Comfort Zone no longer comfortable and fulfilling? Learn how to step outside.
[4 min read]
Comfort Zone, Learning Zone, Panic Zone and Magic Circle explained.
The results we get in our professional and personal life are based on what we already know and the actions we choose as a result of that knowledge. And, simply put, the reason we are where we are right now is our Comfort Zone.
The Comfort Zone explained
Our Comfort Zone is equivalent to ‘I know what I know’ and is also commonly referred to as ‘common sense’. In other words, the Comfort Zone defines the boundary condition of our thinking; our paradigm, and how we make sense of the world. The term ‘Comfort Zone’ is sometimes interpreted as something negative, but we must be careful not to alienate ourselves from it, because it definitely has its purpose (especially in today’s busy and ever-changing environment). The fundamental question we must ask ourselves is how large and expanded our Comfort Zone is. Do we feel insecure and in in constant survival mode, or do we feel fulfilled and are pursuing our dreams?
Luckily, this is determined by something we can directly influence. The expansion, or quality, of our Comfort Zone is determined by how much time we spend in our learning zone (trying new things, personal and professional development etc.). The more time we spend in the learning zone, the more this area becomes part of our Comfort Zone, hence the expansion. If on the contrary we never or rarely venture out of our Comfort Zone, we cannot keep up with the changes that happen around us and our Comfort Zone is essentially shrinking.
In general terms:
A SMALL COMFORT ZONE is based on a limited and dependent mindset, and equals: surviving, being driven by fear, lack of trust in ourselves etc.
For example: “Failure is the opposite of success’, therefore I stay in my little Comfort Zone and play it safe.”
Versus a LARGE COMFORT ZONE, which is based on an abundant and independent mindset, and encompasses living the dream, because we have more tools, self-trust, certainty within and confidence to deal with whatever life throws our way.
For example: “Failure is the pathway to success, and fact is that successful people fail more often, because they are willing to try new things and learn from their mistakes. This make them grow and succeed long-term.”
The Four Stages of Learning explained
Since we are about to explore how to expand our Comfort Zone with the help of the Learning Zone, we should have a closer look at HOW we learn. Originally described by Martin Broadwell as ‘the four levels of teaching’, and later further developed into the ‘four phases for learning new skills’ by Noel Burch, the ‘conscious competence’ learning model relates to the psychological states involved in the learning process.
According to the model, we move through the following levels as we build competence in a new skill:
- Unconscious incompetence
“I don’t know that there are things I don’t know.”
- Conscious incompetence
“I know that there are things I don’t know (yet).”
- Conscious competence
“Now I know a few more things that I didn’t know before.”
- Unconscious competence
“Now, I am doing the things that I didn’t know a while back without even thinking about it.”
When we work our way through these stages, we expand our Comfort Zone to now include what was our Learning Zone, and by doing so make our Comfort Zone bigger. We learn new skills, adapt a new mindset and form better habits, which ultimately increase our level of happiness and fulfillment.
Life does not get easier, but we get better at it by expanding our Comfort Zone. Hence, it is incredibly important that we invest in the most important real-estate that we all have, which is the one between our ears!
Examples for activities in the learning zone are to sign up for a leadership online course, watch a Ted Talk every day, join a club or class based on things we have no knowledge of, learn a new language, read up on unexpected or unusual topics, build silly things like a robot, a sensational Lego construction, our own worm farm, a cubby house for the kids in our life, etc. The options are endless, and we can try things we have never tried before.
“Courage is one step ahead of fear.”
~ Coleman Young
The Panic Zone explained
If we try to achieve or expect too much in too little time from ourselves and/or others, then we bypass the Learning Zone and literally push ourselves or them over the edge. Spending a prolonged amount of time in this state is not sustainable and stress, anxiety and burnout are the consequences. In this state, we crave our Comfort Zone more than ever before which can be very counterproductive and cause us to hide, procrastinate and, like mentioned before, their Comfort Zone starts to shrink because we cannot keep up with the advancements around us.
At this point, our fear mindset (our amygdala) kicks in and begins to compare the future with past experiences, and our brain creates an unresourceful ‘complex equivalence’ (expecting the future to be the same as the past). And this essentially is how we create a self-fulfilling prophecy; because we get what we focus on, to the exclusion of everything else…
So, how can we create a mindset of excellence and live a successful and fulfilled life on our own terms? Well, like everything else, it is all about balance, and our willingness to step outside our Comfort Zone with a growth mindset, whilst allowing ourselves to also recharge our battery (energy) and be kind to ourselves.
As explained at the beginning of the article, the Comfort Zone isn’t simply something negative and equal to procrastination. It is a place to relax, rejuvenate and recharge, so that we can step outside our Comfort Zone again and again, SUSTAINABLY! We must adopt the mindset that we need this renewed energy and steer clear of guilt and unconscious negative self-talk about being more active, doing more, or whatever it may be. That makes it incredibly difficult to be at our best again the next day.
The Magic Circle explained
Each time we expand our Comfort Zone, what is unfamiliar becomes more familiar. This is true growth and evolution that will bring us closer to, and eventually place us in, the ‘magic circle’. The actions we take will allow us to experience the place we initially did not even know existed!
We can reach our ‘Magic circle’ through:
- Awareness and willingness to think differently and embracing unfamiliar situations
- Curiosity and desire to go where we’ve never gone before
- Recognition of our self-empowerment, and the choice between allowing fear and doubt to keep us in our Comfort Zone OR courage and self-trust to step out
- Attitude change towards challenges by seeing them as opportunities
- Commitment towards keeping promises we make to ourselves and others
- Taking the action required for change
The Magic Circle represent our goals, vision and purpose which must be aligned with whatever time, money and energy we invest. As Lucius Annaeus Seneca beautifully said:
“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable.”
And once we reached our port our Magic Circle, there are two important things we must do:
- Celebrate our success, which will give us a sense of achievement, fulfilment and determination to keep going and to keep expanding our Comfort Zone
- Set new and bigger goals (setting sail to reach a port a little further away) to avoid complacency and prevent our Comfort Zone from shrinking
Let’s keep in mind the universal law about growth: Everything is either growing or dying - there is no middle ground. In order for us to grow both personally and professionally, we must be willing to constantly push beyond your current boundaries, sustainably and in balance with recharging our battery.
“Dare to make a difference!” #WeMakeItEasy #LeadershipSkills
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