The video below about the Comfort Zone includes several graphics that are not included in the transcript below.
Here’s the dirty little secret: almost everyone who talks about going outside of your comfort zone is missing a crucial part of the picture.
It’s true that no matter what your goals are you’ll probably have to exit your comfort zone to reach them. And this is a fact whether you’re looking to improve your communication skills, build your confidence, achieve professional goals, and basically anything else.
In traditional coaching and psychology, people talk about what’s inside of the comfort zone and what’s outside of the comfort zone.
They’ll say things like “everything you already have and do is inside of your comfort zone, and everything you want is outside of it.”
And, generally speaking, they’re right, of course. But this is such an oversimplification that it does more harm than good.
Saying “you just have to go outside of your comfort zone to get what you want” makes it sound like any area outside of your comfort zone will be equally uncomfortable. But that’s not true, is it?
If you’re afraid of spiders, for example, there’s a big difference between seeing a spider inside a glass tank through the window of a pet store, and being locked in a dark room with fifty of them crawling around on the walls around you.
It’s not just “inside” and “outside”.
There are actually two more zones that we have to know about if we want to be able to go outside of our comfort zone in healthy and constructive ways.
Because some things outside of our comfort zone, such as being locked in a room full of spiders, might be so far outside of it that doing them will create psychological trauma.
And when we experience something as traumatic, we tend to stay away from that thing as much as we can in the future.
These things are in what we call the panic zone. And going into our panic zone can make us retreat from an activity or a situation to such an extent that we simply give up on the idea of ever mastering it. And that, of course, isn’t gonna help us reach our goals.
So what do we do instead?
Well, we make sure to stay in our Growth Zone.
Our Growth Zone is that wonderful place between our comfort zone and our panic zone. It’s where we learn and grow as a person.
And it’s not just a safe way for us to become more comfortable with the things we’re practicing. Because when we see that we are able to do something, even if we don’t really feel comfortable when we do it, we also tend to improve our confidence and our motivation.
Well, the first step is to understand the difference between stressful experiences and traumatic ones.
Because stress, when we’re trying to grow, is not just a good thing – it’s necessary.
The hormones in our body that are released when we get a little nervous, frustrated, or stressed - such as cortisol - is also needed for the brain to change its wiring and make new learning permanent.
So being a little uncomfortable when we’re practicing something new is great for our progress.
Trauma, on the other hand, should be avoided. And when I say trauma, I mean anything that triggers our fight, flight, or freeze reflex. Anything that makes us feel like we’d rather lie down and cry, throw up, run away, panic, or similar things.
But sometimes we might not have a choice, or accidentally step into our panic zone.
If that happens, take a step back as soon as you can, forget about what you were planning to do, find your comfort zone and relax for a bit. Once you start feeling ok again, adjust what you’re doing to something in your growth zone, and try again.
But be aware that when you’re in your growth zone you’ll also usually feel some uncomfortable feelings.
But these feelings will more manageable, and they are the ones that will help you learn and grow. These feelings can include things like nervousness, slight anxieties, feeling uncomfortable, feeling stressed, or even a little scared.
And again, that’s perfectly fine. Your goal isn’t to never experience these emotions. Your goal is to get comfortable doing what you should or need to do despite them.
In other words, you want to become a little comfortable being a little uncomfortable.
The great thing is that once you’ve spent some time in your growth zone, your unconscious mind starts to see that you’re perfectly safe.
And when it does, it starts to change its thinking and starts serving you calm, comfortable, confident, or even happy and excited thoughts. Which, of course, makes you more comfortable doing what you're doing.
When that happens, your comfort zone has expanded.
And all of a sudden, those activities you were doing in your growth zone end up inside of your comfort zone. And when that happens – everything changes.
You see, there’s a set relationship between your comfort zone and your growth zone. That means that when your comfort zone expands to include something new – it expands your growth zone too!
And that makes things that were once in your panic zone slip into your growth zone. Which means that you can now safely practice them and take another step towards your ultimate goal.
By repeating this process, more and more things will slip into your Growth Zone and then into your comfort zone. Until, finally, your comfort zone includes all the things that you want to master.
Ok, so now that you understand all of this, let’s talk about how to apply it to a real-world situation, using a simple three-step process.
This process should work for just about anything that you want to become more comfortable with. But, as an example, let’s say that "Jake" wants to become comfortable talking to strangers.
In that case, the three-step-process for Jake might look something like this:
In Jake’s example, he might set a big goal for himself and say something like, “I’d like to be able to start and hold a conversation with basically anyone, anywhere.”
This is about identifying one or more relevant behaviors that are already in your comfort zone.
Jake might, for example, be comfortable giving strangers a smile and a nod when passing them on the street, as long as he doesn’t actually have to say anything.
With that done, we have a starting point and an end point, and we’re ready for the final step.
A growth zone exercise is something that is a small step past your starting point and toward your end goal.
It’s something that will make you a little nervous, stressed, or uncomfortable, but that you will be able to do most of the times you try.
The crucial part of this step is to make sure that the exercise is neither in your comfort zone where it’s too easy, or in your panic zone where it gets so hard that you never get to practice it.
For Jake, this could be something as simple as saying “hi” or “good evening” to the people he pass throughout his day.
It’s a little more than a smile and a nod, but not something that makes him panic.
So Jake goes out and practices that as many times as he can, every day. And once he starts becoming comfortable with it, his starting point is no longer a nod and a smile, it’s now exchanging these short pleasantries.
With this new starting point in mind, Jake can come up with a new growth zone exercise.
Maybe this time something like asking a simple question, or giving quick compliments. It can be basically anything that requires him to speak a full sentence and get a reply before he moves on.
By repeating this process over and over again, it will only be a matter of time before Jake’s end goal is in his growth zone. When it is, he can start practicing it and eventually move it into his comfort zone.
All it requires is a little patience, and the willingness to make consistent efforts in his growth zone for as long as necessary.
Does that make sense?
As always, if you have any questions don’t be afraid to reach out to me or post in my Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/centeredcommunication.
And, if you want to learn more about this or any of the other topics I teach, I strongly recommend you check out my online courses about confidence and communication.
Hi, I'm TJ Guttormsen.
Since 2009 I’ve coached clients ranging from Olympic gold medalists and billionaires, to people who simply want more out life.
I’ve done over 100 national media appearances, published books, and created online courses that have earned several “Highest Rated” titles from their 11 000+ members.
Today I coach clients from all over the world, and teach seminars for business and events from my home in Las Vegas.
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