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Comfort Zones

By Ed Maier, Former Andersen Partner

When you wake up in the morning, do you follow a consistent pattern as you prepare for your day? Do you have a routine, daily exercise program? Do you enjoy a favorite breakfast at a familiar restaurant you frequent? Do you find that you get back and forth to your place of work in the same manner, along the same route, day in and day out?

Thinking about this on a grander scale, have you lived in the same community for many, many years? Do you maintain a consistent circle of friends? Do you regularly frequent the same restaurants or sports or entertainment venues? Do you read books the same way today as you read them when you were in grammar school? That is, by picking up a hard or soft copy of bound pages and reading them? Or do you swipe the pages in your Kindle or iPad?

Do you work for the same company that you began working for when you came out of college, high school or the military service? Or, if not for the same company are you working in the same type of business or organization or profession? When you do your work do you use the same tools, devices, and resources repeatedly?

Do you travel to the same or similar locations on vacation every year, or with regular consistency? Are there personal hideaways or sanctuaries in your home or your neighborhood or even you place of work that you seek out from time to time?

All these elements of life are your habits. We all have them. Some are conscious. Some are unconscious. According to Dictionary.com, habits are: (1) An acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary (e.g., the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street); or (2) A customary practice or use, (e.g., Daily bathing is an American habit -- Author’s note: for the most part); (3) A particular practice, custom, or usage (e.g., the habit of shaking hands); (4) A dominant or regular disposition or tendency; a prevailing character or quality (e.g., She has a habit of looking at the bright side of things) (See www.dictionary.com).

On a broader scale these habitual behaviors are your “comfort zones”. They are the routine patterns you follow in living out the different phases of your life. Your comfort zones are the patterns of behavior that you follow—voluntarily or involuntarily—to minimize risk in your life. When you step outside your comfort zone it can increase your stress or anxiety. Experts in human behavior will tell you that staying in your comfort zone can result in a steady level of performance. However, in order to increase, maximize or change your performance, you need a certain level of stress or anxiety to help you achieve that new level or different direction. In other words, you need to break out of your comfort zone. I am not an expert in human behavior. But I do have a great example of my recent experience in getting out of one of my own comfort zones. Perhaps it will encourage and help you to move out of one of your own.

Throughout my professional career, I have always done some writing. These were mostly memoranda and other papers related to the business I was in – usually, some issue in the accounting world. All these materials were for a limited audience – generally, clients or other members of our team. Several years ago, I was asked to make a contribution to this newsletter in the form of an article. Up until that time, I had never written for a broader, more general audience. I was nervous about it at first, perhaps even overly cautious. After all, my thoughts were going to be read by many people I did not know and never had worked with. What could I possibly write that would interest others? But since I was responding to a request from a colleague, I decided to go ahead with it. That led to me writing for this publication every quarter since my initial article. I am now over forty articles into this process. But I still have difficulty getting out of my comfort zone each quarter to: (a) generate an idea that I think would be of interest, and (b) put my thoughts about that idea in writing for you readers.

From time-to-time, some of you have contacted me and said: “I enjoy some of the subjects you write about—have you ever thought about writing a book?” While I did not start writing these quarterlies with that in mind, the thought kept coming back to me. I generally dismissed it because it gave rise to some nervousness, apprehension and fear -- the same feelings I had when I began writing my first newsletter article. But eventually, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and write a book. Because of taking that step, I am very close to publishing my first, and most likely only, one. The goal is to have it out on Amazon.com next month. I will reach out to all of you with more about that later.

There are some tremendously successful people in the world who bravely and fearlessly jump from one comfort zone to another. If you are that type of person, that’s great. I am not. But I have learned to consider the following when I decide to push the limits of one of my own comfort zones and break out of it:

1. You need to have a plan. This is essential to your success. I really didn’t have one at first. But as I struggled with the concept of writing a book, I eventually pulled one together. It included ideas like what did I want to talk about; what did I not want to talk about; how many chapters did I wish to create; how long should each chapter be; whether or not each chapter followed a particular structural formula, when did I want to accomplish this, and other things. I had to decide to self-publish or not; I learned about purchasing ISBN’s, applying to the Library of Congress, filing a copyright application – all things I did not know before and which I found out were not that complicated.

2. Get some skilled help. If you are doing something outside of your comfort zone, it is more than likely something you have not done before or have not done very well. I met with other authors who had done similar projects. I found an editor who turned out to be a godsend. I am certain that I would not have finished this project without her. So, part of your plan should be to find some skilled help. It will enhance your opportunity for success.

3. Create a timeframe and a schedule to follow. Set interim goals and a timetable. And follow it. I did not do this very well. As a result, this project has taken longer than it probably should have. When I did set a timeframe and followed it, my focus improved.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help along the way when something comes up that you are not familiar with. In my case there were several things related to self-publishing that I needed assistance with and resources were out there to help. I just needed to ask.

5. When doubts creep in about achieving your goal – and they will -- remember those times in your past that you successfully moved out of a familiar comfort zone and how positive the results were. Reflect on what you did, the challenge you had and how you completed it. Adapt those techniques to your current project and move on toward your goal.

6. As you have accomplishments along the way — and you will -- celebrate them. Very often when you are trying to move out of one of your comfort zones, there is no one along for the ride; there is no one “keeping score”. You are the only one who knows of your accomplishment. So, celebrate when you hit specific milestones.

We live most of our lives in our comfort zones. To move out of them can be challenging, even scary; so, I hope these thoughts are helpful to you. Pick a zone that you are comfortable in and switch lanes. I can’t guarantee it will be fun. But you will learn something about yourself. Go for it.

As always, I am interested in your thoughts. I would love to hear some of your own comfort zone memories and reminiscences. Write me at ed@thinkstraighttalkstraight.com.

And, watch for my book, Think Straight. Talk Straight., coming your way from Amazon soon!