Comfort is the Enemy of Progress

When you get good at something you start to feel very comfortable doing it. Whether it's a scripting language, a development framework, or a specific tool, being good at it feels good.

When we’re comfortable, we like to stop and enjoy it for a while. Like sitting on the couch after a long day, and not wanting to get up and cook dinner. We want to stop and relax. Everything else can wait.

But technology doesn’t stop. Things keep moving while we’re sitting there enjoying the comfort. Along comes something new and different from what we’re comfortable with. People say it’s better. But there’s a learning curve. Learning new things is uncomfortable, and sitting still is very comfortable. So comfort wins.

The trouble is, while you sit there in your comfort, other people keep moving. The longer you wait, the further they move ahead of you. Now it’s no longer uncomfortable to learn something new, it’s a frantic race to catch up. Because getting left behind in the technology industry spells career death.

Comfort is the enemy of progress. And if you aren’t moving forward, you’re moving backwards.

Enjoy your growth as a professional and a person. Enjoy what you’ve learned. Enjoy the feeling of accomplishment, of being skilled and capable. Then build on it. Don’t sit in comfort. Continue to make progress.

How do we do that? Commit to learning and expanding your knowledge. It's as simple as that.

You don't even need a complex, time-consuming system in place to achieve this. Start by reading one interesting article or blog post each day. I use a variety of resources to help with this.

  • I use Feedly and a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with what’s happening in my areas of interest. Almost every day a great article appears in one of those feeds that teaches me something I didn’t know before. I skim through the feeds in the morning, and add anything interesting to Pocket to read at lunch or after dinner.
  • I scan Medium every few days for interesting articles. Like anything, Medium has its fair share of content that isn’t of use to me personally. But at least once a week I’ll find a great article on technology, or productivity, or personal growth.
  • I subscribe to a series of curated newsletters. I’m interested in web development, so I’ve subscribed to the Javascript Weekly newsletter. As a beginner, a lot of it goes over my head. But I also find interesting, beginner-friendly articles to read.
  • I’m a paid supporter of Longreads. At least once a week I find an amazing long form article worth sitting down to read with a coffee on a Saturday morning.
  • I often listen to audiobooks and podcasts when I’m running, doing tasks around the house, or cooking.

I recommend you also set aside the time to do 2-4 hours of focussed learning each week. Block it out in your personal calendar, so you always know its there and you aren’t tempted to fill that time with other things. Pick an achievable goal and find a resource to help you get there. Work through a book, or a course, or an online tutorial. My interest in web development has me working through the Free Code Camp material. It's not going to make me a Javascript expert overnight, nor do I expect it to. It's just a step that keeps me moving forward on the learning journey.

You don’t need to study and cram every single day and night. In fact, I recommend you don’t. I don’t always do this. Sometimes it’s better to do something in silence and let your brain process a problem or some knowledge you’ve already exposed it to that day. Rest and idle time are as important to learning as the actual learning itself.

Rewards are also important. Operating in a permanent state of deprivation is exhausting, and builds up resentment. I find it hard to forgo playing my PS4 to sit down and study every single night. But I find it much easier to say, “Thursday night is my study night, and if I get it done then I can play games on Friday night.”

Each month take stock of what you’ve learned. If you haven’t learned anything new, ask yourself why. Did you get “too busy”? Nobody is too busy for one article a day and a couple hours a week of learning.

It’s a matter of priorities, and not letting yourself sit in comfort all the time.

Photo by Ravi Roshan on Unsplash

By Paul Cunningham

Paul is a an author, blogger, and online trainer living in Brisbane, Australia. He was the founder of Practical 365, a former Microsoft MVP, and is a Pluralsight trainer. Say hi on Twitter.

5 comments

  1. Personally I feel very identified with what you express in this post.
    Sometimes I must also say that I find it hard to distinguish whether I am really making the necessary effort to ensure progress in all respects or whether I am relaxed in comfort.
    If not indiscreet, could you say where you have improved your knowledge and skills? (I’m not just talking about technology)

      1. Hi Javi, I do as much reading as possible outside of technical books. So I will read business books, personal development books, and other non-fiction such as history books. I find that they all help to give me a better perspective on my life and help me with things such as time management, productivity, health, interpersonal skills, and so on.

        I’ve been slowly reviewing some of the books here: http://paulcunningham.me/reviews/

        A few other titles I haven’t reviewed yet are mentioned at the end of this post: http://paulcunningham.me/career-advice-for-it-professionals/

        In particular, The Dip, The Phoenix Project, and The Four Tendencies are good reading for technology professionals, in my opinion.

        Hope that helps.

  2. Thank you for your work and years of experience shared with us. I feel like I have followed your advice and help since the beginning of my career. Best wishes in your new endeavor.

    Manny

  3. I’ve have read a lot of your books, and your blog, and i feel very related with your post.
    Just want you wish you the best luck, and i will try to do my best to strive.

    Waiting for your new book.

    Regards.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *