We live in a time where nothing stays the same. We constantly must overcome new challenges. The pandemic that lasted for years, the related consequences and the subsequent war on our doorstep have made painfully apparent that we must remain agile – mentally, psychologically and physically. This is as true in the private sphere as it is in the workplace. In many ways, we have been and continue to be forced to leave our comfort zone.
The comfort zone is a wonderful home. It is a psychological state in which a person feels comfortable. Within the comfort zone, people usually do not have new experiences or face challenges. People stay in their comfort zone to avoid feelings of anxiety, stress, and pain. Anything outside the comfort zone creates insecurity, and this uncertainty creates fear.
Does this imply that people who are doing “too well” see no motivation to change or take new steps? Are there no other ways than suffering for people to move out of their comfort zone? In fact, early 20th century scientists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson found in an experiment that there was a link between anxiety and performance. Mice were more motivated to traverse mazes when they received electric shocks of increasing intensity. However, only up to a certain point. After that, they began to hide instead of working. Corresponding behavior was also observed in humans. The Yerkes-Dodson law is valid for all areas of life. The key idea is that our nervous system responds to arousal: Too little, and you stay in the comfort zone. Too much, and you get into the fear zone, which also slows down progress.
Thus, those who remain in the zone of old habits, routines, security, and predictability have little to learn, but also make no progress, remain invulnerable, and offer no surface for attack.
In 2019, a study by the Boston Consulting Group revealed that nine out of 10 executives tend to be hesitant in their decision-making. Could it be that there are a lot of “swimmers” and “keepers” in executive suites who cannot or do not want to face new influences and tasks? Why is it that executives are so afraid of acting and thus solving problems? “Very few managers dare to take responsibility. The fear of doing something wrong is enormous,” is the sad experience of Johanna Dahm, successful organizational developer, and management consultant.
This does not have to be the case. Psychology shows that those who regularly leave their comfort zone can count on a sense of achievement. People who take on challenges and overcome limitations develop better self-esteem and are rewarded with personal growth. It takes courage to step out of the comfort zone and into the fear zone. That’s because without a clear roadmap, there’s no way to build on past experiences. Fear is a necessary step on the way to the learning zone. It is – to some degree – a driving force, as demonstrated by Yerkes and Dodson’s experiment. Only then it is possible to reach the learning zone, where one acquires new skills and learns how to deal with challenges. This is followed by the growth zone, which is the “new” comfort zone, so to speak. Things take on meaning, dreams are lived, goals are pursued, and new ones are set. The transition from the comfort zone to the growth zone is not necessarily linear. It may be necessary to first retreat back into the comfort zone in order to gather strength for further tasks. But every step taken helps to better cope with uncertainty.
Leaving the comfort zone at management level is particularly crucial for successfully leading companies into the future and flexibly making the necessary adjustments and changes. Courageous leadership does not mean reckless action, forging crazy plans or exaggerated self-promotion. Rather, it is about very concrete, goal-oriented actions so that good solutions can be found for the company and its employees.
Today, a new and sustainable corporate culture is an urgent task for owners, board members and executives. A culture in which people are encouraged to be an active part of the whole. “Because a lack of courage and thus a lack of decisiveness means that important projects are never tackled or not completed. Lack of decisiveness also leads to high levels of demotivation among the entire workforce, as their initiatives are not considered and nothing moves forward in their company,” says Johanna Dahm. What company seriously wants to take that chance?
In the blog articles of the coming months, I will highlight various aspects that help individuals to leave their comfort zone behind and create a new leadership and corporate culture:
– Become aware of your own mindset and impact competencies.
– It’s okay to make mistakes if you have confidence in yourself and others
– Communication is not a one-way street: It’s about proper listening, sending, receiving and setting impulses
– A positive attitude helps us to achieve great things together.
– Are hierarchical structures still appropriate?