Staying in our Comfort Zone

It can be very easy to stay within the boundaries of what we know because we feel comfortable.  However, by staying in ‘our comfort zone’ we can lose opportunities for professional growth, development and change. Staying in our comfort zone can affect the way that we lead which can be harmful to our career and to those around us, as change is necessary and leaders need to challenge and lead change.

Leadership Zones

Ambler (2015) identified three leadership zones.
  • The comfort zone is where 80% of people spend most of their time. As a ‘place of comfort, it is   safe, easy and predictable’
  • The learning zone where 20% of people spend their time.  It is where leaders can push the  boundaries of their existing skills and experiences, and where learning and growth takes place.   The third and final zone Amber suggests, is the danger zone.
  • The danger zone is where leaders are over-stretched, stressed, and do not effectively lead. Ambler (2015) produced a list of characteristics that show the differences between the comfort and learning zones.

Comfort and Learning Zones

Ambler (2015) produced a list of characteristics that show the differences between the comfort and learning zones:

These lists were adapted from research by Yerkes and Dodson (1908), who wanted to learn more about anxiety and its effect on performance. They found that to perform well, you need to be in a state of optimal anxiety (neither relaxed or completely stressed out) to maximize your performance.  Being in a state of optimal anxiety equates to being in the learning zone and this is where you will perform best.

Ambler (2015) suggests is important that you do not find yourself in the danger zone through overwork, and a lack of self-care.  In addition, it may be useful to use the comfort zone as a retreat if you need it, allowing for regeneration.  This will enable you to cope with the challenges you find in the learning zone.

If you want to be successful, however, you will need to spend a lot of your time out of your comfort zone and more time in the learning zone, as this is where you will make the most impact on the people you work with, and for your organisation. Being in the learning zone, you will venture beyond current ways of thinking and doing, which will be professionally and personally challenging, and rewarding. 

Katherine Noel (2016) suggests that in order to get out of your comfort zone and into a learning zone, you need to take 12 steps.

  1. Decide to take the first step and then take it!
  2. Put yourself in a new environment.  This can mean ‘opening up’ to new ideas of others as well as places.
  3. Don’t choose the safest options because they are easy but challenge yourself to make the best choice
  4. Try to see things differently by thinking and doing things differently
  5. Make a snap decision, to build your confidence in new decision making
  6. Consider other viewpoints and debate ideas to challenge your ideas
  7. Say yes to new projects to explore new ways of working
  8. Volunteer for new learning experiences
  9. Choose something that you are unfamiliar with and then do it
  10. Create challenges for areas in yourself you want to improve
  11. Allow others to make decisions rather than make all the decisions yourself
  12. Be philosophical about what you are learning; if you have a bad day doing new things, as tomorrow is another day

It can be helpful when you are seeking to challenge yourself and others, that you share this intention with someone you trust at work (mentor, coach, peer, trusted colleague, etc.).  You can share your feelings with them as you take yourself out of your comfort zone, and start to learn.  They can provide you with helpful feedback and give your encouragement, which can enhance your enjoyment and success.  They can help you to articulate what you are learning about yourself about your leadership as you successfully challenge others.

Cranfield, J., Hansen, M., and Hewitt, L (2012). The Power of Focus Tenth Anniversary Edition: How to Hit Your Business, Personal and Financial Targets with Absolute Confidence and Certainty Health Communnications Inc: USAAmbler G., (2015). Leadership develops when you escape your comfort zone  Noel, K (2016). 12 ways to push yourself out of your comfort zone every day Business insider


Further Resources