The Comfort Zone, The Learning Zone, and The Panic Zone – How They Work and Why They Matter

Ah, complacency… The silent killer of our big dreams and ambitions.  When we’re complacent, we’re comfortable—and when we’re comfortable, we’re uncritical about ourselves and the path that we’ve chosen which takes the fire and fuel out of trying to grow and develop as a person.  Seeking new knowledge, trying new things, taking calculated risks—these are all essential elements to unleashing our personal best and those things simply don’t happen when we’re uncritical / indifferent about where we are.

If you think back to the points in your life when you’ve made your biggest leaps and strides in growth and progress, you’ll realize it was during a time when you moved outside of your comfort zone with the mindset of an eager and open-minded student.  On the other hand, if you think about a time when you became complacent and indifferent with where you were at, you’ll probably remember seeing a lot of monotony and lameness in your days.

When we accept where we’re at, where we’re going, and what we’re doing day-in and day-out as “the norm” and stop investing time into ourselves through reading, exploring and experimenting, we slowly start to kill our aptitudes and our potential.  What we need to do is get in the habit of leaning just beyond our “norm” and into our outer bubble of slight discomfort and nervousness, also known as our learning zone.  The learning zone is the “sweet spot” where all of the magic in life happens—it’s where our inner fire and fuel ignite, where our dreams and ambitions become more and more real, and where our potential is fully realized.

It’s important to stay mindful of just how far outside of our comfort zone we are, however, because for every person there is a “panic zone” as well.  The panic zone is the zone that would cause us to freak out, shut down, and, well, panic from all of the pressure and stress that being that far outside of our comfort zone brings forth.  Below, you’ll find a basic illustration that further exemplifies the difference between the comfort zone, the learning zone, and the panic zone:

It’s important to note that every person’s zone tolerance is different.  What might cause one person to freak out and panic might be well within somebody else’s comfort zone.  And what might be well within another person’s comfort zone might be the, “sweet spot” (learning zone) for yet another person.  It’s also true that comfort zones can change for a person with different given circumstances and situations.  For example, a person might be in their comfort zone teaching a small classroom of students but might be well into their panic zone when they have to give a presentation to a similarly sized group of adults.

What’s interesting about this model too, is that all of these zones are flexible—they are subject to change.  The more time we spend in our learning zone, the bigger our comfort zone will expand, which, in turn, further pushes out our learning and panic zones as well.  Over time, as we continue to spend more and more time in our learning zone, the model from above might start to look more like this:

From a fundamental standpoint, this is how real growth happens.  This is how we go from getting nervous publicly speaking in front of 5 people to speaking to an audience of 5,000 people.  By focusing on taking one small incremental step forward at a time and learning and growing as much as we can from each step/experience (without letting the ego get in the way), we can continue to push our comfort zone and learning zones further and further into the outer limits of our potential and go from speaking to 5 people, to 15 people, to 50 people, to 500 people, to 5,000!  This, of course, is true for any other area in our life that we want to grow as well.

One of the main reasons why we stay within our comfort zone is because we want to avoid doing anything too risky or too unfamiliar because we don’t want to look stupid and we definitely don’t want to upset our ego.  But the simple truth to that statement is that the biggest shot to our ego isn’t going to be from a mistake or a failure that happens as a result of trying something new or experimenting outside of our comfort zone, but rather from never having fully tried or experimented with our life altogether!  By avoiding the small shots to our ego on a day-to-day basis, we miss the biggest opportunity of our life of reaching our full potential and realizing our dreams—and the scary part is, the ego will never admit that you’re making that mistake until it’s too late.

Winning and losing, failing and succeeding, overcoming and falling short, are all irrelevant to our growth.  Growth happens in ALL situations and as a result of ALL experiences—we merely have to be willing to look for the opportunities, ask the right questions, and take the necessary steps forward—even when (and especially when), those steps are uncomfortable to take.  Don’t let complacency take you down without a fight.  Stand up, take action, and get a little nervous!  Ask yourself: what will it take to place you squarely in YOUR learning zone in the coming days?  Life is short and the ego will hold you down for as long as you let it.  Don’t.  Good luck!

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Care to share?!

One Response to The Comfort Zone, The Learning Zone, and The Panic Zone – How They Work and Why They Matter

  • Thought you might like this piece I wrote recently:
    October 2017-Pat Solomons
    My Attitude to the Ageing Process

    After reading an article about ageing in the newspaper…it made me think about my attitude to the ageing process

    I want to get one thing straight immediately I have never been afraid of growing old. I’ve never viewed it as something I needed to hold back or avoid, of course, I know it isn’t possible. Therefore, I have never given it a thought. We’re born, we live and we die. We have to have a purpose, I will endeavour to explain how I have this desire in my life with all its ups and downs.

    I am 88 years of age. I try my best to keep fit & look after my health. Exercise every morning for about a half an hour & once a week go to the gym for 15 minutes on the stationary bike. I also, walk to and from as many activities within my locality, only drive when absolutely necessary. I have a full body deep massage once a week, which gives me an hour of total relaxation. I try to get a full seven hours sleep every night, don’t always succeed, maybe I wake after 6 but usually just relax in bed for another hour/two. I sometimes take a nap in the afternoon but for no more than an hour.

    Relaxation and a calming influence for me is to do ‘codeword puzzles’ which take an average of 15 minutes to complete. Plus reading novels, all kinds of fiction perhaps romance, biographies or detective stories but nothing historical or political.

