Good and bad ways to do Comfort Zone Expansion (CoZE)

From the CFAR syallabus, (which may in time change) is a suggestion to take actions that put you outside of your comfort zone even though you might not want to.  Their rational is something along the lines of encouraging you to not settle on a local maxima (your current comfort zone) but instead strive for the true greater and more awesome maxima of other experiences you are currently avoiding because they are outside your comfort zone.

Without giving away their full process, it looks something like:

  • Choose an experience that you’d like to explore
  • Devise an experiment
  • Actually try it
  • Digest the experience

I have previously disagreed with leaving your comfort zone, and advised that there is a way to stay in your comfort zone but still make it larger.  I said:


I would start with evaluating and defining/understanding your comfort zone. I think the best way to explain this is to use a worked example: “going to a bar”

Things about bars that put me outside my comfort zone:

  • Alcohol
  • loud noises
  • strangers
  • uncomfortable seats
  • public places
  • dim lights
  • not able to have valuable conversations with people
  • bad public transport so getting home is difficult
  • messes with my sleep cycle
  • being alone (not having friends there)
  • talking to strangers
  • pubs are expensive
  • fear of having bad conversations
  • fear of getting in a bar fight
  • don’t care for sport on tv’s around bars
  • don’t like being near gambling machines in bars
  • don’t like bar food
  • don’t know what to wear
  • don’t feel comfortable dancing
  • people smoking

This^ is a long list; not all of these apply to me, but each problem may have various solutions:

  • loud noises – wear earplugs, find a bar without loud music playing,
  • don’t like bar food – eat elsewhere first
  • messes with sleep cycle – set alarms or systems that you follow, pre-committing to the decision to leave in time for your normal sleep schedule. Go to lunch-time bars, not lat night bars.
  • talking to strangers – take friends, make sure to go with them, ask friends to help you make more friends. etc.

Eventually most of these have a solution. At the end of running through your list of things, if you can’t solve enough of them, or the solutions are not good enough, you can consider attacking the goal you set out to do.

Why do I want to go to a bar? Is there a better way to achieve that desire?

Reasons to go to a bar:

  • all my friends seem to like it
  • meet new people
  • my favourite band is playing
  • I like pub trivia etc.

These reasons have solutions of their own.

  • favourite band – see if they are playing at other venues.
  • meet new people – try meetups, try local groups.
  • friends like it – do other things with friends, i.e. dinner, board games evening. (get better friends/friends you share mutual interests with)

at the end of the thought exercise you should either be happy to do the thing, or happy preferring not doing the thing. These are the win-states of considering setting out to do X.

And further:

Depends on what is limiting your comfort zone and whether that limit is reasonable or unreasonable. I can’t say for your life whether a limit is reasonable or unreasonable, and to do so yourself might involve comparing your life to the lives of other people and evaluating whether you are fulfilled, happy or missing out on something that other people have.

For example – I am definitely missing out on sky-diving by not sky-diving, but I don’t really feel like I want to do it. Personal choice and all; not really missing out on something by not being comfortable doing it.

A comfort zone has a purpose, as does stereotypes, social structures, religion, fear, disgust, pain, monogamy, straw man arguments, and many more.

To blindly fight existing systems is as bad as to follow them to the letter. I believe in questioning and evaluating before stepping forward. (System 2 over system 1 in this case – thinking over automated)

To take the bar example again: If the reason why I don’t like bars is they are too loud; going to more bars may do several things:

  • cause hearing loss
  • cause me to be even more annoyed by loud bars
  • cause me to get used to it
  • cause me to be more often in an uncomfortable state of being possibly all at once.

If on the other hand I go in search of non-loud bars I can maintain a comfort zone of not too loud things while doing the task (going to a bar) its also a win-state, and I avoid the uncomfortable experience of gradually getting used to it.


The above exercise essentially does a goal-factoring (also a CFAR technique) on what you want to do that is outside your comfort zone, why you want to do it – is there a better way to achieve those same goals? etc.  I find comfort zone to usually be a good thing.  And exist for a reason.  But YMMV, remember Applicable advice and it’s addendum as well as this addon to Scott’s piece on the same topic.  If you find yourself with a restrictive comfort zone that does not yield to analysis, then perhaps overcoming the activation energy and using willpower to push yourself into that new situation will be a better idea than doing the classic think-then-act behaviour.  I know that in game and Pick up, there is a piece of advice along the lines of the 3 second rule, if you see someone, and you want to approach – you have to approach and say something to them within 3 seconds.  This advice works on a very specific type of approach anxiety where your barrier of “what will they think of me?” can be overcome by approaching them before you have time to have that thought.  You might also call it a no johns rule.  But using that advice severely depends on exactly what the nature of your problem is.

And finally have you tried solving the problem.


Meta: this took under an hour to write, and I mostly needed it so I could refer to it in another post about making mistakes.

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