Mark Twain, Will Rogers and Frank Scully are just three people who have been credited with saying

Why not go out on a limb, that’s where all the fruit is.

Whoever actually said it doesn’t really matter; what matters is that it is true.

John Dewey suggested that to learn we have to reflect on an experience. But to benefit from our learning we have to act on it as well. We all know people who keep on making the same mistakes. Einstein famously said that insanity could be defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

So what can we do?

The first thing is to realise that throughout our lives we tend to live in and move between three very recognisable states (or zones) – comfort, stretch and panic.

Comfort Zone

Our Comfort Zone is just as the name implies – comfortable. It includes everyday familiar activities amd challenges, and requires no element of risk. But the downside of a comfortable lifestyle is that we will not develop very much. We may be successful at what we do but it becomes a matter of same old, same old and in time is likely to lead to the zone shrinking.

If we stay in our comfort zone we will tend to use the same stragegies for coping that we always have since the situations we have to confront are likely to be familiar and we think we know what to do. Although we can exist at that level of behaviour indefinately, little practical learning will occur as there is no motivation to move beyond established patterns of behaviour.

So the Comfort Zone is associated with words like: stuck, rust, apathy, stress free, content, happy, complacent, bored etc.

Staying in the Comfort Zone stunts growth and we are meant to grow. And in this state we will never find the fruit at the end of the limb.

Stretch Zone

Our Stretch Zone, however, is an area of exploration and adventure where we are dealing with the unfamiliar. It may be that we are doing things we haven’t done for a long time or have never done before. It may be that we are attempting to adapt familiar strategies to unfamiliar situations, using unfamiliar strategies in familiar situations, or a bit of both.

In contrast to the Comfort Zone, the Stretch Zone is not a comfortable place – but it is a stimulating one. It is where we stretch and challenge ourselves mentally, emotionally or physically. It is where we are attempting to learn a new behaviour or response to a situation. The Stretch Zone is an environment where success is possible and we can be motivated to achieve it even if we are not certain we will succeed.

The Stretch Zone is associated with words like: expansive, risky, challenging, adventurous, effort, rewarding, exciting, motivating, stimulating etc.

When stretch becomes comfort we have grown. However, in expanding our Comfort Zone, we shouldn’t be afraid of going in and out of our Panic Zone in the process.

Panic Zone

The Panic Zone is where we are asked to do things that we beleive to be unacceptable for some reason. It may be that the perceived risk is too high, or we can’t cope emotionally with the ask.

The Panic Zone is where we shut down and are no longer able to do the task at hand properly because we feel overwhelmed. Too much change, or too much stress can cause us to behave like we are in the Panic Zone; our ability to learn experientially falls and we will generally attempt to use familiar responses with little success or continue to attempt new responses although we will not always apply them correctly. Success appears impossible, and the we quickly becomes frustrated and de-motivated

The Panic Zone is associated with words like: fear, exhaustion, out of control, overwhelmed, flight or fight etc.

However, panic is a strong signal that something needs to be done. It can therefore be a good thing and may be a necessary thing in moving forward, but if we spend too long in the Panic Zone we may burn out.

Zones are not static – they can grow and / or shrink – and we can and do move between them

Part II of “Moving out of your Comfort Zone” will be published after Christmas. It will focus on how we can encourage others to live more in their stretch zones, thereby enlarging their comfort zones. Or we could apply it to ourselves!

Happy Christmas.