Comfort Zone or Dead End?

I crave physical and mental comfort – no pain, maximum delight, effortless patterns, and easy decision making. In fact, all my colleagues, clients, family, friends and strangers crave comfort, and consumer companies promise us comfort through food, drugs, home furnishings, cars, travel, you name it. Who doesn’t want to be comfortable?

But what is the price of the comfort zone? What do you give up in order to be at ease, to be comfortable? Is discomfort inherently wrong or bad? Is discomfort a sign of failure or shortfall? Does our natural impulse to reject discomfort and reach for comfort serve our greater good or innate potential?

Growth, innovation, evolution, and achievement – leadership in other words – entails some discomfort. Whether you’re working to bring your division back to profitability, or practicing new delegation skills, or reaching out to peers to improve cross-functional collaboration, or getting push-back on a new strategic plan, you’re pushing out of the dead-end of repetitive history and out of the bounds of your comfort zone. And to keep pressing forward requires the virtue of Grit.

Dr. Angela Duckworth of Penn University discovered that People who accomplished great things combined a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, in spite of obstacles and however long it might take. She named this quality “grit.” Her Grit Scale has proven a better predictor success of Westpoint cadets than the school’s own sophisticated assessments.

I propose that Grit is willingness to remain in discomfort; it’s the practice of living outside your comfort zone. Successful people in all disciplines – from science to art to business to war – have grit. Here are a few ideas for becoming grittier, for gracefully facing and embracing discomfort, for having more success:

  • Clearly articulate a long-term goal. Be specific and detailed. “I want to write,” is weaker than, “I want to write a travel based novel this year.”
  • Break down your goals into chunks. Focus your performance on the tasks and behaviors that will achieve your goal.
  • Dig up your passion. Passion flows from authentic desire, it’s critical for persistence. Be attuned to what truly moves you about your goal.
  • Visualize the end goal as already realized. Picture yourself with book in hand, at the top of the podium, or in your new corner office.
  • Play mind games to push past discomfort. Ask yourself (when exhausted) How will I benefit? Remind yourself that pain is temporary; use imagery to get through tough spots.
  • Develop optimism. Believe that no matter the obstacles or effort, you can prevail. Challenge your limiting beliefs. Stop your focus on what can go wrong and remember the times you made it go right. Keep records of successes.
  • Collaborate with objective allies. Use your coaches, mentors and supporters to keep you engaged, accountable, and focused. None of us “just do it” by ourselves. We all benefit from counsel and support.

I leave you with these intriguing words from Khalil Gibran, ” Have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and them becomes a host, and then, a master? Ay, and it become a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires. Though its hands are silken, its heart is of pure iron. It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeer at the dignity of the flesh. It makes mock of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels. Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning the funeral.”


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