Guest blog by Diane Law, People Development Specialist and Learning Journey Cartographer
You have probably heard the phrase, “the magic happens outside of your comfort zone,” or “you need to step outside your comfort zone to be successful.”
I prefer to think of it in a more positive way – going towards what you do want, not away from what you don’t. In other words, step into your learning zone, rather than out of your comfort zone.
In your everyday working life, you will likely have a range of tasks, habits, and routines that you carry out with confidence, and with little risk involved. This is your comfort zone – a set of typical behaviours, and actions that are familiar to you. It isn’t a bad place. It’s a place where you know you can perform well, and your comfort zone definitely has a place in your life.
However, if you want to grow and improve, you need to enter your learning zone where you can experiment, develop your skills and stretch your abilities. It is where you learn to set new goals and live them out. Regardless of how well you do, it will be a learning experience. The goal is to realise your strengths and use them to obtain new outcomes.
As an example, suppose you have a role that requires significant written communication. You feel very confident in researching and analysing the background information and structuring it into a cohesive and convincing story. Written communication is in your comfort zone.
Three steps to start
1. Work out your priorities
Occupying the comfort zone isn’t always detrimental. Often it is the right place to be. In order to grow however, you need to identify priorities for your learning zone: areas of your life where being too comfortable does more harm than good. Do some introspection and ask yourself what really matters to you.
For example, it might be reasonable to stay in your ‘written communications’ comfort zone because you are strong in it and you are far less comfortable with presentations. However, you also know that if you could verbally communicate your message in a clear and compelling way, you would have a greater field of impact in what you do and getting your message heard and understood. Verbal presentations are in your learning zone.
2. Build Anchors to Your Comfort Zone
Building anchors that tether you to your comfort zone can also help when you are learning something new. Anchors are opportunities to use skills and behaviours that you’re already familiar with. They should not restrict your learning, but they can reassure you that your basic skills are still sound as you enter new territory.
Returning to our example of written communications and presentations, an anchor would be the opportunity to use your comfort zone skills of researching and organising information since you know that those skills are current strengths of yours. You could also use simple presentation techniques that they are already familiar with rather than trying several new techniques all at once. So, although you are trying something new, you are starting small and anchoring your new learning into something more familiar.
3. Use Scaffolding
“Scaffolding” refers to support structures that encourage learning and development. It can be put in place by a mentor or coach, but you can also look for opportunities to develop your own scaffolding.
Scaffolding can take many forms. You may start for instance by practicing your presentation in a safe space, such as with a trusted colleague. You may take a course or look up presentation best practices on YouTube. Or you could keep a learning log, so that you feel any mistakes you might make are actually opportunities for learning and improvement. Even simple words of encouragement, questions that help you to think about your next steps, and reminders of what you have already achieved can be supportive scaffolding. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance, ask questions, and take notes.
The Panic Zone
One thing to recognise is when you are moving far beyond what you are familiar with and what you can reasonably be expected to learn. This is the panic zone. You might feel swamped by unreasonable demands and information that you are unable to cope with. Your stress levels may build because you feel you are going to fail.
This can be damaging and demotivating and in fact not useful for developing new skills and behaviours. For instance, if giving live presentations is outside your comfort zone, doing your first one in front of 1,000 people is not a good idea. You need to acquire a sense of what is in your learning zone, and what has gone too far and is in your panic zone.
Expand your comfort zone. Find that one tiny thing you can do to make a more significant difference and enter your learning zone. Today!
Online Training: Gain the Courage to Step out of Your Comfort Zone with the Happenista Project 2
Webinar: Taking Charge of Your Life: enter you name and email address to access it free of charge immediately [45 mins]
Webinar: Tackling Difficult Conversations enter your name and email address to access it free of charge immediately [45 mins]
Book: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Podcast: How to Say No [23 mins]
Podcast: Taking a Leap of Faith [27 mins]
Video: Would you Follow You [5 mins]
Blog: 4 ways to face your fears [2 mins]
Director of Peppermill Limited, Diane works with organisations to help them improve their competitive edge and performance through their people. The areas she specialise in are developing people at work, people processes and leadership.