We’re often told that we must be willing to go beyond our comfort zones if we want to accomplish anything significant and that otherwise, we’re doomed to stagnate. But not everyone agrees with that view. I recently came across a blog post entitled Comfort Zone Malarkey, in which the author pointed out that when we are more comfortable, we are also more productive. Why shouldn’t we want to arrange our lives in comfortable patterns that reduce our stress and make us more productive in our everyday tasks?

I’d say that as with many things, it is chiefly a matter of self-awareness and finding the right balance. Some of us naturally have wide comfort zones and are always eager to try new activities. Others get anxious about small changes in routine. Because the modern world is so full of change and disruption, those who get anxious more easily are often advised to work on expanding their comfort zones.

When a disruptive situation can’t reasonably be avoided, getting used to it is probably good advice. For instance, advances in technology may seem intimidating, but we’re much better off to get comfortable with new products as they come into use, rather than keeping obsolete stuff. Considering how quickly things are changing in our society, though, I don’t see a need to randomly jump into all sorts of activities with the aim of expanding our comfort zones. Just keeping up with today’s new technologies and cultural changes ought to give us plenty of practice in that!

As I see it, the main reason why people get stuck in unproductive routines is not that they haven’t tried to expand their comfort zones, but that routines can get outdated quickly without it being noticeable. We’ve all had to adjust our comfort zones hugely in recent years, just to deal with the massive changes taking place all around us. Even when a change is good, we still need some amount of time and mental energy to get used to it. And when we get stressed trying to keep up with everything that’s going on, we fall back on familiar routines to calm ourselves.

Having comfortable routines is not a problem in itself. We all need them! But if we don’t take enough time to reflect on whether our routines suit our current circumstances, we can end up mindlessly stuck in habits that don’t work well at all. Especially as we get older, it’s all too easy to keep on doing something a certain way because that’s how we have done it for the past 30 years, whether or not it makes sense anymore. That lack of reflection is what causes people to stagnate, much more than being afraid to leave a comfort zone. After all, if it hasn’t even crossed our minds that doing something different might be possible, then we never reach the point of considering whether we might want to do it—and our comfort zone slowly shrinks.

When that happens, it’s not because we lack the intelligence or imagination to notice that our circumstances have changed. Rather, it’s because the complexity of the modern world forces us to adjust our routines much more than our ancestors ever had to do. Keeping up with everything that has changed around us is a lot of work—it’s no wonder some things get overlooked! So, when dealing with people whose routines seem overly rigid, kindness and understanding are needed. After all, we may have our own stagnant habits that we haven’t noticed yet!

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