One of the most irritating current slogans is the one about “leaving our comfort zone.” Leaving your comfort zone is a typical non-expression – it is used because it has no meaning.

When a singer in a TV music show sings heavy metal instead of pop, she will tell us that she has left her comfort zone. Comfort zones are left behind also in numerous performance reviews, women's magazines and training events. 

A little discomfort supports learning

The biggest problem with the “discomfort zone” is imprecision. After having promised to give a speech or introduction, the unwilling speaker will tell their colleagues that they are entering a discomfort zone. The expression is accurate to the degree that in the speaker’s mind the task is indeed uncomfortable. However, it remains unclear why he does it regardless of this. If we banned talk about the discomfort zone, we would have to think about reasons. Some people step in front of an audience to conquer their fear, while others promise to give a speech, so that their expertise would not be overshadowed by their fear of performing.

Learning something new requires throwing yourself into new situations.

In addition to normal everyday use, discomfort zones are also found in sports training and experiential learning. You must recognize that opportunities for growth and development are found where there is the right combination of risk and the unknown. The development of performance will dry up if we do not leave what we already know how to do well.

Is discomfort useful?

The benefits of leaving your comfort zone are often exaggerated, because uncomfortable situations cause strong emotions. It is easy to think that you have experienced something tremendous, but is it really something useful? Taking on too uncomfortable a task amidst the existing challenges of working life creates extra “noise.”

When all attention goes to surviving the task, there will be no possibility to observe and develop your activities.

This is a case of working under stress and the observed behavioral models do not necessarily have a transfer effect to normal circumstances.

Of course, you do not have to go so deep into the discomfort zone that learning is prevented. You may just pop into your discomfort zone to see what things are like there. In this case, we talk about a flexible zone, which is appropriately in-between the familiar and the unknown.

Foster and reinforce your strengths

Instead of measuring the degree of discomfort, you should concentrate on the task at hand. By all means, challenge yourself, but also think about what you are doing and why. People are productive and feel good when they do nice things. In normal circumstances, it is usually beneficial to stay in the safe area, since all of us have been chosen for our roles based on our strengths and not our weaknesses. You should primarily pay attention to how you can utilize your strengths while getting the best out of them.

This may lead to ideas for eliminating the effects of weaknesses through using your strengths. Unless you have a need to be a great orator or demagogue, you can find among your strengths a skill to delegate this task to someone else.

So be comfortable staying in your comfort zone. It is where you are at your best.