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  • Writer's pictureTeresa George

What Is Your Comfort Zone Costing You?

Staying in your comfort zone is comfortable. But it’s also costing you – money, time, well-being, success -- and it leaves a residue of lifelong regrets. Breaking out of a comfort zone is easier once we shift our perspective and more accurately compare the emotional, physical and financial price tag of our options.

First, a few examples of how staying in your comfort zone can cost you. An acquaintance of mine disliked his job so much that his stomach would knot up every morning before he headed into work. Yet, he didn’t look for a new job. What was his comfort zone costing him? A measure of his health. His job was literally making him sick.

On a more ominous note, airplane crew members who stayed in their comfort zones didn’t challenge pilots in mid-air. For some involved in deadly crashes, it cost them their lives and those of passengers. In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell showed how after crashes in the1980s and 90s, Korean Airlines worked hard to improve their safety record, in part, by encouraging direct, honest communication rather than authoritarian cockpit hierarchy. They urged crew members to go against cultural norms and speak up about potential problems quickly – even if they were uncomfortable doing so.

Staying in its comfort zone drove Kodak into bankruptcy and cost it billions. Kodak believed so strongly that people wanted physical photos – in the same way they had for decades – that they failed to capitalize on the digital wave of photo saving and sharing.

Let me tell you what staying in my comfort zone cost me recently. I was at the gym and wanted to use the lone tricep machine. A woman was sitting on its padded seat chatting to a friend. Ten minutes went by, fifteen, twenty, then the friend left, so I thought this lady would surely get up and leave. She didn’t. Instead, she pulled out her phone and begin scrolling. I wanted to use the machine, so I walked over to ask her if she was done, but then I abruptly chickened out and turned and went a different direction. Finally, after 30 minutes, she got off the machine. On that day, asking to use the machine was outside my comfort zone. 

Now, what did that cost me?

1. About half an hour of frustration, some time “trolling” and glancing to see when she’d be off.

2. Mental gymnastics, excuse-making and rationalizing that it wasn’t that big a deal, so I wouldn’t have to be more assertive.

3. The disappointment in myself that I wasn’t “brave” enough to ask her to move, which she probably would’ve been happy to do, had she realized someone wanted the machine.

We like being in our comfort zone because it’s comfortable, but it’s not free.

And after awhile, it’s not all that comfortable either. It’s as if we check into a nice hotel at a fair price, and then every day we stay there, the rate goes up sharply, and the room becomes smaller and dingier.

Once we examine the steep price we’re paying to stay in our comfort zone, it’s easier to make a decision to get out of it. My friend could look at how he’s sacrificing his health. Korean Airlines looked at crashes, deaths and its safety record. What if Kodak had analyzed differently the cost of remaining in its comfort zone?

“Before Mark Zuckerberg wrote a line of Facebook’s code, Kodak made a prescient purchase,acquiring a photo sharing site called Ofoto in 2001. It was so close. Imagine if Kodak had truly embraced its historical tagline of ‘share memories, share life,”, according to a Harvard Business Review article

Instead of sliding into bankruptcy, could Kodak have been the next Facebook or Instagram? It wasn’t that they weren’t willing to change at all. They just wanted to change within their rigid idea of who they were as a company. Company execs kept thinking they were a chemical film processing company rather than embracing being a moment sharing company, according to writer Scott D. Anthony.

Our comfort zone isn’t our happy place, it’s our stuck place. To get out of it, we first need to realize that staying in our comfort zone:

1. Comes with a steep price. Let’s get better at identifying what we’re losing -- passion, health, feeling valued, profits, self-esteem, opportunities, etc.

2. Is risky. Thinking the status quo last forever in this age of change is foolish. Look at successful companies or leaders we admire. They are constantly re-inventing themselves and innovating. Unlike Kodak, we have to reimagine ourselves and our companies.

3. Ensures stagnation. – We are thwarting our own growth and value with the status quo.

4. Creates lifelong regrets. – Research has shown it’s the things we didn’t do but wanted to that cause most of life’s regrets, not the things we tried and failed at. “Included among those top regrets are not following their dreams (39%), not taking risks with their career (38%) and not taking risks with their lives in general (new jobs, going back to school, etc.) (36%). More than a third (35%) also said they wish they’d been more gutsy in their choices and done things they really wanted to do.” Now that we’ve explored the huge toll of staying in our comfort zone, getting out of it seems easier and not nearly as scary. It’s as if we’ve readjusted the scales in our favor. Our perspective then changes. Challenges morph into opportunities. Trying new things becomes more fun and confidence-building, even if our results are flawed. We can attempt new behaviors even if at first it doesn’t feel like “the real me”. I used to be intimidated to go into high end stores because I felt like a “poser”. Now, I don’t, because I started going in them anyway – even knowing I wasn’t going to buy anything. I decided to do more of what makes me feel uncomfortable. Remember, feeling uncomfortable is fleeting. Stretching our “bravery” muscles is empowering. Soon, we’ll be at ease doing what used to terrify us. Still not sure? It’s okay to start small.

So, the next time you’re at the gym sitting on the tricep machine chatting to a friend, watch out. It might be me asking you to move.

Enjoy the journey,


We’re curious:

1. What’s one thing you’d do if you got out of your comfort zone?

2. What’s holding you back?



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