As we begin our journey in today’s Wisdom Note, we want to continue on the same trail from our previous Wisdom Note but venture out of our comfort zone. When we leave our zone of comfort, although it may appear to be intimidating and less secure, most of the time it proves beneficial for us and our long-term growth because outside of our comfort zone is where the magic happens. When we force ourselves outside this comfort zone it allows us to stretch and grow to become all that God has destined us to be.
There are actually three zones where you can live. However, only one of these zones is optimal for your life in that it will have the most positive impact and allow you to grow and flourish.
Let’s explore these three zones of life in detail.
1. The Comfort Zone
Your comfort zone is a psychological place where you feel safe and in control. You experience low-anxiety, and you’re using a limited set of behaviors. This means you’re not growing or developing any new skills. Essentially you’re stuck on autopilot, and you’re just going through the motions. Clearly, this is not the place that fosters growth. It’s in our comfort zone that we feel safe and secure. It’s the zone of routine and the place where we do those things we find safe, comfortable, easy and familiar.
A comfort zone is a place where nothing particularly challenging happens. Growing up on an apple orchard, I can certainly relate to this quote from Will Rogers, “You’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.”
Scientists have researched the role anxiety plays in performance. They have found that too little anxiety results in poor performance while increasing anxiety increases performance. At the other extreme, too much anxiety reduces performance. The findings from this research show that if we want to maximize our performance, we need to be in a state of optimal anxiety.
Although it may not be very evident, there are significant dangers that lurk in the comfort zone. Denis Waitley puts it this way, “Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.”
You know you’re in a comfort zone when you feel no anxiety, no pressure, and no stress. You’re doing things that are easy, comfortable, and familiar. You’re in control and doing things that you know how to do. They don’t take much physical or emotional energy. It’s dangerous to stay in your comfort zone for long periods of time, as it leads to mediocrity, stagnation, and a lack of growth. If you spend too much time in your comfort zone, you’ll end up bored and unchallenged. To recap:
- Comfort zones limit your goals and dreams.
- Comfort zones limit your potential.
- Comfort zones encourage mediocrity.
2. The Learning Zone
“We need a place of productive discomfort, if you’re too comfortable, you’re not productive. And if you’re too uncomfortable, you’re not productive. Like Goldilocks, we can’t be too hot or too cold,” Daniel H. Pink.
The learning zone is where the magic happens. It’s the place where growth happens, success is built, and goals are attained. If you’ve ever pushed yourself to get to the next level in a sport, fitness or learning, you know what it’s like to step outside your comfort zone. You know what it’s like in the learning zone.
It’s like going to the gym for the first time. The exercises are difficult, and you struggle. They take a lot of energy and concentration to complete. However, each week you grow stronger, the exercises become easier, and they require less energy to complete. However, as the exercises become easier, you get less physical benefit. Soon you find yourself becoming used to your exercise routine, your heart rate no longer rises, and you’re not sore in the mornings. When this happens you’re no longer growing stronger. You’re in a comfort zone. What’s the solution? You need to change your exercise routine. You need to switch to a new set of exercises. The same principle holds for other areas in our lives.
“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new,” Brian Tracy.
Unless you spend time in your learning zone you’ll fail to grow. You can go to the gym every day doing the same exercises for months and months and gain no benefit. If what you’re doing is comfortable and easy, you’re not in the learning zone. And, if you’re not in your learning zone you’re not growing.
3. The Danger Zone
“Only those who risk going too far can possibly know how far one can go,” T.S. Elliot.
At the end of your learning zone, you enter the danger zone. This is the place where you start to lose focus. You begin to panic and performance declines. You need to ensure that you don’t push yourself too hard too quickly and thereby land in the danger zone. Going back to our gym example, if you try to lift a weight that is too heavy, you’re likely to damage your tendons or tear a muscle.
The lesson is to remain in the learning zone and stay out of the danger zone.
You can stay out of the danger zone by taking regular breaks. Place yourself in the learning zone for a period of time and then retreat back to your comfort zone for a short time to take a break. Once rested, prepare for the next push into the learning zone. Gradually spending more time in the learning zone will be comfortable and allow you to grow into a new learning zone.
The Apostle Paul in his 1st letter to the church in Corinth understood the concept of getting out of your comfort zone as he compared his preparation to that of an athlete in Chapter 9 verses 24-27, “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”
Try something new each week. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.