I had a chance to see a presentation by David Peterson recently; he’s the Director of Executive Coaching & Leadership at Google. And a brilliant coach!

He mentioned a phrase which stuck with me: “There’s no learning in the comfort zone.” There’s actually a second part of the statement, but I’m going to talk about that next week.

So why would the comfort zone be a place of no learning?

I can come up with three reasons, actually:

  1. Your goal in the comfort zone is to stay where you are, so you don’t want to change it.
  2. Learning comes from experiencing – and thinking about – things which push you away from your current situation.
  3. Change is, by its nature, uncomfortable. Even scary.

We’ve all experienced this. Some kinds of learning have relatively little change attached, so it’s not too uncomfortable. If you slip into a rental car, you have to figure out where all the knobs and buttons are, but it takes just a minute and there’s little risk. In fact, there’s so little learning that you’ll just as easily forget it all when you return the vehicle.

Sometimes there’s an attractive outcome, making the change worth the trouble. Maybe you really want to learn how to use that app, so it’s worth investing time trying to figure out how to get it to work. Or you’d rather not be fined for not paying taxes, so you’re uncomfortable for a day doing all the paperwork.

But there are many, many things for which we don’t want to get out of our comfort zone to spend the time learning something new. That’s quite OK.

Except when it’s not. Where do you need to make some change, even though you’re going to have to be uncomfortable for a while?