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The Four Comfort Zones
Are You Willing to Embrace Change?

December 2016

Chris McDonell, President of McDonell Consulting & Development, Inc. a licensed Sandler Training center based in Baltimore, has over 25 years of experience in sales and executive leadership. He has lived and worked around the U.S. for some of the world’s leading financial corporations, such as Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and The Associates. Chris has been with Sandler Training since 2008 and has formed successful partnerships with both small and large companies in a wide variety of industries.

Most of us have a comfort zone in which we prefer to operate. We may occasionally venture outside the boundary of that comfort zone, but typically for only brief periods. Acting in a manner different than what our comfort zone dictates can give rise to many uncomfortable feelings – fear, doubt, anxiety or guilt. There’s an emotional security of sorts to operating within a comfort zone, even if so doing yields less than optimum outcomes.

Interestingly, being stuck in our comfort zone is often characterized as a bad thing – a phenomenon that inhibits or limits our ability to grow, to advance or to improve performance. We are told that to be able to accomplish more – to be more successful – we must break out of or expand our comfort zone. But is that true?

Perhaps. It largely depends on the characteristics of your comfort zone. In the sales arena (and most other arenas, as well), growth is a function of one’s ability to recognize and accept the changing nature of the environment and the willingness to adapt by taking appropriate action. In other words, if our environment is changing and we don’t change with it, we’ll get left behind! In relation to those elements – recognition of change and willingness to adapt – comfort zones can be characterized by four paradigms:

  • -Nostalgia
  • -Status Quo
  • -Panic
  • -Progress

Let’s examine each of these in depth.

The Nostalgia Comfort Zone:

No Recognition of Change,
No Willingness to Adapt

People with a nostalgia comfort zone have little or no interest in activities that call for new ways of thinking and acting. They yearn for “the good old days” and strive to make today one of them. They look backward, not forward; think about the past, not the future.

They “adapt” to the changing environment by complaining. They have little interest in doing anything constructive to capitalize on change. They are stuck in the past and intend to stay there. Their strategy for “progress” is to regress. They don’t make things happen; things happen to them. Their epitaphs might as well read, “Died at 35, buried at 85.”

The Status Quo Comfort Zone:

No Recognition of Change,
Limited Willingness to Adapt

People with a status quo comfort zone have reached a certain level of success and attempt to perpetuate that success by doing what they’ve always done. They believe that today’s skills, plans and actions will continue to bring them success tomorrow and thereafter. They fail to understand that continuing to do what they’ve always done will, over time, yield smaller and smaller returns, and they will eventually reach a performance plateau. They also fail to recognize that their environment is continually changing, and to maintain today’s level of success, never mind rising above the plateau, they, too, must change.

Status quo people, however, aren’t completely stuck like nostalgia people. While they don’t make any substantial changes, they do make some “adjustments.” Those adjustments typically manifest as “doing more” of what they are currently doing. And that keeps them busy. Conveniently, they are too busy to implement new approaches or learn new ways of doing things. Thus, they remain firmly planted in the status quo.

The Panic Comfort Zone:

Some Recognition of Change,
Limited Willingness to Adapt

Some of the people who are stuck in a status quo comfort zone recognize the limitations of remaining there – working harder and longer for incrementally smaller results – and their comfort zones evolve into ones characterized by a strong sense of urgency – also known as panic.

These people realize that the old systems aren’t working. And even though they don’t know exactly what to do, they have a sense that something must change … and change quickly. On the surface, it might seem that people in the panic comfort zone would be very receptive to new ideas – new plans, processes and paths to improved outcomes. But despite being “open to new ideas,” nothing really changes.


Because, for the most part, people in the panic zone are driven by fear. They feel overwhelmed and their judgment is impaired, which prevents them from making long-term commitments to anything. Instead, they seek quick fixes – miracle cures that will immediately solve their problems and, in turn, allow them to retreat back to their former status quo comfort zone.

People in a panic comfort zone react to change in their environment rather than make a commitment to change (in behavior). Consequently, they jump from one quick fix to another … never giving any new behavior a chance to gain a foothold, which would allow them to accomplish anything of significance.

The Progress Comfort Zone:

Full Recognition of Change,
Full Willingness to Adapt

People with a progress comfort zone are actively involved in and committed to growth. Growth is a part of their life; they embrace it each and every day. They recognize that even though they are successful, they must continue to grow to keep up with the changes around them. They don’t view change as a threat, but rather as an opportunity.

They seek to control their own destiny and not become part of someone else’s plan. They typically have concrete goals (both long-term and short-term), plans of action, and timetables for accomplishment. And they share that information with those who can help them accomplish their goals as well as hold them accountable. They recognize that they don’t know it all, are not shy about asking for help and they welcome feedback. People who operate in a progress comfort zone are actively looking for new ways to work smarter. They are willing to create action plans rather than apply quick fixes. They recognize that step-by-step incremental growth is the best way to effect long-term positive change.

Being “stuck” in a comfort zone characterized by progress is not such a bad thing!

What is YOUR Comfort Zone?

In what comfort zone do you reside right now? Are you mired in the past, anchored to the present or looking for quick fixes and magic bullets? Or are you ready to stretch beyond where you are today and make real progress? Are you merely “open” to new ideas, or are you ready to take action to implement those ideas – to invest your time and energy to make measured progress toward greater levels of success?

Recognizing the characteristics of your existing comfort zone will provide you with insight into two important areas:

  • -Why you are at your current career level; and, if you’re not happy with where you are …
  • -What changes in your thoughts and actions are necessary for you to reshape your comfort zone … and your future? I95