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The Comfort Zone, pt. 2

I’ve written about the “comfort zone” a few times, once as the subject of its own entry and another time in the context of my decision to leave a programming boot camp. But I don’t think my arguments against it were that well-formed. It’s a cliche, yes, and one ought to be skeptical of all such constructions since they imply political view points that have been systematized and turned into placeholders for original thought. Beyond that, I struggled to articulate my reasons for disliking this mantra in particular.

After thinking about it, I feel like I’ve arrived at a clearer reason for my distaste:

Habits aren’t necessarily the results of comfort

Think about a daily routine such as getting up (despite feeling groggy), dreading work (not all people “love what they do”), cooking breakfast, setting out on a long commute, putting in a few hours, and then going home. Consider also the effects of this regimen, from feeling tired to wanting to avoid conflict and distraction that would add to the stress. Do any of these behaviors sound like they were caused by “comfort?” What if they were instead the products of pressures that the individual couldn’t control, forces that had made unhappiness instead of comfort the main form of stasis?

In popular imagination, stepping out of the “comfort zone” is often a low stakes, recreational endeavor – trying out for a sports team or doing an improv routine – or one that is decidedly upper-middle class (asking for a raise). Other actions such as entering an immersive language environment might also qualify, but could just as easily be framed as necessities driven by motives other than the voluntary maneuver of moving past the artificial confines of the “comfort zone.” For example, was learning it necessary to get a visa or reunite with a family member? These motives would potentially extend beyond her own aspirations and encompass restrictions, rules, and regulations that she could not shape to her own ends. In contrast, Being nudged to step outside the “comfort zone” assumes that the subject has some level of luxury, i.e., that her problems, as they were, consist mostly in habits that are formed of her volition and easily changed. That’s not realistic for a lot of people.

Like so many cliches – “think outside the box” also comes to mind – the “comfort zone” is propaganda that promises freedom while papering over the confines that are being ever-extended around the subject by mechanisms including its own dishonest words. “I was in a zone? I was in a box? No matter, with some solutionizing language I can escape!” They create a weak, artificial barrier that can be broken with a superficial solution (there’s that word again).

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