The Starting Point of Any Change

Reticence, disinterest and resistance to change all start from the power of the comfort zone. Leadership and learning expert Kevin Eikenberry offers the keys to overcoming the lure of the comfort zone and accomplishing real change.

Take a minute and mentally put yourself in a place that you love. You love the sights, the sounds, the activity you are engaging in. If there are others around they are people you are excited to be with. Take a minute and put yourself in that situation mentally right now.

Now, imagine that I wanted to take you from that place to some new situation or environment that you’re not all that familiar with, but it’s a place I honestly believe will be even better for you. Even knowing that I think it’s great, how likely are you to be all that willing to leave the place you love to go with me to someplace new?

I’m guessing, not likely at all.

Of course, if I have excellent influence skills, ask you lots of questions to understand your situation/mindset, etc. and translate my suggested change into your mindset, I might be more successful.

But remember, you love the place/situation you are in. So, generally speaking, regardless of my skills of persuasion, you probably aren’t that interested. After all what you have now is pretty great. And why should you change anything, because you are completely satisfied and comfortable in the current setting.

Welcome to the power of the comfort zone.

When we are happy and comfortable where we are, why would we go anywhere else?

This simple little example is at the root of much of the challenge relating to any change effort – whether you’re trying to change a behavior, habit or thought pattern of your own, or are trying to make a change that affects others.

Realizing the critical role comfort zone plays in the thinking related to change efforts allows us to talk about some of the key elements of comfort zone and how to use them to stimulate change.

The pull of the comfort zone is strong. In the quick mental exercise we started with you can see and feel the pull of the comfort zone. At some level, stability and comfort matter to everyone. We like the known. It reduces mental and physical risk; so, we must have strong reasons to overcome this pull. “Just because” or “because it is good for the business” typically won’t be strong enough.

Everyone is different. Risk tolerances change. Happiness with the status quo differs. Every person has different preferences, which means that while the comfort zone matters to each of us, we don’t all become dissatisfied at the same rate or for the same reasons. Therefore, we aren’t all as likely to break inertia and move (i.e. change) for the same reasons or at the same time.

Vision can overcome. Most everyone would be willing to and would even choose to change – even from very comfy places (mentally, physically and emotionally) – when the new situation is seen as even better. She loves her car until the newer model comes out that does automatic parking. He’s happy with his favorite Italian restaurant until he hears people rave about the new Italian in town – including people who love his favorite too! It’s about the faster iPhone, the bigger hard drive, the revised edition of the book; you get the idea. The fact is that when given a vision of something that seems better than what you have now – however much you like what you have – you begin to become dissatisfied and uncomfortable because of the comparison.

These three facts, when you really think about them, provide useful strategies to help you overcome your personal inertia. These facts also can help you use and acknowledge your team’s, your family’s, your colleagues, anyone’s current comfort zones as a stepping stone to helping them create meaningful and valuable change.

Your comfort zone is the starting point of all change. The sooner you realize this, the more likely you are to be able to create the change you want and need.

Kevin Eikenberry

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