Are you truly stretching yourself? Are you continually learning and developing as a person? Are you reaching new heights and realising your full potential? Hopefully you answered YES to the above! If not, then this post is for you!
If you do today what you have always done, then tomorrow you will get what you have always gotten
You are probably living in your comfort zone, as we all do. However, its realising when you are in your comfort zone and then taking action to step outside of your comfort zone that distinguishes between those individuals that continually learn, develop and stretch themselves, ultimately leading to a more successful and fulfilling life, compared to those that don’t.
What is Your Comfort Zone?
When you are in your comfort zone, you are in a mental state which is anxiety-neutral and your behaviours are normally free of any risk. You behave in a predictable way that will give you a level of performance that is standard for you. Because there is no risk in your behaviour, you have no anxiety and therefore you feel comfortable doing what it is you’re doing. When you are acting within your comfort zone, your learning and development opportunities are limited as you are likely to be doing something that you are already comfortable in doing.
Try this analogy. If you have a rubber band near you, go get it and open it up so you can start moving your fingers around inside of it. Here, there is no pressure and the movement is very easy. The rubber band is relaxed, similar to when you are acting within your comfort zone. But what happens when you stretch the rubber band? The rubber band tenses, the same as when you move out of your comfort zone. You start to experience fear, anxiety, or stress. The rubber band is elastic however, and over time can be expanded, stretched and less tense, similar to your comfort zone.
We will automatically choose a lesser form of anxiety over a greater form of anxiety
As the above quote mentions, we automatically choose options that keep us within our comfort zone. However, if you want to realise your full potential, you need to stretch, grow, learn and develop. To do this, you need to consciously make decisions to step outside of your comfort zone and take on new challenges and experiences.
What Causes a Comfort Zone?
Comfort zones are a result of behaviours and experiences that an individual has over time. When you make a choice to step outside of your comfort zone and delve into a new experience, you will get either a positive or negative response. When your choice results in a positive experience, you will become more comfortable with making that choice in the future. If you experience a negative response, you will be able to evaluate your action and improve on this for when you delve outside of our comfort zone again. Your comfort zone is a result of your choices and behaviours over time resulting in positive experiences for you, making you feel very comfortable and relaxed in taking action that assists you in maintaining an anxiety-neutral state.
Your habits are a simple but good representation of your comfort zone. What is it that you do without even thinking about it that makes you feel neutral or relaxed? Perhaps its simply coming home after work and lounging in front of the television. Or maybe its as simple as your morning routine getting ready for work. These are habits that you don’t have to think about where you would be in a neutral state. What would happen if at night your car doesn’t start and you can’t get home. Or how do you feel you miss your alarm in the morning and also realise you’re out of milk for breakfast? You will experience a raised level of anxiety and be pushed out of our comfort zone, forced to make new decisions and test your actions. These are examples of moving out of your comfort zone in its simplest form. What if you were to jump on a plane and venture into a new country that spoke a different language for the first time ever? Perhaps approaching and talking with someone new? What about quitting your job and starting your own business? Depending on your prior experiences in doing these, they would raise a level of anxiety for you as you are venturing into unknown territory, fostering a higher level of consciousness where you are forced to stretch and grow your potential.
The fact of the matter is…
The magic happens when you move outside of your comfort zone!
Stretching Your Comfort Zone
Stretching your comfort zone puts you in a place where you are learning, developing, growing and building experiences, skills and knowledge that can assist you in achieving your goals. As mentioned above, if you do today what you have always done, then tomorrow you will get what you have always gotten. Do you really want to stay where you are today without realising your full potential? The fact that you are reading this tells me that you are worth more, and that you are wanting to achieve greater things that you are today. Your goals are currently outside of your comfort zone. If they were inside your comfort zone, you would be achieving them right now or taking pretty easy steps to get there. Lets take a look at stretching your comfort zone.
