Why introverts need ‘comfort zones’

Self Care

If there is one phrase I could happily eliminate from the planet without a second thought it is ‘Step outside of your comfort zone’. It is a phrase that is issued to many people in all walks of life but more so to introverts, quiet and reserved types, generally by well-meaning business and life coaches, self-help experts, in-house corporate trainers, and the like.

The reason it irritates me beyond comprehension is that it is predicated on two inaccurate assumptions. The first is that introverts always shy away from anything we perceive as even remotely challenging. It implies that introverts are otherwise incapable of making bold decisions and taking action. The second assumption is that our comfort zones are static, fixed in place, and never change.

With regards to the second assumption, when someone says “Step out of your comfort zone” I always think ‘Which one?’; comfort zones do not exist between two fixed points. My comfort zone can shift daily depending on a number of factors. These factors include my schedule, how much sleep I’ve had, my overall health (mental and physical), and my financial resources. There are days when I can comfortably take a meeting on Skype or in person. There are also days when I can’t imagine anything worse than taking a meeting on Skype or in person. That’s just the way it is.

With regards to the first assumption, I can only share my own personal experience of a time when I showily laughed in the face of my comfort zone only for it to turn around and bite me on my proverbial.

The thing is, I’ve been there. I’ve attempted a full-scale assault on what I believed to be my weaknesses in business (and sometimes in life) – my natural reserve and general discomfort with self-promotion, my loathing of networking events, and my disdain for aggressively pursuing business opportunities.

In 2012, I decided I was going to do things very differently with my then project – a fashion/style website. I decided to network, put myself out there, accept every meeting that was offered, self-promote, travel, and generally be the opposite of everything I had been up to that point.

I ended up in hospital after 18 months.

Okay, that was a little dramatic of me, but it is true. Months of travelling, networking, promoting, photo shoots, meetings, and interviews took their toll and resulted in a toxic combination of jet lag, insomnia, depression, and financial anxiety.

I had gone against every instinct I had and pushed myself to my limits. I had done what all manner of self-help business guru types would have me do and ‘stepped out of my comfort zone’, ‘thought outside the box’, and ‘tested my limits’ to see what I was capable of.

What I learned from this experience is that there is no ‘fake it til you make it’.

I faked it, and it didn’t result in a gradual transformation into an ambivert or pushing towards being an extravert. It didn’t increase my confidence, if anything it decimated it. It also resulted in my  project folding as I recovered from my collapse. The biggest takeaway of all was this; I faked it, but I never managed to convince myself.

I have now learned to honour and respect my instincts and not to second-guess them. Now I listen to myself, intently. I self-assess my ability to complete the tasks I need to. I stubbornly resist the temptation to be someone I’m not.

These days there is no ‘stepping outside of my comfort zone’ if I’m not ready to do so because ultimately it works against me and what I want to achieve. My philosophy now is to trust and know myself so that when I need to make a big move I am doing it because I really want to achieve the set goal and not because I feel I should be doing it.

I’m not afraid of the challenges ahead, and there will be some. The difference now is that I will meet those challenges on my terms and I won’t be defined by what anyone else thinks or expects.

And that’s the important thing isn’t it? Introverts WILL make the bold moves and make the big decisions if it’s important enough to us. Our instincts and self-awareness are strengths, not weaknesses. Comfort zones allow introverts to think clearly, to work out the best solution to a problem and if that isn’t a great thing for business and life, I don’t know what is.

Over to you! What’s your view on ‘stepping out of your comfort zone’? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Previous Story
Next Story

2 Comments

  • Reply
    Katie David
    September 11, 2016 at 10:55 am

    I am a teacher and I love my job, but find it incredibly draining. One spring I had some questions for a colleague about planning a field trip for the senior class. She had worked with me on the field trip two years earlier, and had made a number of phone calls to reserve a shelter at a nearby state park. I had a new co-advisor, and making the reservations fell on my shoulders. The reservation form was not self-explanatory and there was no direct contact information, but I needed to call and get exact pricing information so that I could get the funds approved . I put off the task for several days, but knew it had to be done. I was trying to gather as much information as possible so I had an idea of how the phone call would go. I explained to my colleague that making blind phone calls is difficult for me. I explained that I am an introvert, which is why I seldom go to teacher get-togethers outside of work. We got back on the topic of making the phone call, and she told me I had to step out of my comfort zone. This is a woman I really respected and liked. She was always kind and helpful and understanding. But I had just spent about ten minutes telling her that every day I am at work surrounded by 150 students who are boisterous and loud and, frankly, annoying, I am “outside of my comfort zone.” Every time I eat lunch in the faculty lounge I am outside of my comfort zone!! My “comfort zone” is my couch with a book (and if I am really lucky, my husband is out of the house and my daughter is asleep)! I was so hurt by her complete and utter incomprehension of what it is like to be an introvert in an extroverted society. The conversation sticks with me as a reminder of the uphill battle I fight on a daily basis to be understood (or at least to keep myself sane in a profession geared for extroverts).

    • Reply
      Maz Durbin
      September 11, 2016 at 11:56 am

      Hi Katie, thank you for sharing your experience and I’m sorry you had to navigate your way through this situation without the support you needed.

      First and foremost I am filled with admiration for all educators, and more so for educators who are introverts. I sincerely applaud you because you choose to step in front of classroom full of loud and boisterous students, and your primary motivation to do so is to educate regardless of the toll it takes on you personally. I think that is genuinely a wonderful thing.

      The conversation you had with your colleague shows the lack of understanding many introverts face, for sure. As you have experienced, telling an introvert to step outside their comfort zone is an easy way to say ‘I don’t understand you, and furthermore, I choose not to because it’s easier for me.’ People don’t like to have their beliefs challenged.

      The thing is, it’s not just about the phone call for us. It’s something that goes to the very heart of who we are. We are thinkers, not improvisers. We need time to prepare and collect information. It’s who we are and it’s difficult for people to understand.

      Because we’re thinkers, and I’m wondering as I write this, is it possible to discuss introversion with colleagues in the context of introverted students and the challenges they face? That way, introversion is discussed without putting ourselves in the spotlight but we’re increasing awareness at the same time. I’m sorry, this is going down the route of unsolicited advice (which I hate grrrrr), forgive me.

      I agree with you, it is an uphill battle and things are changing. The more conversations that are had about what it’s like to be an introvert the better. I also love that you have a way of centering yourself. The couch and a good book sound amazing to be honest.

      I am sending all my very best to you, and again thank you for being a teacher, it’s so important.

    Leave a Reply