    I had a replacement Aortic Valve in my heart in April 2014 (when I was aged 85 years) & was told by the surgeon Mr. Appal it would last for 15 years, which would bring me up to 100 years of age! Well, I thought, that’s a good innings maybe I’ll prove the Surgeon wrong & live a bit longer.

    I try and eat a healthy diet of food I like. Fruit, cereal & soya yoghurt for breakfast. A snack for lunch which usually includes salad. A small amount for an evening meal, including meat, fish or other protein and plenty of vegetables. Not many carbs as I feel blown out if I consume too many. I drink mainly hot water throughout the day, with one green tea at breakfast and a coffee mid morning & tea in the afternoon. About a total of 8 glasses of liquid.

    My way of keeping my curious brain exercised is to Google questions on the ‘net’ to get satisfactory answers and understanding of various topics which attract my interest.

    I run a Discussion Group once a week and attend another one run by a friend with ‘topics’ of a general interest. These I get down from the net for both sessions.

    As my husband has the beginnings of Dementia I attend a Coffee morning, once a week at the Carers Group, I find the staff very helpful with advice and support for various difficulties that arise. He is often depressed expressing suicidal thoughts.

    Throughout my life I have always adapted to whatever life throws at me I think this has helped me over numerous upsets and stressful times. People often comment ‘life is very difficult now more so than when we were young.’ Well, there have always been troubling times, in my experience. As I was told once by a well respected Psychologist ‘Life is a series of ups & downs’. This is so true.

    I try to see my two children, whom I love unconditionally, Meredith (her husband Michael) & Bradford (his wife Nicole) and my Grandchildren, whom I also adore, Paige, Matt & Max every few weeks. I don’t entertain anymore so I see them for a meal out in local restaurants near where I live. I speak on the phone and email my two brothers Terry & Bunny frequently, and visit my sister Myra (91 years) every other week. We are not on the same wavelength her leisure time is spent going to Clubs to be entertained. I guess, I’m more of a ‘doer’. I like to be involved when we have events at the David Lloyd Club, where I’ve been a member for about 27 years. I joined when I was 60.

    I was writing for their monthly Newsletter but unfortunately this is no longer produced. The club has been taken over, the new management has reduced the programme of various pursuits. My main purpose was to interview members. One time I met a young member, a ‘Life Coach’. after an in depth chat he labelled me as a ‘peoples person’ and should put myself forward to help the management at the Club with liaising the members and the management. Which I suggested to the powers that be and was given the role of supporting the Food and Beverage Manager, Nicki Lynch with the various events we used to organise every month. Which suited me very much, as it put me in touch with different members from all walks of life. I was and still am, amply rewarded with a FREE membership which enabled me to participate in all the activities available in their extensive programme.

    Though now, since my heart op I have changed my activities to Tai Chi & just the bike exercise. Plus I joined ‘University of the 3rd Age.’ This has opened up a whole new experience for me.

    Unfortunately, I do have osteoporosis (diagnosed in my 50’s) and take Adcal to replace calcium. This is the only medication I take every day. I mention this as it has curtailed, as well as the heart op, some physical activities, like walking. But there are the other pursuits which interest me. One of which is dancing! This we do every week on a Friday to Rock & Roll music. Lovely group of people we dance the morning away then go for lunch at the Finchley Golf Club. This venue is the most peaceful setting in the midst of all the hubbub that surrounds it! The Club House is a splendid Victorian Mansion with magnificent trees and of course, rolling lawns. What more could one ask! In the Summer of course, we eat out on the Terrace but in the colder weather we are in their stunning dining room.

    Again, I am fortunate in the sense of being able to adapt to whatever life throws at me. I have a very optimistic and positive mind set. I do have methods and outlets to keep this attitude going. Using acupressure points to relieve pain, and tapping points (emotional freedom technique) to keep my viewpoint buoyant.

    I have a very curious mind and this has kept me interested in Technology
    hence here I am writing this article on the Computer.

    It’s not all serious within the Discussion Groups we have ‘jokes’ from the net,
    every week to lighten the meetings…we need laughter in our lives! Included in my morning exercises I breathe deeply then sing…sadly not in tune. But nobody can hear me, thank goodness!

    Fashion was of great interest for most of my life, but now I have my own
    ‘style’ which includes being comfortable, and choosing clothes to suit my life,
    which is mainly casual.

    I think the foremost change is not wanting to travel anymore I’m quite content to stay in England, no desire to venture abroad. I am experiencing an aura of
    contentment around me. I’ve always been a good listener, I suppose that’s why the Discussion Groups are successful, it gives people a chance to off-load their worries as well as talking about the topics that are on the table.

    If I look back yes, I do have a few regrets…not learning the Piano properly the same with French, when I was younger, did try the guitar in later years but found it too difficult at this stage of life.

    Also, I notice I’m not as patient as I used to be maybe because subconsciously time is running out.

    Coming to the end of my ageing process story…just a big THANKS to whoever, whatever gave me this life…yes I know my parents had a hand in it too, but there must be some other source around that helped too! We still don’t know and I’m still searching for my soul-whatever that is.

    My general advice to anybody reading this analysis is just go with the flow…nothing to be afraid of. If in a difficult situation it is as it is and the method of the way you deal with it, keep positive, optimistic and adapt as much as you can to the ebb and flow of life as and when it happens. There are some events we have no control over…try to stay calm and the upset, or whatever is disturbing you, will pass over. It’s true, I can’t always follow this tip but I try my best!
    Thanks for listening!

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