• Andy Murphy

Getting Comfortable Outside Your Comfort Zone



Thriving in Unexpected Environments


As humans, we want to feel comfortable where we are. After all, we are creatures of habit. We don’t like to be out of our comfort zone. That’s why we can really feel out of sync when something changes in our lives.


As much as it is within our power, we want to live where we feel like we are in control.

But what happens when we aren’t comfortable with where we are? What happens when we are out of our comfort zone and forced to be in a place that we have no experience to fall back on?


Airing My Dirty Laundry


The reason I want to tackle this issue of unexpected environments is that recently I ended up in a place that was unusual for me. Our washing machine broke and it would take a few days to fix it.


My wife and I agreed I would run to a laundromat to run a few loads. Now, I’ve been to a laundromat before, but not for some time. To give my wife credit, she had in her own way done reconnaissance on a laundromat near her office and she felt good about going there. And I trusted her research.


While this is an unexpected, unfamiliar environment for me, it may not be for you. You might be reading this article at a laundromat right now. But the point is that not everywhere we go is going to be something we are familiar with.


So how do you act in a place where you don’t know the norms or the rules?

Let’s take a quick dive into the geographics and atmospherics of unexpected locations and for me, that was recently a laundromat. And from here you can apply what we talk about anywhere you go.


Observing Your Environment


When you arrive on the property, how clean does the location look? Is their trash on the ground, are the windows busted up, are there broken down cars in the parking lot.


These are all indicators that the people who own the store don’t care enough about their property to keep it up, so what other things are they not keeping up? If you get a gut feeling about a place before you even walk in, then get out of there.

Geographics is the relationship between people and their environment. Just like a gas station, a laundromat is a habitual area, meaning it’s a place anyone can go as long as the store is open.


Let’s establish the overall patterns of activities that we’re seeing inside the laundromat. This is called the baseline.


When you go to a laundromat, the general process for a customer is that you put your dirty clothes into the machine, pay your money, run your load, then switch them to the dryer, pay money again, run the cycle, pull them out, fold and go. That’s the typical behavior for a customer. Obviously, people who work there will act differently.


Learning From Friends


To successfully wash our clothes, we have to use machines that are open to anyone, but once our clothes go into the washer we claim that machine and its area.


Think back to that episode of Friends where Ross has to act macho to save Rachel from losing a machine at a laundromat. She had claimed it, but someone else didn’t honor the etiquette, so there was a confrontation. Yes, we are old. But no one told you life was going to be this way.

But when we claim a machine we now have an anchor point, which is a place of ownership for us and where we’ll work. It’s also a place we have to watch to make sure no one throws our stuff out.


So generally speaking the laundromat is a place anyone can come and go and make a claim to a machine. Unless a particular store has a set of rules, that’s the general flow of the process. If we follow that process, we’ll be fine.


What’s the Vibe, Man?


Now let’s take a look at understanding the atmospherics, or as I like to call it feeling the vibe of the area. When you walk in, does it generally feel positive or negative? Is it orderly or disorderly? Are people smiling and going about their business or are people pointing and giving each other dirty looks? Does it seem hostile or laid back?


Clearly, we don’t want to be in a hostile environment so if that’s the vibe you get, then leave. But if things seem fine, keep going. And just because things seem positive or even neutral doesn’t mean something can’t go wrong.


A positive behavior you might miss at a laundromat is if people set up their laundry, start the machine, and then leave. This tells you that people more experienced than you in this location are not concerned about their clothes being removed or stolen. So the general feel of the store is one of trust.


As you move around, note how people are interacting with each other. Do they seem friendly or like they are avoiding all kinds of contact? As you go about your business, convey that you are non-threatening and nice.


Don’t go in with your fists clenched and a scowl on your face. This is a laundromat, not a prison. But on the opposite end, don’t look like a sucker who stares at everyone. Be casual and natural in your observations.


Using Your Ears


Also to note here is the noise level. Obviously, there’s going to be a certain amount of noise coming from the machines. You’d also expect to hear music or TV shows on the monitors. So some noise is good.


If you walk into a completely quiet laundromat, then you’d have to wonder if the power was off or something was up. As long as there are the typical noises that you’d expect to hear then you’re good. What you need to watch out for is yelling, slamming things to the ground, or people not talking at all.


Using Your eyes


I want to give you two more things to consider at your local laundromat. First, consider where you put yourself in the store. Sit where you can see your machines and also see the doors. That way you can monitor who comes in and out while also keeping an eye on your anchor point that is your machine.


Second, look for the person who comes in and doesn’t have laundry or check a machine. What is that person doing there? The primary reason people come here is to wash clothes. If someone isn’t doing that, then that’s someone you need to keep an eye on.


This person is what is called an anomaly. They are acting out of the normal range of behavior for that location. Another, more obvious anomaly would be someone walking in with a pry bar and trying to force open the cash machine inside. That’s obviously a cause for concern.


The Spin Cycle


While I took an example from my own life here, what we’ve discussed today can be applied to any environment. We’ve talked about establishing a baseline of behavior, what would constitute an anomaly, how people are interacting with the environment and the mood of the location.


These are all things we need to consider everywhere we go, not just the laundromat. This can help you gain confidence in how to act in new places and how to spot trouble before it starts.


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