Opinion: Micah Yost Date: 04.16.2018

Comfortability Drains the Lifeblood of Business

If you’ve ever run a marathon, you know how much training matters. You wake up early every single day, get changed, go out and run, sweat and strain to prepare for an intense 26.2 mile race. What you don’t do is spend the weeks leading up to the marathon by sitting on the couch and enjoying a good bag of chips. Training for a marathon is definitely uncomfortable, but it’s necessary if you want to accomplish your goal. In fact, exercising in general isn’t very comfortable. While it can be fun, beneficial or even enjoyable, we can all agree that enjoying a good nap on the couch is probably more comfortable. However, only through exercise can we grow our muscles, build stamina in get healthier in general.

In the 1923 book The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.” Beware of your comfort zone. Great things happen when we challenge ourselves, both mentally and physically. You don’t get fit without hard work. You don’t learn new things without study. You don’t build character without trials. Very few people look back upon their life and see times of comfort and stability as their moments of greatest achievement. If you value comfort too highly, you may be walking your passions and achievements straight to the grave.

The uncomfortability of exercise actually isn’t far off from what it means to be a small business owner or entrepreneur. Similarly in business, we sit in our comfort zone, prefering to relax on the couch rather than getting out there and training. As Nick Unsworth says in Entrepreneur, “Particularly for entrepreneurs, stasis is our enemy. If things aren’t changing, we aren’t growing. If we and our business aren’t growing, we will quickly become irrelevant.” Like a marathon runner who doesn’t train, comfortability drains the lifeblood from our business.

This matters because more often than not, human beings search for the comfortable. Even as business owners or entrepreneurs, we’re guilty of settling into comfort, rather than searching for the next opportunity to succeed. Forrest Performance Group  says, “If you’re happy where you are in business, that’s a clear sign it’s time to reinvent.” Fortunately, there are ways to combat comfortability. You can actually trainyourself to keep going. So, let’s define what a comfort zone is, why it’s bad for business and finally… how to step outside of it.

Defining the Comfort Zone

Whether it’s in your work, home or hobby, a comfort zone is the area where you can feel totally and completely… well, comfortable. Comfort zones look different to different people. For instance, if you’re not a particularly strong writer, then your comfort zone probably isn’t going to include blogging for the company.

A comfort zone tends to involve something you’re good at, something you enjoy doing or something you’ve “just always done.” It represents an environment or situation in which you feel the most secure or at ease. Your comfort zone—whether personal, financial or in business—is the lifestyle you have established where you feel the most comfortable without any drastic change. While your comfort zone might feel obvious in some aspects of life, it can be more difficult to define in others—such as business.  The key is to recognize aspects of your life and identify areas where you rest in the comfort of what you’re good at, enjoy doing or have always done.

Now examine how much American culture values the comfort zone. According to a recent survey by Charles Schwab, the majority of Americans need at least $1 million a year just to feel financially comfortable. In the United States, we place an enormous amount of emphasis on comfort and convenience. What makes you happy? Where are you the most comfortable? If anything or anyone makes you uncomfortable, is inconvenient or disrupts your little world, then American society says you have every right to blot it out, run away and get back to the zone where you feel most comfortable. At the very least, comfort in American culture has become a goal, maybe even an idol, which we must recognize and further work to avoid.

In her 1975 book Atlas Shrugged, author Ayn Rand writes: “What greater wealth is there than to own your life and to spend it on growing? Every living thing must grow. It can’t stand still. It must grow or perish.” As you read this article, consider your own comfort zone, particularly in business, but in other areas of life as well. Where do you need to grow? Where are you playing it safe? What defines your comfort zone?

Why the Comfort Zone is Bad for Business

For those in the business world, comfort zones are the enemy of impactful success. In his Forbes article, author Martin Zwilling says it best:

As an entrepreneur looking for an idea, it makes sense to explore problem areas within your knowledge comfort zone, but when you are building a business with the solution, you have to stretch your comfort zone to keep up with the market and stay ahead of competitors. I haven’t found a successful and satisfying venture yet that was a comfortable and easy win.

As a business owner or entrepreneur, the only way you are going to stay ahead of the competition and grow your business is by taking risks outside of your brand’s comfort zone.

That’s the “why” your comfort zone is bad for business. The truth is, while you’re playing it safe, slow and steady, other companies in your field are taking the necessary risks to succeed and reaping the benefits from it. We assume that what got us to a certain point in business will carry us on to the next point, which is rarely true. Marshall Goldsmith says, “What got you here won’t get you there.” In an increasingly competitive, accelerated, technological world, entrepreneurs who are willing to step out of their comfort zone and take risks will be those who experience the greatest rewards. High risk, high reward.

