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The Comfort Zone

I have a friend named Gene, a serial entrepreneur who currently runs a software business. Like many people, last year was a tough one for his company. They survived largely by providing add-on services to existing customers - a decent response to difficult circumstances. They even grew revenues a bit. But here's something else that happened: They got comfortable. They decided they could exist on their base of customers, and then they "realized" there would be no new ones.

Is that bad? Isn't that just accepting reality as it is?

It might not be bad, except that Gene's people got used to the idea of "no new customers", and it stuck with them. They've continued to draw revenues from this satisfied base, but lead generation and prospecting has remained almost nil. They are now looking at an empty pipeline, and unless things change soon, I'd say the forecast for the future is not bright.

There is a state of mind I'd like to acquaint you with known as the comfort zone. Perhaps you are already familiar with this insidious disposition. Did I say insidious? How can comfort be insidious?

You know, don't you.

You get seduced by the status quo. You think things are pretty good the way they are. You like it this way, and you don't really want anything to change. When I was a young pup at General Electric we called this state of being "fat, dumb, and happy". And after a while, your progress grinds to a halt.

Comfort is defined as a condition or feeling of pleasurable ease.

You can become comfortable with all sorts of things - good and bad. You can become comfortable with your existing level of business - even if it is not quite as much business as you'd like. You know how to handle it, you can keep your staff size level - and you know how much profit you can earn from it.

Or you can become comfortable with your sources of business - even when your niche is shrinking. After all, you understand these types of customers. You know their personalities. You are familiar with how these particular people will react to your ideas. Isn't this great, you think.

You can become comfortable with your competition - even if they are bigger or more nimble or just plain better than you. At least you know where you stand, right? And since you think their moves are predictable, you perceive a measure of safety.

And of course - as you can easily see - each of these situations is fraught with danger. If not right now, then soon.

What is so comfortable about the comfort zone?

It goes all the way back to pre-history. Human beings like regularity and predictability. Change is bad. Consider the existence of a hunter-gatherer - living life in the wild - every change in the weather…every change in the environment…every new sound in the night…new people…new animals. Every one represents a mortal threat.

As modern, civilized people, we still prefer it when things remain constant and stable. We've learned the right responses so we feel adequate to the challenge. We know how to gauge our efforts, so we don't have to work too hard for acceptable results. And we can make predictions about the future, so we generally feel safe.

And it just feels so good.

The weird part is we can be comfortable even when we shouldn't.

Look at Gene's company. These people got so used to others saying no to them, they just stopped looking for new business. At least it was something they understood, right?

Wrong!

Staying in the comfort zone will kill your business, just as surely as it will kill Gene's.

Why? "My company isn't like his. Our business is sound", you say. What's wrong with being comfortable, as long as it's the 'good' kind of comfort?

On the face of it, nothing.

Except that things change.

When you are in the comfort zone - that place of pleasurable ease - it means you have accepted the status quo. You like it, and you hope things are going to remain just the way they are. You aren't changing with the changes. You aren't making progress. You have probably lost sight of your vision, and you are doing things you've done over and over and over…

You've become fat, dumb and happy.

And the precipice you are rushing towards is just out of sight around the bend.

What to do about these nice-feeling but dire circumstances?

There are 5 steps to getting out of the comfort zone.

One: Recognize that you are in the C-zone.

Have you become used to the way things are? Have you stopped pushing your business forward? Have you ceased looking for new opportunities? Have you given up taking new ground? Have you taken your eye off the ball? Have you started to let certain things - things that used to be important - slide? Have you become comfortable with your current circumstances?

If you have more than one yes - or even one - you are probably in the comfort zone.

Two: Re-commit to your vision.

Do you have a vision? Are you passionate about it? When was the last time you thought about it? Is what you see in your future the place you really want to take your life?

If you don't think you have a vision, or are no longer feel strongly about the vision you have, then it's time to do some vision work. (See www.paullemberg.com/articles.html for what to do next, or take my e-course www.paullemberg.com/courseletter.html.)

Three: Set new goals and objectives.

Where does your newly resurrected vision lead you? What goals do you want to achieve along the way to realizing it? Be specific. Be concrete. (You don't have to do a whole strategic plan here - just get the motor running again.)

Four: Examine the consequences

If you remain in the comfort zone, what is likely to happen next? What are the consequences of you maintaining your personal or corporate status quo while the world around you changes? Be brutally honest. If things truly look rosy, wonderful. Good for you. But if they don't…

Five: Time to take action

The stuff that used to work, well it don't work now*

In the end, the only thing that really makes a difference is action. Whether you need a shift in what you do or a shift in who you are, either way you need to take action for something to happen. And you may not be used to action - you may have lost the habit.

Here's the short solution to busting out of the comfort zone: set five new actions which will move things forward.

