Increase Your Comfort Zone
by Ron Kurtus (revised 17 June 2008)
Your comfort zone is the area and level at which you picture yourself. It may not even be reality, but it is where you feel comfortable. For example, you picture yourself has having a certain level of intelligence, social standing and physical appearance. There are also other levels of judgment, such as cleanliness or honesty.
If you get in a situation above or below your comfort zone, you start to feel uncomfortable. You can slowly change your comfort level to fit into the new situation.
Questions you may have inlcude:
- What is a comfort zone?
- What happens when you feel uncomfortable?
- How can you improve your comfort zone?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Your comfort zone has much to do with your self-image and the picture of how things should be. You have a picture of yourself and your characteristics. You also have a picture of your surroundings and how you feel they should look.
Some examples include how clean your home is, what you do at work and how good looking your spouse is.
Home and cleanliness
You usually feel comfortable in your home. It is messy or neat according to what is comfortable to you and your image of what a home should be like.
If your house is what you consider dirty, you feel uncomfortable and clean it. But there is a limit to how thorough you clean the house. Some may do a quick one-two, while others will almost sanitize every surface. It depends on the person's comfort zone with respect to cleanliness.
You have a picture or image of what your status and importance is at your job. If you are given a task at work that you feel is below your status or you consider demeaning, you will usually object. You won't feel good having to do such a task.
On the other hand, if you are suddenly thrust in a high position of authority, you may not feel good giving directions to those you consider actually higher in knowledge or skill than you.
Looks and spouse
You tend to pick a partner according to your own self-image. If you feel you are good looking, you may feel comfortable with someone who you feel is in the same classification. Likewise, if someone is better looking or worse looking with your self-image, you feel uncomfortable picking that person as a partner.
When you are in a situation that doesn't fit your image of how things should be, you can become quite uncomfortable. In such a situation, you may be motivated to do things that will get you back into your comfort zone. This may be either a positive or a negative action.
When below your zone
When you get in a situation where you don't feel you belong because you know you are better than that, you can become uncomfortable and motivated to do things to rectify the situation.
For example, suppose your new car gets a dent in the fender. The picture in your mind of the car is one that is new and perfect, so you feel uncomfortable with the dent. You are motivated to get the fender fixed, as soon as possible.
Note that if you don't get it fixed right away, you will soon become comfortable with that dent, such that you might not even notice it anymore. This is a situation where your comfort zone has been lowered to fit the situation.
I experienced the power of feeling below my comfort zone:
When I was in the 7th grade, the teacher timed all the boys in a foot race. I was the third slowest runner, only ahead of two very overweight boys. I said to myself, I'm better than that. I was placed in a zone that I felt was below what I envisioned myself. So, I was motivated to improve.
I went out for track in high school, but didn't make the varsity team because I was too slow. But my vision was still as a good runner. Finally, in college I went out for track again. I made the team, won several medals and received a letter sweater. I was in my comfort zone.
When above your zone
When you get in a situation where you don't feel you belong because you aren't good enough, you can get uncomfortable and may do things to get more comfortable.
Fellow loses everything
There are situations where people are placed in situations that is higher than they feel they deserve or should be. They say, "I really don't belong here."
A tragic example is a fellow I met while speaking at the Los Angeles County Prison Farm. This inmate told me how he had a good job, a wife and two children and a new house. Everything seemed to be great, but for some reason he didn't feel like he deserved all this good fortune. He didn't picture himself at this level.
So then he started drinking, getting in fights, skipping work and even stealing. He lost his job, he lost his home and he lost his wife. Now he was in jail. The funny thing, he told me, is that this was not the first time he had good things and purposely screwed up to lose them. Although he didn't like being in jail, he was comfortable there.
A woman I know was an average tennis player. Once she got into a doubles match against a couple who acted like they were much better tennis players—although their skill level wasn't that much higher. This couple was also somewhat wealthy.
Instead of trying harder to rise to their level of game, the woman started making worse shots and started to act silly—like she had never played the game before. This was an effort to save face, but it was also an indication that she couldn't picture herself at the same level. She was in a situation that was above her comfort zone, so she was going to screw it up and get back down to earth.
Improving your zone
When you are below your comfort zone, you usually are motivated to improve your situation. The biggest problem is that some people have too low of a picture of themselves, such that they will accept a lower comfort zone.
Improve the picture
If you want to improve your position at work, your social status, your skills or your environment, you must improve your image or picture of what is acceptable to you. But this must be done a little at a time, in order not to get unrealistic.
First of all, look at your present situation, in which you are comfortable. Then move the bar up a little. Visualize yourself in that situation until you feel comfortable there. Then do something to get into that new comfort zone.
Picture at work
Look at your situation at work. Do you think you could be comfortable sitting in your supervisor's seat? Can you envision yourself doing work that would deserve such a promotion? If you can visualize yourself in such a position, it may be possible.
But if you try to picture yourself as the company president, but you know in your heart that you don't have the skills for such a job, you may be just having wishful thinking, and you can't make that your new comfort zone.
Motivated to fulfill the image
If you can picture yourself in a higher position or you can picture things being better than before—like picturing the house with a new coat of paint—then you become unconsciously motivated to improve the situation. You start to make an effort to get into your new visualization of how things should be.
I had a personal experience with the success of how picturing yourself in a situation can help it come true:
Harry, a fellow I worked with, wanted to get a yellow Mazda Miata sports car. But his wife wanted him to get a practical white Dodge minivan. His wife was winning the argument.
So we got a poster of a Miata from a Mazda dealer and pinned it on the wall in Harry's office, where he could see it every day. We were even thinking of sticking a picture of Harry behind the wheel. We couldn't get a poster of a yellow car, so we settled for a poster of a brown Miata .
A month later Harry bought a new car—a brown Mazda Miata. His new comfort zone said that he had to have that car.
I think he is still married.
How you visualize yourself and your surroundings determines your comfort zone. When you go above or below this comfort zone, you can become uncomfortable and motivated to change things. By visualizing yourself in a slightly higher situation, you can start to achieve that position as your new comfort zone.
As your think, so you are
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