Ultimately, you want to reach your goal, whatever that may be. Currently you are making choices and taking action within your comfort zone. You need to make the choice to step into the zone which stretches your potential and helps you grow. This is called the ‘Stretch Zone’ or ‘Growth Zone’. As you step into this zone your level of anxiety, fear or stress will increase as you venture into unknown territory, and this is a GREAT thing as it is signalling that you are challenging yourself and stretching your potential! What you need to be careful of is not stepping too far out of your comfort zone which will lead you into a ‘Panic Zone’. For example, if you were to thrust yourself into a situation of conducting an hour-long presentation to a large, important audience on a topic you had no idea of which was to be delivered in 30 minutes time from now, you would most likely start to enter your panic zone! What if this example was your end goal though? You can take steps to help you get there.
Firstly, you will take steps to move into your Growth Zone, and you do this simply by taking action and trying new experiences. This may be doing some research on your audience, doing some research on your topic, or talking with someone who will be attending. The important thing is that you have taken an initial step, potentially multiple steps, venturing in to an area you have not gone before. You are acquiring new knowledge and experiences, expanding your comfort zone.
Over time, as you gain new experiences, skills and knowledge, you will become more comfortable in performing in that area and making choices to be in that area and hence you have expanded your comfort zone. Perhaps you have practiced giving the presentation to your family or a close friend, or maybe it’s that you have learned the content to such depth that you are comfortable in answering any questions that may arise, or most likely a combination of many things that you have done. Your comfort zone will be expanded to a level where you will be able to reach that goal.
When do you reach your goal? You normally reach your goal when you are in your growth zone. As the goal itself is a new experience and outcome for you, you need to be in your growth zone to achieve it. Once your goal is attained, you will become more comfortable in that zone. Over time, you may become so comfortable and relaxed with that initial goal that it becomes effortless and you feel you need to stretch yourself again. Time to re-evaluate your goals and venture back into your growth zone!
Remember, if you are feeling anxiety, fear, stress, uncertainty or vulnerability, this is a GREAT thing! Remind yourself that you are growing, developing, learning, challenging yourself and taking on new experiences, skills and knowledge! You are moving towards what it is that you are trying to achieve and you WILL get there if you continue to push yourself into your growth zone. Confidence, delight, happiness, fulfilment and success are all results of expanding into your growth zone.
Top 3 Tips for Staying Away From the Panic Zone
Throwing yourself too far into the deep-end will actually hinder your performance and discourage you from taking further action. It’s important to be conscious of which zone you are in, aiming to spend most of your time in your growth zone.
To help stay out of the panic zone, try these tips:
1) Get coaching or support
Having a coach or a support network can help encourage you in your growth zone and also warn you of when you may be close to entering the panic zone.
2) Go back into your comfort zone!
As simple as that! Take brief moments or small steps into your growth zone and balance that with time back in your comfort zone. This will help you from feeling overwhelmed and potentially discouraged.
3) Maintain awareness of your condition
Understanding yourself and monitoring your feelings and behaviours will help you determine when you are getting close to your panic zone.
A successful and fulfilling life is one in which you are spending a lot of your time in your growth zone, allowing for an ever-expanding comfort zone!
For the Comments
What tips or tecniques do you practice that help you expand your comfort zone? What’s holding you back that you feel that you can not expand out of your comfort zone? What realisations or successes have you had when you have managed to break through your comfort zone? Would love to hear in the comments below!
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Very good article with a balanced take on the subject! I find personally that there are so many virtual coaches, such as yourself, showing what can result from getting out of one’s comfort zone that I’m constantly nudged towards doing the same! It is a great feeling to start something new that maybe is scary at first then becomes a walk in the park!
However, a bit like bodybuilding, when you stop training, you go back to being skinny haha.
So the key is to keep getting out there…
Cheers Jef, glad you enjoyed it!
Very true in that once you actually try something you normally realise its not that bad! And if it doesn’t go to plan you learn from it for next time 🙂 the brain has the power to do almost anything… When you do something new your brain creates a map of actions and outcomes based on your experience. If done enough and over time, this map becomes so engrained you do a lot of it without thinking… Eg driving a car. Best motto, is just do it!
* excellent & true advice. The importance of self-reflection on development of new skills is essential. Having the courage to take that step out of the comfort zones is for me probably one of the toughest things to do. Once done though you realise that it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it was anticipated. After all what is the worst thing that could happen, you might learn something about yourself or your situation? Highly thought provoking blog Brendan, cheers