Avoiding the Comfort Zone

It is easy to become comfortable and complacent.

You get a job. You work there for a few years. You get to know the people there and the routine. You earn a few perks for being there for a while, such as a bit of additional vacation. It’s easy to just settle in and ride.

You wake up to your financial situation. You make a bunch of moves to pay down debt and establish some new routines that aren’t as costly. Eventually, you start to simply enjoy the lower bills and it all seems to come easily. You just settle in and ride.

Settling in is the easy thing to do. Usually, it’s the path of least resistance, so unless you’re consciously making other choices, you’ll probably wind up doing just that.

The problem is that “settling in and riding” is more dangerous than you think. Settling in assumes that the thing that comes easy today will last forever.

If you’re coasting in your career, you’re just assuming that your current job will just last and last. You never see the job loss coming.

If you’re coasting with your finances, you’re assuming your income will just last and last and that you’ll just eventually take care of all of your debts and your goals. You never see the changes in your life coming.

On a more positive note, if you’re just coasting with your career, you might never see opportunities for a great promotion at work or a new job opportunity that could put you in a great place. The same is true with finances – if you’re just coasting, you might not be ready to take advantage of something when it comes along.

The challenge for all of us is to avoid falling into a comfort zone. But when the comfort zone is so easy to fall into, how do we avoid it?

How do we keep ourselves ready for change when there doesn’t seem to be any change on the horizon?

One tactic is to make preparing for change part of our ordinary life routine. For example, part of your ordinary professional routine should be to keep your resume fresh through educational opportunities and taking on professional challenges in the workplace. Part of your ordinary financial routine should be improving your financial state month over month and seeking out new ways to ramp up the improvement. This should be normal behavior.

For me, I find it useful to spend some time each week looking at the various areas of my life – my professional goals, my finances, my marriage, my parenting responsibilities, my community responsibilities, my skills and passions, and so on – and ask myself what I’m doing to improve in those areas. If I can’t identify anything I’m doing right now to actively improve, then I make sure to add it to my checklist for the coming weeks.

Another tactic I value is to regularly envision disastrous scenarios. What exactly happens in your life if you lose your job? What exactly happens in your life if your spouse falls ill? What exactly happens in your life if your parents fall ill? What exactly happens in your life if your health starts to slip?

Walk through those scenarios a little bit. What would you do? You’ll quickly be able to find some steps that you could take right now to make that scenario go down smoother. Add those steps to your to-do list.

The key to both of these steps is to add things to your to-do list that will lead you to better preparedness for opportunities and for disasters. Riding in the comfort zone makes you complacent and poorly prepared for both disaster and opportunity. Every day, you have a chance to take little steps to make sure that you’re ready for whatever comes your way.

Don’t be complacent. You’ll miss out.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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