- 1: the temperature range within which one is comfortable
- 2: the level at which one functions with ease and familiarity
The comfort zone is a behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk. A person's personality can be described by his or her comfort zones. Highly successful persons may routinely step outside their comfort zones, to accomplish what they wish. A comfort zone is a type of mental conditioning that causes a person to create and operate mental boundaries. Such boundaries create an unfounded sense of security. Like inertia, a person who has established a comfort zone in a particular axis of his or her life, will tend to stay within that zone without stepping outside of it. To step outside a person's comfort zone, they must experiment with new and different behaviours, and then experience the new and different responses that then occur within their environment.
To step out of the comfort zone raises the anxiety level engendering a stress response, the result of which is an enhanced level of concentration and focus. This has been referred to this as the Optimal Performance Zone - a zone in which the performance of a person can be enhanced and in which their skills can be optimized. However, it is also observed that if the work of Robert Yerkes (1907) is considered in which he reported 'Anxiety improves performance until a certain optimum level of arousal has been reached. Beyond that point, performance deteriorates as higher levels of anxiety are attained', if a person steps beyond the optimum performance zone they enter a "danger zone" in which performance will decline rapidly as higher levels of anxiety or discomfort occur.
In terms of performance management or development, the objective of the trainer or manager is to cause the person to enter the optimum performance zone for a sufficient period of time so that new skills and performance can be achieved and become embedded. The same reasoning is used with goal setting: change the anxiety level and the performance will change. (However, in performance terms, the term incentive is used to describe the process of changing the anxiety level - an incentive being anything that causes a change in behaviour.)
An example of stepping out of the comfort zone could be a recognized need to leave an unsatisfactory job but the fear of doing so as it would result in losing the sense of security the individual derives from the job. The sense of security the individual perceives could be attributed to the mental conditioning formed initially. This example highlights an example of a professional challenge. Research suggests that challenges that are commonly outside of one's comfort zone can be categorised as either professional, adrenaline, or lifestyle.