Comfort Zones

Everyone has dreams, ambitions and goals that they want to achieve in life. Some are fantastically large dreams that would reshape the world. Some are more modest goals around changing oneself. Often changing oneself changes the world around them. However, we’re not always equipped to start chasing these dreams. In fact 92% of people who make a New Year’s resolution fail to achieve it [University of Scranton research analysis]. In this series of articles, I’ll cover four common blockers that become the walls that keep us in our gilded cages.

These are:

  • My comfortable life
  • Fear of failure
  • Committing at the wrong level
  • I don’t know how to

Comfort Zone.

The first wall of our cage is the comfortable life we’ve built for ourselves. The culmination of all our successes and achievements but also the comfortable habits we’ve formed. The trouble can be that it becomes so comfortable that it begins to lock us in. Muscle memory takes over and our habitual actions don’t always match our intentions.

For example, when we’ve worked hard all day we may spend the evening dropped into a Netflix state of entertainment? Feels nice, right, and there is nothing wrong with it until it starts getting in the way of the changes you want to make. Now there is the argument that if you really wanted to do it then you would change your behaviour, however that discounts the power that habits have on us. Habits allow our brains to take massive shortcuts, they’re like autopilot, no thinking involved. Once we learn to ride a bike we don’t have to think about riding a bike, magic. Massively powerful but also massively difficult to change. Don’t believe me, take a look at the attached video (


In the morning find some quiet time, for example, while brushing your teeth in front of your bathroom mirror. Have a quiet internal conversation with yourself about what you would like to achieve that day. The habit of teeth brushing is helpful as you don’t need to think about it (thanks brain) and reflecting on your goals for the day in front of a mirror seems to help.

Now at the end of the day have a little review. Did you make any progress on your goal? If not have a think about what you did do with your day. Which of those items did you do consciously and which do you just always do? Which of those things are a higher priority than your goal?

The other problem with our comfort zone is that often the more successes we’ve had the more locked into this one way of doing things we become. Being known for the successes you’ve made can keep you paralysed in your comfort zone. After all, what would it mean to try and fail now? 

We can gain some insight into this using Karl Rohnke’s comfort, stretch, panic model. 

Comfort Zone - Karl Rohnke

Comfort Zone

As we can see, there is a lovely warm comfort zone in the middle which is where our everyday activities are held. It includes everything that has become the norm. It is cosy and safe which can mean it’s a very inviting place to reside. It is, however, also a place of stagnation. If you want to learn, adapt and change you need to push yourself into the stretch zone.  

Stretch Zone

This place is far less comfortable as you are breaking new ground by trying things that you are not sure will work; it’s an area of adventure and exploration. This is a place of growth and stimulation which can lead to mental, physical and emotional change. 

We’ve all been in this zone. The first time you went swimming,  rode a bike, went to school, drove a car, you took a leap into the stretch zone. There was a chance for glory and growth but equally for failure and learning. The thing with the stretch zone is that once you’ve become accustomed to a change, it becomes part of your comfort zone. For example riding, swimming and driving are all just normal things for many people. 

Panic / Red Zone

It is obviously possible to push yourself too far and reach the panic zone. This zone is where you reach your upper limit on the ability to cope. Anxiety and fear take over and it’s common to fall into a fight, flight or freeze mentality. Luckily there are a number of signs that you are in this zone such as increased heart rate and breathing and feelings of being overwhelmed.

As we can see, our comfort zone may be holding us back from achieving our goals. Maybe we just don’t want our goal as much as we want to reside in our comfort zone. And that’s ok as long as we’re aware and accepting of that choice. In my experience, trouble surfaces when that choice is buried and we’re unaware of our inner conflict. Whatever you choose to do, do it with purpose.

“Great minds have purposes, others have wishes.”

Washington Irving

If you would like help reflecting on your goals and gaining more control of your habits then coaching can help. If you want to explore how coaching can help you achieve your goals then why not try one of my free exploration sessions.

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