A Coaching Power Tool Created by Fatima Edwards
(Life Purpose & Career Coach, UNITED STATES)
As human beings, we all have certain areas, called comfort zones, where we are comfortable applying our existing skills and abilities to achieve a desired outcome. According to Dictionary.com, a comfort zone is “a situation or position in which a person feels secure, comfortable, or in control.” Similarly comfort is defined as “a state of ease and satisfaction of wants, with freedom from pain and anxiety.”
Our comfort zone can aid us in accomplishing things we want to achieve. As we feel secure or comfortable in a given situation we have confidence to move forward without hesitation. In these moments we are able to take action toward our goals and achieve what we desire. In this regard, our comfort zones serve us well and keep us moving forward; however, if we are not careful, we can become so “comfortable” in our current circumstances that we are afraid to do anything different. If the fear is strong enough, it can hold us captive and cause us to remain stuck in status quo, even when we have a desire to change. During these times we need courage to move us outside our comfort zone so we may continue to grow and reach our fullest potential.
According to the same dictionary source identified previously, courage is defined as, “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.”
There are many reasons why a person may choose the path of “comfort” at the expense of pursuing a new dream, goal or vision. These reasons may include:
- Limiting Beliefs
- Past Failures
- Perceived Weaknesses
While each of these may be derived from different sources, they all have one thing in common – each may cause great fear, which can paralyze us and keep us from moving forward. Fear is a major force, which often prevents us from changing. While fear can stifle our progress, courage then becomes the catalyst for moving ahead despite our fears, enabling us to pursue our dreams.
All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.— Walt Disney
Shifting In and Out of Comfort Zones
An interesting phenomenon to observe about our comfort zones is that everything which is now comfortable for us, started off being outside our comfort zone in the very beginning. For example, the idea of walking for an adult may be taken for granted, but consider that walking is not so easy for an infant who has to learn this new skill. Getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time may be completely nerve wracking, but over time, confidence in driving inevitably comes, and eventually driving becomes a normal practice as we go from place to place. It is also the same when we start a new job. Fear or doubt may exist on the first day of work, but eventually the job becomes comfortable and becomes part of our normal routine.
The mutual lesson is that when we have the courage to begin operating in any area that is initially outside our comfort zone, ultimately we develop confidence in that area, and in the end it has the potential to become a new comfort zone for us.
Choosing Comfort over Courage
As mentioned previously, our comfort zone instills the confidence we need to move forward without hesitation, so it is important to note that choosing comfort is not necessarily bad in and of itself, as there are times when choosing comfort over courage may be the best option. However, choosing comfort is detrimental when it hinders us from continuing to grow or prevents us from achieving a goal or desire that is very important to us. The trick is to identify whether staying in our comfort zone is aiding our progress or preventing us from being the best we can be.
Choosing Courage over Comfort
Courage is not the absence of fear, rather the decision that something else is more important than fear. — James Neal Hollingsworth
Usually there is some powerful motivator, which helps us to choose courage over comfort. Choosing courage requires the willingness to go outside of our comfort zone. The infant child is motivated to reach the doting mother who is coaxing her baby to walk for the first time. Often it is the inner drive within us that motivates us to choose the uncomfortable path in order to pursue something greater, such as the desire to be an entrepreneur, desire for a better life, or desire to pursue one’s purpose. When we decide that there is something more important than the fear, we can often find the courage and motivation to branch out into new territory.
The Path to Authenticity
When we choose to remain stuck in our current circumstances at the expense of pursuing our dreams, we are hindering the potential of what we can achieve and who we can become. In essence we are denying ourselves from becoming our true authentic selves.
A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.~ William G.T. Shedd
As humans we were created with great potential and we were designed to strive for that potential. As part of the growing process a newborn instinctively strives to explore new environments, and that innate motivation continues to exist throughout his/her entire life. We can always take the safe route, failing to grow and progress, but that is not what we were created to do.
