Beyond the Comfort Zone

Most people don’t like to be uncomfortable. It’s irritating, awkward and disagreeable. Unfortunately, it’s also the state where transformation occurs. Outside the comfort zone is a wild, unknown territory steeped in the atmosphere of creative tension.

Creative tension is the perceptual stretching required to escape the status quo and invent the future. It is a place that is filled with challenge and as a result, many of us see it as an inhospitable landscape.

Transformational leaders develop a tolerance for creative tension. They recognize that challenges are necessary for the development of personal and organizational excellence and original vision. Creative tension is viewed as a form of “therapeutic irritation” because it forces us to stretch, grow and change in order to act in new and original ways.

Conditions of Creative Tension

The comfort zone is a nest for repetitive patterns and routine behaviors. It doesn’t take very much to stay on a familiar and comfortable road – conform, go to sleep and go along for the ride.

Many of us only visit creative tension periodically, when we’re forced to go there by the arrival of unbidden and unexpected circumstances. Uncertainty, paradox, problems, confusion, chaos, ambiguity, change, and new possibilities are the conditions that force us out of our comfort zone, and into new territory. For some of us this experience is so unnerving that we race back to familiar ground with the velocity of a rocket.

Transformational leaders see such conditions as the cradle of invention, the birthplace of continuous learning, growth and development. They befriend creative tension, building the capacity to remain open and receptive to the unknown. This requires a mixture of optimism, commitment, resiliency and pragmatism.

Seductions of the Comfort Zone

The valleys between accomplishments are filled with enemies that can lull us to sleep-idleness, sluggishness, inactivity, boredom, apathy and self-satisfaction. They cause us to become indolent and drop our vigilance to the seductions of the comfort zone, including:

  • Complacency– the smug, self-satisfaction with our past achievements and lack of continuous improvement or change that leads directly to the status quo and the comfort zone.
  • Laziness – a lack of effort, activity, poor work ethic and passionless performance that is rooted in half-heartedness.
  • Risk Avoidance – closed-heartedness that contributes to the fear or unwillingness to try new things, push beyond what is currently known or understood, or risk failure on the journey of continuous improvement.
  • Conflict Avoidance – weak-heartedness that manifests as a fear of controversy or disagreement, conformity rather than authenticity, or the unwillingness to set limits and boundaries in the uncivil conduct of others.
  • Attachment to Success – the condition that befalls us when victory, accolades and accomplishments become far more important than learning, growth and exploration. The temptation of success is to rest on our laurels, thinking that we have it all figured out.

Posted on August 1, 2009 .