The Misconception of a Comfort Zone

Most readers will be familiar with the concept of ‘being in a comfort zone‘ while growth requires one to dare to go beyond their comfort zone, having to face their panic and fear.

Bardwick defines the term as “a behavioral state where a person operates in an anxiety-neutral position.” Brené Brown describes it as “Where our uncertainty, scarcity and vulnerability are minimized—where we believe we’ll have access to enough love, food,
talent, time, admiration. Where we feel we have some control.”

However, we don’t believe that fear exists outside ourselves. Instead, it lives right at the center of us; it is what drives us to go to school, to get a job, to make it in time to an appointment, in order to remain socially relevant and avoid insignificance.

The Comfort Zone

Let’s have a look a two known diagrams, both representing the idea of a Comfort Zone:

At first, both diagrams seem to provide a plausible explanation why some dare, and others dare not to leave their zone of comfort. According to these diagrams, to grow we must be willing to go beyond our Comfort Zone and overcome our fear of danger.

Bungee jumping is often used as an example of people that are willing to face their fears. Although being a calculated risk, people still experience fierce emotions, standing at the edge while staring into the abyss. However, those very same people may experience an inescapable fear response when faced with a potentially deathly snake.

What brings us comfort?

This is the question that got us to reconsider the concept of a Comfort Zone. Obviously, being in control and having access to love, food, shelter, etc. appears to be comforting.

But what happens if we remain in our Comfort Zone? What if we don’t leave the comfort of our shelter even when our food supply runs short? What happens when our talent is no longer in demand? Comfort isn’t just a state of being, it is the outcome of our actions. We went to school to learn a profession that improved our chances of getting a job, allowing us to buy a place of shelter and pay for food from which we could obtain a healthy life.

But what if we had refused to go to school? What drove us to get an education? We believe it is the fear of insignificance. The fear of being trivial. Of becoming futile. Of meaninglessness. Of becoming a social outcast. As a child, we have been urged by our parents to go to school and to do all those things that appeared so unappealing as a youngster. In fact, they tried to warn us NOT to pursue a life of meaninglessness, of NOT being able to support ourselves, of becoming a social paria. And by doing so, they’ve instilled fear within us.

If is this fear, that was talked into us, that drove us to learn, to become socially relevant, and to be ready to compete with others over love, food and shelter. That fear doesn’t live outside of our comfort zone, it lives right at the center of it!

And it is this fear, of potentially losing our job, of losing relevancy, of losing our ability to pay for food and shelter, that drives us every day to show up in time at our job, to commit to rules and regulations, to learn new skills, to keep investing in our future.

It is important to realize that every culture has a different set of instilled fears that is often not understood or even appreciated by people from other cultures.

Wheel of Fortitude

This concept, of instilled fear, of becoming trivial and meaningless, is what we all feel we need to escape from and stay clear off; preferably at a comfortable distance. The greater this fear is, the more strain we put upon ourselves to further our distance from it.

What others call the Comfort Zone is what we refer to as the Value Zone. It is the zone of relevance, of having desired capabilities and skills, of being valuable in our society. However, as mentioned by Heraclitus, ‘Change in the only constant’ ─ meaning, our capabilities and skills may be far less valuable over time. We, therefore, need to grow into areas that appear to be valuable in the future (significance = future value).

However, there is an end to how far we can grow. At one point, we may need to reconsider our value position. For instance, Corona drove many people away from the hospitality and leisure industry and forced them to look for jobs in agriculture and healthcare ─ even though they were not qualified for it. This is what we refer to as a Breakout Zone – a reconsideration of purpose, a reinvention of self, a full transformation of our being.

To support the idea of ‘escaping instilled fear’, we’ve created the Wheel of Fortitude. Fortitude is having the mental and emotional strength to face difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation with courage. To escape our fears requires deliberate action and courage.

Individuals and Corporations

The Wheel of Fortitude can be applied to individuals as well as corporations. After all, every corporation has to create value that is perceived relevant to others. Losing the ability to create relevant value or not being able to clearly differentiate a product from the competition means that the company has to find new ways of making a living.

The fear of not being relevant, of not being able to maintain revenue streams of create new ones, can be really stressful. And like individuals, executives of corporations have been instilled with a fear: of irrelevance and triviality, resulting in the inability to pay debts.

Alignment with the Business Cycle

We’ve intentionally color-coded the Wheel of Fortitude so that it aligns with the four stages of the Business Cycle: Depression equals the Trivial Zone, Expansion equals the Value Zone, Boom equals the Growth Zone, and Recession the Breakout Zone.

As such, every individual, every corporation, every economy, and every society goes through a recurring cycle of value creation and destruction; without exception or exemption.

Phase 1ExpansionExpandValue Zone
Phase 2BoomExploitGrowth Zone
Phase 3RecessionExtendBreakout Zone
Phase 4DepressionExploreTrivial Zone

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