Example: A Real Life Application
Consider Joyce, a successful corporate manager who started her career working in Systems Engineering before successfully rising up the ranks and moving into management. Like many working professionals, Joyce chose her profession upon graduating from college when she was in her early twenties. She stayed with her initial career choice for many years. She achieved various successes, receiving awards and promotions along the way, but about midway through her career, she discovered her purpose, which was very different from her chosen career path. Additionally, she found that she had a passion for entrepreneurship – again, very different from the corporate lifestyle to which she had become accustomed. Because of her success in management, the thought of switching to entrepreneurship was daunting, as she had never run her own business before. It also meant she would likely have to give up the salary and leave the comfort she felt in her current position. The uncertainties of the change caused her to remain stuck for many years, despite the fact that she had a dream in her heart and a passion to do something different.
Joyce’s decision to choose the “comfort” of her current position took its toll, as she often felt unhappy and dissatisfied in her work. Over time her position, which had previously been a source of comfort, actually became uncomfortable, as she realized how many years she had denied herself from pursuing her dream. She decided that pursuing her purpose was more important than staying in her current circumstances. The possibilities of fulfilling her purpose through entrepreneurship gave her the motivation she needed to choose courage over comfort – the choice to pursue her dream versus remaining stuck in a work environment that prevented her from becoming her true self.
Before making this critical decision, Joyce experienced a major shift in perspective. She recalled the time when she had just graduated from college and was unsure of what her new career had in store for her. She realized that the uncertainty of her chosen career path at that time eventually became her comfort zone. She assured herself that the same would happen on her entrepreneurial path – she would have to learn new skills, she would make mistakes along the way, and it would be hard at times, but eventually she would find success and entrepreneurship would become her new comfort zone. She also decided that she would rather pursue her dream and fail, rather than reach the end of her life and experience regret, never knowing what could have been. After starting her new business, Joyce is currently on the path to fulfilling her purpose and feels more alive than ever before.
This coaching tool may be used to help clients move forward in a variety of coaching situations, especially those where there are tremendous benefits in store for clients if they can move past their fear and step outside their comfort zone. The following are some examples:
- The client needs support as he/she leaves one job or career to pursue something new and different, such as starting a new business or pursuing their life’s purpose.
- The client is faced with an opportunity that requires great courage to move forward, such as speaking to a very large audience, going on television, or pursuing a mission in another country.
- The client needs to develop new skills or gain experience in a new area that takes them out of their comfort zone.
Which Path to Take?
It is much easier for clients to choose the path of comfort than it is to choose a path that requires great courage. This is true because comfort is usually based on things that are easy for us, whereas courage requires tackling that which appears more difficult. Similarly, comfort is usually based on those things we are already familiar with (Past), whereas courage focuses on the unfamiliar (Future).
As coaches it is important that we help our clients pursue the route that will be best for them. We can help clients recognize when staying in the comfort zone aids their progress and when it may be detrimental to their progress. If it turns out that the best course of action will require clients to be courageous and step out of their comfort zone, then it will be important to support clients as they venture into new territory that may be uncertain, unfamiliar and perhaps even terrifying.
As stated earlier, everything that is now comfortable for us started off being outside our comfort zone in the very beginning, but as we begin operating in the new area, we develop confidence, and in the end it can become a new comfort zone for us. Essentially our comfort zones evolve as we continue to grow ourselves.
Utilizing strategies to help clients to identify comfort zones they have developed for themselves in the past can be very valuable:
- Ask clients to identify a situation or area that is currently comfortable, and then use visualization to help them recall and describe what it was like when trying it for the very first time.
- Ask questions that help clients recall times when they stepped out of their comfort zone in the past and had positive results afterwards.
- Have clients recall an activity, event, etc. that was once frightening, but is no longer frightening at all.
As coaches it is important to ask key questions that will help clients choose the best course of action, shift their perspectives if necessary, and help them find the courage to step out of their comfort zones. Here are a few questions that may be helpful:
- “What are some positive outcomes/possibilities that can result from being courageous?”
- “What are some risks that can occur if you take this step outside your comfort zone? What are some things you can do to mitigate those risks?”
- “What opportunities will be missed if you do not move forward?”
- “Imagine that you are 75 years old, looking back on your life. How would you feel if you did not pursue this path?”
- “Imagine that you have accepted this new challenge and were successful in the end. What does the success look like? What have you achieved? How do you feel?”
While stepping out of one’s comfort zone appears challenging at the start, the end usually results in enhanced abilities, higher achievement and greater confidence as the client eventually turns their fearful circumstance into their new comfort zone.