Years ago I was talking with a colleague about student learning and she explained something I have thought of often. She stated that there are 3 zones we live in: our comfort zone, our growth zone, and our panic zone.
In the context of learning, our comfort zone is doing something that is very familiar and we can do almost on autopilot. It doesn’t take a lot of emotional energy to be there and stress is minimal. Our growth zone is doing something we are trained to do but in a new setting. There is a lot of learning that happens here as well as some stress as we build our confidence that we can actually be successful. Our panic zone is doing something we are not trained to do, and something we shouldn’t be called on to do. The stress and emotional energy far surpass any learning that could take place.
I think that even in myself, I want to stay in the comfort zone and get nervous when I move or am moved into my growth zone. What if I fail? What if I look stupid? It is a vulnerable place to be in and that vulnerability feels risky.
But, that is where my best learning takes place. Acquiring a new skill, pushing myself to improve at something, or seeing a situation from a different angle all involve existing in my growth zone. All of my “what if” questions feel like I am pushed into my panic zone but that isn’t the case. That panicked feeling is a great opportunity to realize I am putting undue pressure on myself and to ease off of the expectations I have for myself.
This growth zone is part of the good around me. If I seek to exist only in my comfort zone, I miss out on so many new experiences and chances to learn more about myself. I risk keeping my personal boundaries so tight and rigid that I lose the ability to cope when I have to leave that refuge.