Considered Conduct: Are You Sitting Comfortably?

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes knew no boundaries but his own. He tested them over a lifetime against the most inhospitable places on earth. Fate fought back in 2003: the explorer extraordinaire suffered a heart attack on a plane waiting to depart from Bristol airport. He was 59 years old; spent three days in a coma, and required double-bypass surgery to survive. Four months later, he completed the Land Rover 7x7x7 Challenge, running seven marathons across seven continents in seven days…

12 years earlier, business consultant, Judith Bardwick coined a phrase that this man – military, aristocratic, stiff-upper-lipped – would have quickly dismissed: ‘comfort zone’. Today, the term embraces our natural response to a world of upheaval and uncertainty whose stresses drive us to seek out individual agency and security. Basic, psychological needs at the foundation of Abraham Maslow’s human motivation hierarchy.

Bardwick describes a ‘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’. Understandably and initially, the comfort zone holds real appeal: calm, familiar, easy to manage and predict.

But over time, these qualities mire us in a personal rut of boredom, habit, complacency and stagnation. A long way from Maslow’s peak of ‘self-actualisation’; or, the process of achieving our full potential.

Getting there is a journey of small steps far simpler and less arduous than Sir Ranulph’s Transglobe Expedition – his three-year, 52,000-mile circumnavigation of the planet’s polar axis, relying solely on surface transport.

As modern gentlemen, our Everest is intentional actions, their progress measured in incremental gains. Like reframing our perspective on mistakes; shaking up rigid routines; meeting life’s vagaries with resilience, adaptability and grace.

If we’re honest, we’ll acknowledge that our comfort zone is nothing but a warm, cosy retreat from fear. Fear of failure, rejection, ridicule, judgment, criticism, shame. Leaving it means owning our vulnerability; what Brené Brown calls the ‘birthplace of innovation, creativity and change’.

Take your brave-pill with a slug of Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice:

‘Do one thing every day that scares you’.

Dare an authentic ‘Yes!’, when the voice in your head defaults to a conditioned ‘No!’. Now, there’s a growth mindset with which Fiennes could agree:

‘If you are in a canoe, never listen to the roar of the rapid ahead before you let go of the river bank. Just do it!’

A lesson for us all.

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