What is a Comfort Zone?
We all have our own Comfort Zone. It is that warm feeling we get when our experiences conform to familiar and acceptable patterns. When we leave our Comfort Zone, we feel uncomfortable because we are doing something that is out of our norm. It could be a new experience, or it could be out of our normal range of values. It can also come up when we begin to challenge our own thinking and it takes us out of our range of how we believe. Perhaps someone is challenging us to do something we have never done before. Or we are afraid to do it, like climbing a mountain. Some of us want to stretch our comfort zone and others want to remain in a tightly knit pattern that is always comfortable.
We Can Be Affected by Other People’s Comfort Zones
We often begin to bump into our parents’ comfort zones in our 30’s. For example, we begin to have our own beliefs, tastes, and ways of doing things. Our lifestyle may differ from our parents’ lifestyle. Or our values may be different than how we were raised.
Parents may react according to their own comfort zone. For example, parents may react unfavorably when they feel their adult child is beginning to believe differently than they do, or is choosing to live their life differently than what the parents have chosen. We will discuss the implications of this difference and how it can affect the adult child/parent relationship in another blog in the near future. But it is definitely a test of the security of the parent/child relationship in this developmental stage.
Companies have their own cultures. And with this comes their own version of a comfort zone, especially in terms of financial risk and their corporate values. Employees of companies need to decide if their values match their employer’s. Employees need to decide how much of a variance they can tolerate in working for that company.
Another place we experience comfort zones is in politics. We often hear the phrase “Good ‘ol Boy” way of doing things, or “this is how it has always been done in the past. Therefore there is no reason to change it now”, regardless of how well it currently works. It is human nature to feel more comfortable with what we know. People are often uncomfortable with what they don’t know. New people coming up in politics often “ruffle” some of the more experienced politicians’ feathers because of varying degrees of comfort zones regarding change. However, you can also see more experienced politicians adjusting to new issues of the time. This is because they are more comfortable with change.
In parenting we often fall back on how we were raised as a child. Or, if it was a negative experience, do we go another way? What do we do if we don’t know another way? Do we take classes and learn various approaches or do we unknowingly land on something similar to our childhood? New parents often struggle between themselves on “the right way” to raise a child.
Comfort Zones and Our Ability (or Willingness) to Compromise
How much we are willing to compromise also depends upon the size of our comfort zone. The larger the comfort zone, the more willing are to compromise or go in a new direction. Conversely, the smaller our comfort zone is, the less likely we are to step away from our “norm”.
I have developed “The Fishbowl Exercise” to teach people conflict resolution. It has nothing to do about a fishbowl other than focusing on what is most clearly relevant in a topic. We will discuss this exercise in more detail in a future blog. For now, it is about helping people to get out of their “picture” of how they believe things need to be for them to feel comfortable or to have things the way they want. In reality, our picture is a comfort zone in that it “holds” an idea that really contains many factors. But often we put it in the form of a mental picture that holds various components that could be negotiated without losing the most relevant pieces of the picture. When couples focus more on their individual priorities and concerns rather than their “whole picture” of what they “must have” you would be surprised how much easier it is to come to an agreement. This holds true in any kind of mediation or negotiations.
Our Comfort Zone Affects Our Choice Of Friends
People who socialize together for years often have the same beliefs and ways of doing things. If a new person comes into the group there may be an “adjustment” period to determine how well the group tolerates some new thinking.
Age and Comfort Zones
As we get older we often get more set in our ways and beliefs. This is not always the case, but a larger comfort zone is very helpful at this time in our life.
- It allows us to try new things and to learn new ways of thinking as we age. This actually helps keep us younger.
- It helps us to more easily deal with changes that are out of our control. Such as our medical benefits, or how well we adapt as we age. Do we look for alternatives that allow us to keep more of our independence while being physically safe? Or do we give up and shut down? Or do we fight against “the system”?
Our comfort zone can grow over time or it can shrink. The choice is totally within us. This determines how we deal with change, the unknown, and more challenging situations in life.
- What size is your comfort zone?
- How do you recognize when it affects a situation?
- How do you deal with the comfort zone when it bumps into a wall? Do you adapt and stretch or do you fight it? Or do you surrender and give up what might be other options, though not perfect ones at times.