What do these benefits and rewards look like? For one, they could definitely result in greater return on investment, such as more customers and ultimately greater sales. For instance, imagine that your step outside of the comfort zone means branching into a different niche of the market, producing a new product or service or focusing on a different target audience. While all of these actions might certainly be risks themselves, they can also provide a significant reward for the business which executes them correctly. Branching into a different niche opens up a completely new market segment for the business; producing a new product or service broadens your company’s scope and can real in more customers; focusing on a new target audience engages more than one group of consumers. All of these steps can drive more sales, bring in more revenue and expand your business.

Still, taking risks in business is… risky. How can you step outside of your comfort zone without risking everything? Well, consider the diagram above. There are three main zones. The middle is the Comfort Zone. Notice how it’s the smallest. The largest ring is the Terror Zone. This area is where risks can get a little out of hand. But see that sweet spot right there in the middle? The blue ring is the Courage Zone—the area where you experience the most growth and opportunity as a business. Margie Warrell of Forbes says, “Only in giving up the security of the known can we create new opportunity, build capacity and grow influence. As we do, we expand the perimeter of our ‘Courage Zone’ and our confidence to take on bigger challenges in the future.” Oftentimes, we fear the wrong things, like failure, and don’t fear the right things, such as comfortability. Evaluate your risk assessment. The risk you consider might not be such a leap into the Terror Zone, but might actually be a step into the Courage Zone.

How to Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone

So, how do you do it? Talking about breaking through comfortability is simple, but actually taking steps to do it is a bit more difficult. Here’s how:

  1. Find what you’re afraid of. Where are you letting your comfort zone hold you back? Why are you afraid of taking those next steps? While this might seem like a simple task, write down your fears in business and why you want to overcome them. Once you have a place to start, you’ll know where to go.
  2. Solidify a positive mindset.Solidifying a positive mindset is vital before starting the Courage Zone journey. You have to be healthy to take risk because when you take risks, there are definitely going to be struggles, doubts and even times when you want to quit. Fight these setbacks by solidifying a positive mindset from the beginning.
  3. Document your goals. It’s difficult to accomplish something if you don’t have a clear picture of what it is. Document your goals by building a business plan or roadmap of your goals along the way. Write them down, tell others and hold yourself accountable.
  4. Explore other areas. Once you have a good idea of where your comfort zone is and what your goals are, start exploring areas that fit in the middle. Think about markets, products, services or customers who could fit with your brand strategy. Know your vision, mission and core attributes, then use those to guide what areas are worth exploring.
  5. Do your research. As you explore, dig deeper into researching areas outside of your comfort zone. The more solid your foundation is, the more ready you are to be uncomfortable. Assess your readiness as a company. The best entrepreneurs prepare to expand their comfort zone by building a support team, honing their skills and assembling the right resources and research in the field they want to move toward.
  6. Bring your team on board. Shared vision is very important when leading through change, transition and discomfort. If you ask your team or company to get uncomfortable, then they have to buy into the vision. Nobody endures discomfort unless they believe it’s best for them to align with their values. Create a compelling vision and bring your team on board with you.
  7. Dip your toe in the water. Once you have a starting point, dip your toe in the metaphorical water. If possible, give your new product or service a trial run by polling consumers, conducting an email campaign on a segmented list or offering free samples. For instance, remember when Twitter was just 140 characters? They did a test run on a small percentage of their user base, allowing them to use 280 characters. After gathering feedback, they launched the 280-character limit for everyone in 2017.
  8. Track your progress. As you start moving out of your comfort zone, track your progress along the way. Remember those goals you documented? You want to make sure they’re being accomplished. Write down what seems to be working well, what doesn’t and then make adjustments accordingly throughout the process.
  9. Focus on the why. Stepping outside of your comfort zone can be particularly overwhelming and difficult. Stay centered by focusing on your why the entire time. Why did you go into business? Why did you become an entrepreneur? Why did you take this step out of your comfort zone? When you have your why in mind, you can accomplish almost any how.
  10. Celebrate success. Finally, celebrate your success! Oftentimes we can get caught up in all of the action around us, and forget to celebrate the accomplishments we’ve achieved. Once you’ve branched out and stretched your comfort zone, celebrate your recent exploits with your team members.

Just as important as things are you should start doing outside of your comfort zone, consider what you should stop doing. What is dragging you back? What habits do you have, either in your personal or business life, that are not growing you? Just like training for a marathon, you can exercise all you want, but if you still eat terrible junk food all the time, you won’t feel any healthier. Think about what things are holding you back and keeping you in your comfort zone which you need to stop doing in order to move forward.

Like a marathon runner training for the race, businesses and entrepreneurs must keep working if they want to succeed. While comfort zones are comfortable, it’s impossible for anything to grow there. Instead, define your comfort zone, recognize the risks outside of it and take the steps to combat comfortability. Get comfortable being uncomfortable, and push yourself before you get pushed. Find success in your business by continuing to step outside your comfort zone and keep moving forward.