Pick one and execute it right away. Start today. The best time would be as soon as you're done reading this. Then pick another and do that. And so on.

It sounds simple - and it is! The hard part is lifting off that easy chair and getting started.

Things feel so good the way they are, don't they?

Don't they?


*Apologies to Warren Zevon.

You get seduced by the status quo. You think things are pretty good the way they are. You like it this way, and you don't really want anything to change. When I was a young pup at General Electric we called this state of being "fat, dumb, and happy". And after a while, your progress grinds to a halt.

Comfort is defined as a condition or feeling of pleasurable ease.

You can become comfortable with all sorts of things - good and bad. You can become comfortable with your existing level of business - even if it is not quite as much business as you'd like. You know how to handle it, you can keep your staff size level - and you know how much profit you can earn from it.

Or you can become comfortable with your sources of business - even when your niche is shrinking. After all, you understand these types of customers. You know their personalities. You are familiar with how these particular people will react to your ideas. Isn't this great, you think.

You can become comfortable with your competition - even if they are bigger or more nimble or just plain better than you. At least you know where you stand, right? And since you think their moves are predictable, you perceive a measure of safety.

And of course - as you can easily see - each of these situations is fraught with danger. If not right now, then soon.

What is so comfortable about the comfort zone?

It goes all the way back to pre-history. Human beings like regularity and predictability. Change is bad. Consider the existence of a hunter-gatherer - living life in the wild - every change in the weather…every change in the environment…every new sound in the night…new people…new animals. Every one represents a mortal threat.

As modern, civilized people, we still prefer it when things remain constant and stable. We've learned the right responses so we feel adequate to the challenge. We know how to gauge our efforts, so we don't have to work too hard for acceptable results. And we can make predictions about the future, so we generally feel safe.

And it just feels so good.

The weird part is we can be comfortable even when we shouldn't.

Look at Gene's company. These people got so used to others saying no to them, they just stopped looking for new business. At least it was something they understood, right?

Wrong!

Staying in the comfort zone will kill your business, just as surely as it will kill Gene's.

Why? "My company isn't like his. Our business is sound", you say. What's wrong with being comfortable, as long as it's the 'good' kind of comfort?

On the face of it, nothing.

Except that things change.

When you are in the comfort zone - that place of pleasurable ease - it means you have accepted the status quo. You like it, and you hope things are going to remain just the way they are. You aren't changing with the changes. You aren't making progress. You have probably lost sight of your vision, and you are doing things you've done over and over and over…

You've become fat, dumb and happy.

And the precipice you are rushing towards is just out of sight around the bend.

What to do about these nice-feeling but dire circumstances?

There are 5 steps to getting out of the comfort zone.

One: Recognize that you are in the C-zone.

Have you become used to the way things are? Have you stopped pushing your business forward? Have you ceased looking for new opportunities? Have you given up taking new ground? Have you taken your eye off the ball? Have you started to let certain things - things that used to be important - slide? Have you become comfortable with your current circumstances?

If you have more than one yes - or even one - you are probably in the comfort zone.

Two: Re-commit to your vision.

Do you have a vision? Are you passionate about it? When was the last time you thought about it? Is what you see in your future the place you really want to take your life?

If you don't think you have a vision, or are no longer feel strongly about the vision you have, then it's time to do some vision work. (See www.paullemberg.com/articles.html for what to do next, or take my e-course www.paullemberg.com/courseletter.html.)

Three: Set new goals and objectives.

Where does your newly resurrected vision lead you? What goals do you want to achieve along the way to realizing it? Be specific. Be concrete. (You don't have to do a whole strategic plan here - just get the motor running again.)

Four: Examine the consequences

If you remain in the comfort zone, what is likely to happen next? What are the consequences of you maintaining your personal or corporate status quo while the world around you changes? Be brutally honest. If things truly look rosy, wonderful. Good for you. But if they don't…

Five: Time to take action

The stuff that used to work, well it don't work now*

In the end, the only thing that really makes a difference is action. Whether you need a shift in what you do or a shift in who you are, either way you need to take action for something to happen. And you may not be used to action - you may have lost the habit.

Here's the short solution to busting out of the comfort zone: set five new actions which will move things forward.

Pick one and execute it right away. Start today. The best time would be as soon as you're done reading this. Then pick another and do that. And so on.

It sounds simple - and it is! The hard part is lifting off that easy chair and getting started.

Things feel so good the way they are, don't they?

Don't they?


*Apologies to Warren Zevon.

Paul Lemberg

Paul Lemberg is the executive director or Stratamax Research Institute, a business coaching and consulting firm specializing in helping entrepreneurial companies quickly increase short term profits for sustainable long term growth. Of course, he is available for keynote speeches and workshops and can be reached via www.lemberg.com

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