Adaptability and Comfort Zones


I came across an article today about a group of grasshoppers kept in an open container. All of them are able to jump out of the container. Whenever they do this, the grasshoppers’ owner will put them back into the container. But the grasshoppers just kept jumping out. After a while, a lid was placed on top of the container but ventilation is provided. The grasshoppers still continued to jump as high but each time that they jump, they hit the top of the lid. After a while, the grasshoppers stopped jumping as high as before so as to prevent themselves from colliding with the lid on the container. Now, when the owner remove the lid of the container after a while, the grasshoppers maintain their height and none of them jumps out of the container like before. In psychology, I believe that this phenomenon is known as “mental conditioning” (where our minds somewhat stay alert within the comfort zone). However, when the container is heated, the grasshoppers start jumping out of the container again.

Humans can be said to behave in the same way. When children are born, they know no limits. They feel that they are able to do anything whenever they want and whatever they want. This is because they know that they are able to. However, as they grow up, society begins to impose its values on them, telling them that there are some things that they are not able to do. These children began to adapt to societal expectations and behave accordingly. While society may be more comfortable with such arrangements, there are adverse consequences for these children: it destroys their dreams. Adaptability often leads to conformity. And conformity destroys individualism, which is a key factor in ensuring societal progress. As can be seen from the example on the grasshoppers above, it only takes a crisis to move people out of their comfort zones (which are often too late).

At this juncture, it will be safe to say that humans should be adaptable to change. That is, they should be prepared to move out of their comfort zones and adapt to the new environment, which is true. Most literature in the market has advocated us to move out of their comfort zones. This encouragement is well justified since change may well be the only constant in this world. However, what the books didn’t emphasis is that moving out of our comfort zones too quickly or at a wrong time will plunge us all into an abyss, and this is not exactly a desired outcome that we want. In another words, being unable to adapt to changes and moving out of our comfort zones at a wrong time or too quickly are equally bad.

When we do not move out of our comfort zones, we stagnate (which is never a good thing). When we do not read more books to enrich ourselves, we lose the opportunity to learn and update ourselves with the happenings in the world. When our leisure hours start to increase, the world has lost another individual whose valuable contributions to society will have benefited many. When we hold back our input during discussion sessions, our team might lose some valuable feedback but more importantly, we will have an increased tendency not to think critically over time. 

However, when we move out of our comfort zones often (as is often encouraged by the media), we run the risk of being unstable. While the media has warned us about being too comfortable or complacent within our comfort zones, there are times when staying within our comfort zones is a valid and – more often than not- better option. For example, a loving couple is able stay in lifelong marital bliss simply because they have chosen to remain in their comfort zone. This is especially so for developed countries who is facing an onset of globalisation. With an increase in choices and expectations, many of us in developed countries will probably have the option of not hanging on to our old possessions, not to mention relationships. This might probably explain the increase in the divorce rates and the short life-span of recent marriages. Therefore, while there are some of us who feel that minimal or no effort is required for us to stay in our comfort zones, the abovementioned examples proved that this is untrue.  Coupled with the erosion of traditional values such as respect and commitment, there are fewer individuals around who will make an effort to invest in relationships, which are becoming more fleeting by the day. Therefore, staying in our comfort zones required (at times immense) effort. Fortunately, there are still many of us who believes in putting effort to stay in the comfort zones, especially when it comes to establishing and nurturing positive relationships instead of developing more superficial ones, as this is the right thing to do.

There’s a misconception among some of us that much more effort is required to move out of our current comfort zones but in reality, I believe that an equal amount of effort is required to stay and move out of our comfort zones.

Having said this, what is the best thing to do? Adapt to changing circumstances or remain in our comfort zones?  While we have often been persuaded to move out of our comfort zones, I feel that the most important factor is the ability to understand and analyse a situation well before deciding on our course of actions. When it comes to marriage, staying committed by being in the comfort zone is important. However, when it comes to career advancement, it’s reasonable for employees to take measured and calculated risk by moving out of their comfort zones in a bid to further their career.

Seen in this light, our decision to remain or move out of our comfort zones is actually bidirectional. This is unlike what has often been advocated, which is to constantly move out of our comfort zones.  An apt metaphor will be Argentine tango, which is primarily an improvisational dance. An Argentine tango dancer will move according to how his or her partner reacts.  In this instance, we take on the role of the Argentine tango dancer while our partners are our situations and circumstances. When our partner moves closer, we reciprocate. And when they draw away, we do likewise. In this way, we adapt and in the process moves in and out of our comfort zones with ease and comfort.

Personally, I feel that life’s like that.

We do not walk through life. We dance through life. We waltz through life. But I feel that the most accurate description is that that we tango through life.

Carpe Diem!


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