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Towards a new routine

WHAT HAD JARRED our comfortable routine in the last year was a feeling of uncertainty on when the curve would flatten, and the acquisition and distribution of the new vaccine. For the latter, there is also the uncertainty of hitting herd (or heard) immunity with surveys showing the low acceptance rate for the vaccine.

Are we going for a new normal to be comfortable with? We are hoping for our new comfort zone amid lockdown levels that promise to lift… and then not yet. The economy too is looking for some comfort.

The “comfort zone” is a combination of routine (waking up without the alarm), manageable expectations (the car will start when you turn the ignition key), self-confidence (yes, your zipper is zipped) and stable relationships (you recognize the person behind the face mask in the office).

The steady rise of unexpected developments (the curve is rising again) can make the quest for equilibrium a losing battle. Did you sign up for the vaccine, whenever it is available and whatever brand gets there first?

Leaving the comfort zone is seldom a self-initiated move. Still, risk-taking is necessary to move up the food chain. Being too comfortable with the status quo for too long can be self-defeating. It means missing out on new opportunities and playing it too safe.

The “comfort zone” refers to indoor temperature where one can enjoy mental and physical well-being. It is an equilibrium state where the body neither sweats nor shivers, estimated to be between 28 to 30 degrees centigrade. Achieving this neither-hot-nor-cold state doesn’t seem to be an ambitious goal.

In the world of the investment analyst, this state of “neither hot nor cold” is called the “Goldilocks state.” Reference is to the tale of the Goldilocks who breaks into the dining table of the bears and sampling the three bowls of porridge of varying temperatures and settling for the bowl that was “just right.” This same exercise for chairs and beds of the three bears is part of the story.

The comfort of the equilibrium state is anyway temporary. Even in nature, fledglings are pushed out of their comfortable nest by their well-intentioned mother to force her chicks to try flying out after just comfortably lying around and being fed worms in the nest.

So, being pushed out of a nest, even by those who do not consider your well-being can be a blessing in disguise. After a momentary sense of confusion, the new state (accompanied by a sense of falling) can test the new wings. The exercise can also end with a loud thud and losing consciousness.

Leaving the comfort zone of routine does not always lead to a happy ending.

Even for the truly comfortable, while affliction is not exactly desired, there is the realization that the state of not perspiring and not shivering is not ideal. It invites boredom and a desire for “something more.”

The search for discomfort, or risk-taking, acquires different forms lumped together as signs of a “mid-life crisis.” Usually, in one’s mid-forties after achieving mid-life goals, or accepting that they need to be scaled down, something crazy beckons. It is in this mid-life period (more than halfway through one’s life expectancy) that wild things beckon — he seemed so financially secure and then he bought a food franchise for siomai and ran off with the lead vocalist of a rock band. He liked her tattoos.

Jumping off a bridge is not the suicidal event it seems at first, only an extreme sport, if there is a bungee rope attaching the body to the structure. The choice is not binary then — leaving or staying in the comfort zone. One can leave without having to totally cut off ties to comfort and sanity. Wandering off a little to explore heat or cold can be invigorating. Why else do the tropical natives like to experience snow?

The revised normal may be upon us late this year. Will working again in the office, or a hybrid option of sometimes staying home, bring about a new comfort zone?

The new paradigm may be like a trip to a foreign country where every day is a new city tour. There is still the opportunity to get back to the hotel at the end of the day, and recharge… unless our booking has suddenly been canceled.


Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda

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