Expand your Comfort Zone – Avoid the Panic Zone

Comfort zoneReading time: 1 minute 45 seconds

“I want to find work that extends my comfort zone”

“I want to be challenged”

“That sounds scary – but exciting”

Does any of this sound familiar?  We’ve heard statements like these many times in conversation with our clients.  Extraordinary people get fired up and energised by finding new challenges.  Learning new things, successfully completing a difficult project and growing personally provide strong motivation for many of us.  Understanding how to effectively tap this energy and motivation can be key to finding meaningful work and a better quality of life.

So what exactly is a comfort zone and how does it help us?

When I think about my comfort zone, my mind immediately jumps to something I used to have a morbid fear of – speaking in front of an audience.  My recurring nightmare was being on stage in a play, right in the glaring spotlight and drying up.  The audience are all staring directly at me with laser beam glares and I want to curl up and die.  This was my panic zone!

Over the years I’ve been determined to address this fear and expand my comfort zone around public speaking.  I started out at school by joining the debating society.  Every speech was written out word for word and read with shaking hands and a churning stomach.  Strangely each one got easier than before and after a while I started having just an outline of the speech to deliver.  I felt my comfort zone growing and my palms becoming less sweaty!

Throughout my career, I’ve looked for opportunities to speak in front of groups and deliver training courses.  I’ve watched others who appeared highly confident in front of people and tried some of the things they did.  I’ve found training courses and even got some coaching around speaking with confidence.  Each of these actions extended my comfort zone just a little bit and made me more assured.  Now I really enjoy speaking to groups of people and leading training – although I do still get the occasional butterfly in my stomach beforehand.  My comfort zone for public speaking is hugely expanded.

Our comfort zone is where we feel calm about performing a particular skill or action.  If we step outside this, our minds tend to panic and release all sorts of hormones that induce fear.  This typically reduces our level of performance and the confidence that we feel.  In this panic zone, we struggle to keep it together and our bodies start to let us down.  The good news however is that we can expand our comfort zone through practice and learning.

Scientists have researched the optimal conditions for personal development.  The results show that operating on the edge of your comfort zone is the best place to learn and grow.  The research shows that over time, the mind becomes accustomed to the task in hand and it becomes less stressful.  That is the point when we can push ourselves a little bit harder – our comfort zone has expanded.

The opposite has also been proven – spending time in the panic zone is not actually conducive to learning as its just too stressful.  Trying to learn with all the adrenaline pumping around our body is not possible; we simply do what we can to survive.

So expanding our personal comfort zones allows us to develop new skills, and find both energy and motivation.  It is best done by trying things at the edge of our level of comfort and becoming accustomed to that feeling.  Imagine your comfort zone is like a balloon that is being slowly inflated.  Blow too hard and the balloon will burst, too softly and it won’t inflate.  Consistently pushing yourself to the edge but not beyond your comfort zone will allow you to grow and develop.

We want to hear from you with your comments about comfort zones:

  • What experiences have you had with your comfort zone?
  • What does it feel like on the edge of your comfort zone?
  • What does it feel like in the panic zone?
  • In what area would you like to extend your comfort zone?

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  1. July 22, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the great post Phil. It really got me thinking about my own comfort zone. The place you describe on the edge of your comfort zone is a place I like to refer to as your stretch zone. I know one area that I\\\’ve spent much time and effort stretching out of my comfort zone is around being direct and speaking my truth. In the past, I felt that if I was too direct or shared my truth, I would offend someone or hurt their feelings. Fear of that held me back yet I noticed that situations rarely got resolved in a positive way. And in many instances, they escalated. So I started small and began to voice my opinion. I practiced how I would address an issue with someone and chose direct language. And I practiced getting into a mindset that allowed me to see that a direct message actually served both parties as it helped an honest conversation to happen for all to move forward. Like you, there are certainly times when I get butterflies. But now when I get those butterflies I see them as the sign that I\\\’ve stepped once again into my stretch zone. And a smile stretches across my face as I know I\\\’m in for some learning and growing and that the next time I face something similar, it will be easier.

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