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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