During the booming 2010s, many of us have settled into our comfort zones. With the start of the 2020s, things in business and our personal lives have become increasingly turbulent. Can we stay in our cozy comfort zones after the world’s economies and markets have moved into rough territories — with an outlook for possibly even more gloomy, tumultuous times ahead? Today, I want to make a case that for many of us, now is the time to step out of our comfort zones to get ourselves ready to weather the storms and ride the waves of new technological change in the dynamic 2020s.
What is your comfort zone?
The Oxford Language Dictionary defines the comfort zone as “a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress.” As such, the comfort zone describes those routines of our daily life that signify familiarity, safety, security, and a track record of success. In simple words, it’s that cozy space where we hang around doing nothing or doing the same old things at the same old time in the same old ways with the same people at the same old place. Being in our comfort zone makes us feel safe and secure, gives us a sense of certainty and regularity, provides stability and predictability, allows for solitude or socializing with familiar faces, and gives time for introspection or distraction by trivial matters.
Staying in our comfort zone is a way to simplify the complexities of our lives. By practicing certain habits and sticking to trusted routines, we do not have to waste mental energy thinking about, or doing, new things. This simplification can also help us carve out more time and mental energy for creative endeavors, which is why many creative leaders follow stable routines in their daily work and life schedules.
However, our comfort zone can become a trap if many environmental parameters change, especially if things become more uncomfortable.
What’s wrong with being in your comfort zone?
“All growth starts at the end of your comfort zone,” said the US motivational author Anthony Robbins. Getting out of your comfort zone regularly helps you grow, realize your full creative potential, and expand your consciousness.
When you settle in your comfort zone for too long, you become increasingly unable to:
- embrace change as the main constant of life and flexibly respond to it.
- actively move forward and regularly do new things to gain new experiences and enlarge your know-how and experiences.
- welcome the unfamiliar and unknown.
- accept uncertainty, ambiguity, and paradoxes as distinct aspects of nature.
- observe current happenings and anticipate likely trends (based on historical patterns and experiences).
- cherish social companionship and collaboration as a means to support each other.
All these abilities linked to stepping out of your comfort zones also boost your creativity by providing you with new stimuli and making you mentally more flexible. Collectively, they have made humanity rise to the pinnacle of the evolutionary pyramid of species. As Charles Darwin expressed, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
Why is it time now to step out of your comfort zone?
The second half of the last century was pretty static and predictable. Unfortunately, since the beginning of the new millennium, we’ve been living in an increasingly dynamic VUCA (= volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) world that SUCCS (= is characterized by speed, rising uncertainty, mounting complexity, exponential change, and almost daily surprises). Moreover, if the generational theorists William Strauss and Neil Howe are right, we’re now in the middle of a “Fourth Turning,” two decades of crisis that already started with the 2008 financial crisis and will likely last until the end of this decade:
- Following the financial crisis in 2008, the 2010s were a comfortable decade for many businesses and people where interest rates were close to zero, economic growth was strong, and global financial markets (stocks, property, cryptocurrencies) were booming.
- In early 2020, the sudden discontinuity of the COVID-19 pandemic whacked us out of our comfortable lives. It was a dramatic beginning of a new decade that will likely see an eventual correction of the unresolved financial excesses of the 2000s and 2010s. So more likely than not, we will see some inflated market bubbles bursting and excessive debt mountains collapsing in the coming years.
- In 2022, as the pandemic has been phasing out gradually, the Russian invasion of Ukraine rocked global energy markets and supply chains, leading to soaring inflation rates and hampered economic growth in many countries. Looking ahead, leading economists predict the world economy to be heading toward a global economic recession and perhaps even a new great depression.
- Unfortunately, the predicted economic downturn is likely to see reflections in national politics, where we can expect authoritarian, nationalistic, and protectionist forces to be on the rise. And the likelihood of more major military conflicts will also increase by the decade’s end.
- Fortunately, there is also a silver lining on the horizon that can positively motivate us to step out of our comfort zone: the advent of the Sixth Wave of Innovation (driven by digital tech, clean tech, and human-centered tech), which will gain full steam in the second half of this decade and bring many opportunities for those who are ready to found or join the ventures that will drive the next long cycle of technological growth.
In the 2010s, the illusion of economic growth, stability, and prosperity made it tempting to gradually slow down, become more comfortable, inactive, and —do I dare to say it?— lazy. Many of us settled for a pleasant life in our comfort zone. (And admittedly, the older we get, the more comfortable we tend to become, too.) But we cannot stay there any longer, given the signs of greater turbulence ahead in the coming years.
How to get out of your comfort zone?
“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new,” recommends the American business coach Brian Tracy. He is right. Here are some suggestions to stretch your comfort zone mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually:
- Physically: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. It’s time to shape up and move, strengthen, and flex ourselves physically. So, time to get off your couch and into your tracksuit. Are you already regularly doing sport? Then up the intensity, frequency, or duration of your workouts. Due to the body-mind connection, the better in shape we are physically, the better we will also perform mentally and can deal with stress and adversity. As the old Roman proverb goes: “A healthy mind in a healthy body.”
- Mentally: In tumultuous times of change, it’s essential to take one’s head out of the sand and look at what’s happening in the world with open eyes. So, confront the brutal fact of your present reality while at the same time keeping optimistic that all will work out fine again in the end. Moreover, get ready to walk the extra mile instead of taking shortcuts. Work harder and smarter to solidify your home base from which you can weather the storm and venture into new endeavors. If needed, temporarily accept less-lucrative gigs to strengthen your cash flow. Finally, make time available to read and learn new things that can help you better deal with current issues or build up the know-how to seize emerging opportunities. (After all, the Chinese word for crisis consists of two signs: danger and opportunity).
- Socially: Reconnect with trusted friends and quality contacts in your network to check how everyone is doing. Support anyone you can help easily, and don’t feel shy to ask for support when you need it. Also, venture out to spot opportunities and make new connections. The better connected you are in times of change, the more likely you are to bounce back on your feet if you get knocked down by adversity in uncomfortable times.
- Spiritually: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience,” noted the French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In turbulent times, it’s essential to regularly connect to our spiritual side to better understand what’s going on in the world and gain intuitive guidance on how to best respond to it. Meditation is a great way to connect with our spiritual being. So, learn how to meditate by taking a course (such as learning transcendental meditation) or using an app with guided sessions. Then, every day, reserve some time in your busy daily schedule for meditation. (Other ways to nurture your spiritual self are saying a prayer, practicing gratitude, and reading and reflecting on words of eternal wisdom in inspiring books appealing to you).
Conclusion: Be comfortable feeling uncomfortable
We’re living in highly fluid times, and things are more likely to worsen first before getting better again. So, regardless of whether you want to hedge possible downsides or get ready to realize potential upsides and ride the next long wave, now is the time to begin stepping out of the comfort zone. For me. And for you?
- Does my view of turbulent times ahead in the world sound too pessimistic for you? Well, and might be right, so please feel invited to share your view. But looking at long historical cycles that tend to repeat regularly, we might have some rough years ahead.
- Today’s article relates to one of the ten mindsets of genius in the conceptual model of Genius Journey, Thinkergy’s creative leadership development method that allows you to reconnect to your original creative self.
- Thinkergy offers experiential Genius Journey training courses (of one to three days) for companies. Moreover, we can also tailor a more extensive Genius Journey development program for a cohort of executives keen to rediscover their inner genius and evolve into authentic creative leaders. Contact us if you want to find out more.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2022. This article is earmarked to be copublished in an abridged version in the Bangkok Post in the coming weeks.