How to expand your comfort zone and expand your life
Imagine a circle, calm blue in colour, playing your favourite soft tune and full of all of the things you know best. You’re sitting in the middle of this circle and you know what will happen and when, you know how things will go for you and the people you will meet, you know what you can do here and how to do it, the rules are clear. This circle is a very comfortable space, like a big blue bean bag that you are sinking into. There is very little risk in this space and everything is going A-Okay. This circle is your ‘comfort zone’.
A behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.
Living inside our ‘comfort zones’ in all aspects of our lives, all of the time, means that our progress will plateau – it’s very likely we feel bored or frustrated particularly if we want to change something. In our ‘comfort zones’ we are existing with a fixed mindset. Can you think of any areas of your life where staying in the ‘comfort zone’ might be doing more harm than good?
The ‘stretch zone’
Imagine a second circle, orange in colour, bigger than the ‘comfort zone’ and fully surrounding it. You can see into this circle from your bean bag of comfort, the music is a bit louder and more fun, there are new people in this circle and exciting experiences. You can see lots of new opportunities for growth and learning that you want to get involved in.
The thing is, you’re not quite sure of the rules here, you are likely to meet new people, need to learn something new, do something that you’ve not tried before. Welcome to your ‘stretch zone’, where with some effort, confidence and self-belief, you can meet the challenge you want to meet. In the ‘stretch zone’ you can do the thing.
Stepping into the ‘stretch zone’ helps us to develop a growth mindset – where, with practice and acquiring new skills, we believe in our potential – opportunities become unlimited if we keep pushing at the edges of our boundaries. The more and more times we step into the ‘stretch zone’, the easier new things get, they eventually get so easy for us, they fall into our ‘comfort zone’.
The ‘panic zone’
Imagine a third circle, this time red in colour, which is the other side of the ‘stretch zone’. This circle is full of things that mean we cannot even see straight; our anxiety is provoked and we become overwhelmed to the point of a ‘flight’ (run away) or a ‘freeze’ (paralysis) response. In this space we can do nothing but find excuses for inaction whilst we become overwhelmed by the perceived opinions of others and sense a complete lack of confidence. Welcome to your ‘panic zone’ or ‘fear zone’.
Without a doubt, the ‘panic zone’ is not conducive to our success or growth, but only to wanting to make us run as fast as possible back to our ‘comfort zones’ with some bad experiences and tattered confidence in tow.
Five ways to navigate stretching the right amount
If it’s been a while since you did something outside of the norm it can feel frightening to try something new. It’s important to develop a sense of where our stretch zones end and our panic zone begins. The five points below can support you with this:
1) Ensure what you are choosing to work on is in alignment with your personal values, that is, it is important to you, not just something you feel forced to do out of duty or obligation. If you want to better understand what your values are, you can work with a coach on a values elicitation exercise or there are resources online to help you.
2) Work on an incremental continuum – start small in your steps – whilst it might feel a good idea to go from zero to all guns blazing, this can end up being really painful. For example, if you want to work towards public speaking, a small step might be a small group online first, rather than a room full of 50 people. It might help to draw out a line with all the different steps to work up to where you want to get to.
3) Each time you move along the continuum take time to recognise what you’ve learnt, how it felt and most importantly, make time to congratulate yourself and really recognise the step you have taken. Positively reinforce the great work you’ve done and if something didn’t go to plan, lead with self-compassion. It’s okay and you will have learnt something from it.
4) Don’t overthink it – taking a step outside our ‘comfort zone’ can feel frightening, but reframe the narrative about it; believe that the nerves you are feeling about taking an action are excitement. Your brain cannot actually tell the difference between the two!
5) Be prepared to be vulnerable and make mistakes – recognise that perfection is not reality. Work with authenticity and honesty. There will be success but there will be inevitable errors too – know that this is okay and all part of the process. We can learn from the things that go wrong and they support the development of our growth mindset. The belief that our potential is unlimited.
There are so many benefits to working towards a growth mindset. Pushing our boundaries and actively stepping into our ‘stretch zone’ more often, can really help to increase resilience and adaptability when life throws an unexpected curve ball. Working with a coach can support you on your journey towards a growth mindset.
So, in which area of your life will you choose to stretch into today?
One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.
- Abraham Maslow