Written with Maria Sole Chimenti, Medical Doctor, Rheumatologist and Chiara Bodini, Purpose & Talent Agent.
Medical Coach view
The first to speak about Comfort Zone was Judith Bardwick, an American psychiatrist specialized in corporate environmental psychology in 1991 with her book "Danger in the Comfort Zone".
In 2009 Alasdair White, a business management theorist and specialized in leadership, took up the term Comfort Zone to understand and manage company performance.
According to Alasdair White, the key to understanding performance is in managing stress; motivation and anxiety, subgroups of stress, become tools in favor of performance management.
White defines the Comfort Zone as a behavioral state in which we feel safe, things around us are familiar, and in control of our environment with low levels of anxiety and stress.
In this state, the performance level remains low.
As often happens, what is first discovered in the corporate world is then taken up in everyday life, especially in the world of Coaching.
Hence a proliferation of definition and use of the term Comfort Zone.
What is it exactly? As White rightly defined it, it is our safe, familiar place, where routines and habits coexist and give comfort and confidence; fear is limited. It can change from person to person but releases the hormone of happiness, hence the great difficulty of letting it go.
Why, as claimed by many people, should we leave our Comfort Zone?
First of all because, according to a scientific study by the Yale University, our brain needs constant stimulation and in the Comfort Zone it shuts down. We know how long-term stability kills every form of learning. By leaving the Comfort Zone, our mind will be able to absorb information better and, after an initial moment of stress, it will make us evolve as people.
Experimenting, challenging each other, discovering our hidden potential, increasing creativity are some of the consequences of leaving the Comfort Zone as well as feeling stimulated and satisfied by everything new.
All this is possible only by dealing with strong emotions and letting go of the fear of failing or losing something. Many of the graphics you will find online representing the Comfort Zone also have a graphic of Panic Zone: stress, performance anxiety, adrenaline, sensations that we all know and that make us understand that we have gone beyond our daily routine.
The solution is to proceed in small steps and increase the Comfort Zone more and more.
It is well established that once a new behavior becomes a habit, it no longer gives us these strong feelings. It is therefore necessary to find the right compromise. Staying out of the Comfort Zone has also its negative sides and life is not just about performance.
Never before have we all have understood the need to unplug and relax.
A different story applies to those who are ill. What will be their Comfort Zone?
Is it positive to have a Comfort Zone or can it delay the healing process? The disease has a significant impact on one's life and adjustments need to be made. Certainly, you can find a Comfort Zone in the disease which, however, must be kept under control because it is in constant movement, therefore Medical Coaching can give support.
The diagnosis of chronic disease causes an emotional shock due to the uncertainty of the future and changes will be necessary on a personal, family, professional and economic level.
The diagnosis can thereafter modify and alter the Comfort Zone, but not only. We know how relevant adherence to therapy and treatment persistence are in the management of chronic diseases and it is the therapy added to the diagnosis that involves the Comfort Zone.
If the question is if the Comfort Zone can alter healing, the answer is yes. Patients with chronic diseases, for example with Fibromyalgia or Rheumatoid Arthritis, experience a feeling of loss of health and integrity, a feeling of ineluctability and a difficulty in projecting themselves into the future. They are also exposed with an extremely difficult and conflicting situation: accepting being ill and living with illness, taking care of themselves in the present and in the future
In their own Comfort Zone, the patients must acquire and maintain the skills and competences that help them to live optimally with their illness and with their therapy: therefore, acquiring knowledge, know-how and know-how-to to be adequate to achieve a balance between life and optimal disease control.
In rheumatoid arthritis not only the alteration of the stress response could be an important pathogenetic and prognostic factor of the disease, but the decrease in the ability to carry out recreational and relational activities significantly increases the risk of further stress and reduction of therapeutic adherence. Patients struggle to accept their physical problem because representation and self-awareness are altered.
How does the Comfort Zone affect adherence to therapy?
In chronic diseases, the initiation of medical drug therapy is a crucial moment: in the rheumatological field, the initiation of therapy must coincide with the diagnosis to avoid permanent and potentially disabling damage. The doctor therefore has the duty to explain to the patient symptoms related to the therapies and to the disease without triggering fears and discomforts, trying to understand and expand the limits of the Comfort Zone of the patient.
Purpose and Talent Agent view
My perspective tries to return to a more philosophical approach to the “Comfort Zon”e issue. In this sense, the Comfort Zone is indeed a safe place but where perhaps the prospect of contemplation could be considered. A place where the contemplative life, and sometimes boredom, can give us the impetus to bring renewal in our life.
The meaning of contemplating is to fix the gaze and above all the thought on something that arouses admiration, amazement, wonder and its etymology comes from Latin, with the space of the sky by means of templum.
Let us therefore cultivate this place of peace, perhaps at times static, where challenges do not exist, to prepare ourselves better when life asks us to go on. In essence, we must neither get used to nor fear this logo of being but deepen its meaning. Accept the moments in life that require you to stop for a moment, to reflect without the anxiety of an expectation and think.
"Boredom is the enchanted bird that hatches the egg of experience" said the German philosopher, Walter Benjamin. And with this quote that human nature in constant search of the whys that life gives us, we hope to find a path, a half-open answer that spurs us to accept moments that do not present us with great challenges or goals.
Trying to create a virtuous cycle between the moments we live in our Comfort Zone and those in which we come out of the intramoenia and turn to life, with courage and acceptance.
Even in the path of life in which you find yourself sick, whether for a short period or for chronic illness, it is good to develop inside yourself that the meaning and purpose of the Comfort Zone is also a place where you can master repetition and train boredom with amazement.