Why Comfort Can Hold You Back

I first learned about the concept of a “comfort zone” (Developed by Karl Rohnke) in college. I was an Adventure Education major (yes, that is a real major) and we often discussed this topic since being in the wilderness, and engaging in adventurous activities often requires you to step outside of your own comfort zone. I will explain the ways in which this model can come in handy when understanding your own mind, and the fears that hold you back from what you want in life.

Comfort Zone Model

The Model

The comfort zone model shows several zones. Let's break them down:

Comfort Zone:

This is where most people live for much of their lives. Yes... it is comfortable, but it is not all sunshine and daisies. It is a safe and familiar place to be, but It might not always be pleasant, and happiness is not implied here. If you are comfortable for far too long, you can get stuck, and even find depression in the comfort zone. A good analogy for this is staying in bed. Your bed is safe and warm and cozy, but if you stay there all day you will likely feel like crap both emotionally and physically. If you let fear control you, it will keep you in the warm security blanket of the comfort zone for as long as it can. The comfort zone is a great place to be, but not a great place to stay permanently.

Here are descriptors that will let you know you are in the comfort zone:

  • Safe

  • In control

  • Sameness

  • Bored

  • Stuck

Optimal Performance or “Stretch” Zone:

Since “optimal performance” doesn’t really roll off the tongue, it is also sometimes referred to as the “stretch” zone. This is where the magic happens. While you will likely have some discomfort or fear that you need to deal with here, you are learning and growing at a steady pace. You are an engaged and present force in your own life and you are in the driver’s seat. Be prepared for your own mood and self-confidence to also be in flux from day to day in this zone. You cannot remain in this zone forever, or it may lead to burnout and overwhelm, so remember to check in with your comfort zone every once in a while for a brief vacation!

If you are in the Stretch zone, you might be:

  • Engaged

  • Excited

  • In a state of “flow”

  • Impassioned

  • Progressing

  • Growing

  • Learning

  • Dealing with low-level fear and anxiety (but not crumbling under the weight)

  • Doubting yourself

  • Sensitive

  • Slightly uncomfortable, but not unsafe

Danger (Panic) Zone:

This is the opposite end from where we started and not a zone you want to hang out in for long. The only use this zone has in your life is as a bumper-zone that lets you know that something needs to change, and fast. You will know that you are on the highway to the danger zone when you are being too hard on yourself, have your expectations too high, and are uncomfortable for far too long. Sometimes you will dip a toe into this zone, and sometimes you may plunge headfirst.

Here is what the Panic Zone looks like:

  • Extreme anxiety

  • Depression

  • Burnout

  • Exhaustion

  • Overwhelm

  • Suicidality (in the utmost extreme example)


The key to using this model in your own life is the realization that you must push past your comfort zone in order to grow. You must push past your FEAR of leaving the safety of it as well. Try to recognize if you are creating excuses to stay in the comfort zone and blaming discomfort for your inability to push beyond where you are in life.

While yes…. Sometimes you need to take a leap of faith in order to get past the fear, don’t forget that your comfort zone is always there, or you may push yourself into the danger zone.

Lastly, remember that this is a spectrum. Sometimes, you are not in JUST one zone. Sometimes you are in the stretch zone and on the knife's edge of the panic zone.

You will dip in and out of these zones each year, month, week, hour, and minute. As your scenario changes and your awareness of where you are in the spectrum changes, you may be able to alter your position based on your willpower to push beyond.

Stay mindful my friends!



I am a Life / Lifestyle Pivot Coach in the Boulder/Denver area and offer phone/zoom coaching sessions. I also offer free consultations, so if you want to learn more, click HERE to get in touch.

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