do to get more out of life at work. It helps you get moving again! Read Go For It! Sometimes It's Easier If You Run, filled with tips and techniques for putting zing into your work life. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Critical Thinking at Work:

A pattern that isn't a patternCoincidences Do Happen
When we notice similarities between events, or possible patterns of events, we often attribute meaning to them beyond what we can prove. Sometimes we guess right, and sometimes not. How can we improve our guesses?
In the conference roomInterviewing the Willing: Strategy
At times, we need information from each other. For example, we want to learn about how someone approached a similar problem, or we must interview someone about system requirements. Yet, even when the source is willing, we sometimes fail to expose critical facts. How can we elicit information from the willing more effectively?
A calm seaAn Emergency Toolkit
You've just had some bad news at work, and you're angry or really upset. Maybe you feel like the target of a vicious insult or the victim of a serious injustice. You have work to do, and you want to respond, but you must first regain your composure. What can you do to calm down and start feeling better?
A curious babyWhen Fixing It Doesn't Fix It: II
When complex systems misbehave, repairs can require deep thought, inspiration, and careful reasoning. Here are guidelines for a systematic approach to repairing complex systems.
Clutter in the Leonardo Module of the International Space StationVirtual Clutter: I
With some Web searching, you can find abundant advice for decluttering your home or office. And people are even thinking about decluttering email inboxes. But the problem of clutter is far more widespread.

See also Critical Thinking at Work and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill BridgeComing September 25: Planning Disappointments
When we plan projects, we make estimates of total costs and expected delivery dates. Often these estimates are so wrong — in the wrong direction — that we might as well be planning disappointments. Why is this? Available here and by RSS on September 25.
Samples of bubble wrapAnd on October 2: Start Anywhere
Group problem-solving sessions sometimes focus on where to begin, even when what we know about the problem is insufficient for making such decisions. In some cases, preliminary exploration of almost any aspect of the problem can be more helpful than debating what to explore. Available here and by RSS on October 2.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership

On 14The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program.

Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The
Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.