You make a valid point, and I can understand where you are coming from. However, being a relatively new ham (3 1/2 years) I would like to counter with this: If I only answered CQs sent at or below my comfort level, A) my speed would never improve
I got into this thread late. This discussion is very informative; very interesting. So far I've had no reason to comment until I read the above quote. I felt that I had to respond to this just in case other "newbs" were following this thread.
I have to disagree with the thought that "If I only answered CQs sent at or below my comfort level, my speed would never improve."
This is entirely incorrect. If you operated at 18wpm each and every contact, never speeding up, your ability will HAVE to improve; your speed will HAVE to increase with time!
The reason is as you set at one speed your comfort level will increase. To rephrase this, as you set at one speed, copying at that speed, it becomes less and less of an effort. You will be able to stop using a pencil if you use one and start to "head copy" after awhile.
If you then listen to 20wpm you will find it necessary to put forth a bit of effort but you will be able to copy 20wpm. If you come completely out of your "comfort zone" you will be able to copy faster than 20wpm.
Rather you realize it or not, this is the usual process of learning code! Constantly forcing yourself to go faster than what you are comfortable with is nothing but unpleasant work and in many cases self-defeating.
Al - K8AXW