Sunday, June 20, 2021
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Act Outside Your Comfort Zone

James R. Auvil, OD, MBA, FAAO, CPC

One of my relatives and his wife are both in their early 30s.  Several years ago, they settled into a routine more appropriate for an octogenarian couple.  They eat dinner at the same time every evening then watch a particular television show in their living room.  After the television show, they go to the kitchen to prepare and eat a snack.  After snack time, they spend about an hour in their family room reading before they go to bed just in time to watch another regular television show. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Every. Single. Night. Even their vacations are repetitious. They go to the same vacation location a few times each year, stay in the same hotel (perhaps even the same room?) and do the same things they’ve done each time they’ve vacationed there before. This might work for them, but I think it seriously limits their personal growth and the routine can’t possibly do much to enhance their relationship.

More than a century ago, Robert Yerkes and John Dodson explained that routine breeds a steady level of performance.  Although you can find comfort in routine, the world around you is constantly changing.  Steady performance in a constantly evolving environment results in consistent relative decline. To maximize performance and realize your potential, you must operate in a state of relative anxiety. The trick is to push yourself just outside your comfort zone, but not so far that you become overwhelmed.  Staying within your comfort zone absolutely destroys productivity.  The sense of routine drives the desire to accomplish only what you’ve accomplished before, and soon you shy away from anything but the minimum required to maintain the status quo.  If you think you’re too busy to add new tasks to your plate, then compromise:  exchange routine items on your plate for something new, challenging, or even daring!  If you’re not making a difference in one of your current lines of effort or time commitments, then stop doing it and actively choose to spend your time doing something else. This could be a bucket-list adventure, a complete lifestyle change, or an effort to learn a new skill or hobby.

I strongly encourage you to deliberately function just outside your comfort zone.  Embrace the discomfort.   It’s therapeutic.  Once you do it successfully, you’ll realize it can be fun and the next time it’ll be easier.  Push yourself to learn and grow and soon things that seemed difficult become quite easy due to your new skills and experience. Your creativity will improve, you’ll hone critical thinking skills, you’ll become more flexible and your worldview will likely expand.

There are many ways to get outside your comfort zone, from doing something new every day to doing the same thing each day in a slightly different way. I have a specific suggestion: develop a COPE approved lecture with your peers as the target audience.  Sounds simple, right?  It is simple, but I thought you might need a little push.  This article is the little push.  I searched the ARBO CE database to find unrestricted COPE lectures prepared by current Army ODs. I found that only four of the roughly 120 active duty Army ODs have a current unrestricted COPE lecture. I expect similar results in the other military Services and a similar rate for ODs who work in the VA or IHS.  I think this number is about one tenth of what it should be, so please accept my challenge.  Create a lecture outline, submit it to ARBO for COPE approval, pay the nominal fee and develop and share your lecture with your peers at future local and national meetings.