comfort zone

never too late

Do you remember when it mattered? When your dreams burned within and it was painful to not accomplish them right then.

Do you remember when your entire life was potential? When you thought you could go anywhere and do anything and you wanted to go everywhere and do everything.

Do you remember when you had ideas? Ideas for businesses you wanted to start or ideas to save the world or ideas of the kind of life you were going to live.

Do you remember when creativity was at the center of your dreams? The books you were going to write, the songs you were going to play, the art you were going to make.

Do you remember when the world was fascinating? So many things to do, people to meet, and places to explore.

Do you remember when you couldn’t wait to get started on your life? When the wonder of who you were going to be and what you were going to do had you anxious and impatient to get going.

Do you remember when you were going to be bold? When the thought of living a life of resignation and quiet desperation was what scared you the most?

Do you remember when you were going to be great? When your career was going to shine and you would be revered for your incredible talent.

Do you remember when work was fun? When you couldn’t wait to get up because every day was exciting and different and you were learning at a ferocious pace.

Do you remember the day all that went away? Do you remember waking up one day and wondering where it had gone? Or had you forgotten all about it?

Do you remember when thriving became surviving? When standing out became hanging on? When hopes and dreams became reality TV? When the life you were going to live became the life that never quite happened?

Bigger question: what are you going to do about it? Your life looks different now, of course. Security, stability, and comfort pushed aside passion, desire, and excitement. You have constraints and responsibilities and obligations you never had back then.

You also have resources you never had. A sense of who you really are, not just who you thought you wanted to be. Wisdom, judgment, and patience to know what needs to be done and see it through. People you can count on as much as they count on you. The foundation and options a steady income provides. A sense of mortality pushing you to get things done today rather than waiting for “someday when.” The toughness that comes from getting through the downturns of life. The awareness you won’t be the next superstar or change the entire world and that’s ok – you just need to be the best you and make a difference where you are.

I don’t know what your dreams were or where they went, but I know it doesn’t matter. Yesterday’s dreams are for yesterday. Today’s dreams are what matters.

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comfort zones are so… comfortable

Us humans can talk about pushing boundaries, thinking outside the box, or getting outside of comfort zones all we want. Deep down we know that there is no growth, development, change, or improvement without discomfort. But we hate that. We really do. We want to believe the marketing hype that says change and improvement is easy and effortless and fun.

Picture a cold, wet, stormy winter night and you’re snuggled in a soft, plush, fleecy blanket by the fire while drinking hot chocolate and watching your favorite movie. That’s your comfort zone – it’s all warm, cozy, and oh so gloriously relaxing.

Now, picture that same winter night and your spouse comes into the room and inexplicably yanks the blanket off, turns on all the fans and A/C, and changes the channel. THAT’S what stretching your comfort zone feels like. Not life threatening, just really, really irritating. And we want to fix it immediately and return to our blissful cocoon.

Deep down inside the lizard brain we’re wired to avoid discomfort. It’s a survival trait that goes to the roots of our existence. Hypothermia, starvation, and injury are kind of a big deal when you’re 75,000 years from the nearest heated house, stocked fridge, and health clinic. Pain is a fabulous instructor because it teaches us to not do things that might result in injury, dismemberment, or death.

The problem is, we’re also wired to survive one more day. Our lizard brain only worries about right now, not 20 years out. The mechanisms that keep us from freezing or starving to death don’t work well to protect us from the long term dangers brought about by sloth, overconsumption, or NOT changing with the world. Our bodies are great at telling us to eat, but not so good at telling us to back off; great at teaching us not to stick our hands in the fire, but lousy at encouraging us to seek out new skills, knowledge, and people.

Related to all this, us humans also hate, hate, hate to be denied something we want. It becomes a tickle in the brain that we’re soon obsessing over until we HAVE TO HAVE IT!!!! Again, it’s a great survival trait when our bodies are trying to get us to go hunt something so we can eat for another day, but counterproductive when we’re trying to create long term behavioral change like eating less, saving more, getting up earlier, learning new skills, etc.

The longer we stay in our comfort zone, the more it starts to shrink. We step back from the edge to provide a cushion of comfort and the edge moves inward. So we step back again. Pretty soon we find we’ve trapped ourselves in a very small, very tiny, very restrictive place. And we wonder why our lives and careers aren’t where we want them.

Worse, yet. When faced with danger – physical, emotional, mental – we retreat to what we know. The more uncertain the situation, the more dogmatically and desperately we cling to the things we are certain about. Ironically, the moments we need to change the most are the moments we are most resistant to change.

All of this has huge implications for leading change, training and development, and personal and professional growth. It’s not that we can’t or won’t push on those self-imposed boundaries, it’s just that we’re highly resistant to discomfort.

How often do we put off the diet or fitness or savings plans until “tomorrow”? How often do we delay going back to school or seeking out new training until “the time is right”? How often do we dangerously delay important decisions until we “have more information”? How often do we dismiss new approaches out of hand, preferring to stick to “tried and true” and “best practices”?

What thinks you?

 

shrinking comfort zones: the quick path to nowhere

Your comfort zones are either expanding or shrinking – there isn’t any middle ground. Either you’re stepping across the line, challenging yourself, moving a bit into the unknown and pushing back the boundaries OR you’re backing away from the line. Each time you step back so that you can stay with the familiar and comfortable, the line draws in, so you have to step back again, and again it shrinks.

The world it is a changin’ (duh!). Jobs are moving off shore or going away or radically evolving. A sure ticket to failure is to stand still, refuse to change and insist (insist!) that the world not change either. Problem is, the world’s changing whether we like it or not. The jobs of tomorrow are not going to look like the jobs of today. Want to stay employed? Stay relevant. Challenge yourself. Learn. Grow. Push your boundaries. Take on challenges you wouldn’t normally take on.

The more we try to stay safe by not changing, the more at risk we are of being completely behind. My prediction is that anyone who isn’t focused on improving and developing new skills each and every year will soon be either underemployed or unemployed. BUT, I’m not necessarily referring to technology. Technology facilitates a lot of changes, but is becoming more and more user friendly (anyone remember punch cards?).

The biggest growth potential that I see needed is in change, communication, and relationship development. As an HR pro or manager or employee, can you have the tough conversations you need to have? Can you hold people accountable? Can you influence people who don’t report to you? Can you use technology to enhance your communication instead of complicating it? Can you develop the trust and relationships that will enable you to get twice as much done with half the angst? Or do you leave it up to other people who are “better at it.”?

You’re either moving forward or falling behind in direct relationship to the rate you are pushing your comfort zone. Avoiding the difficult or unpleasant parts of the job – often the parts that involve other people – is a fast track to irrelevance.