Comfort, stretch, panic

“Why not go out on a limb, that’s where all the fruit is.” Mark Twain

John Dewey suggested that to learn we have to reflect on an experience. We all know people who keep on making the same mistakes as we do people who live in their heads. What I do as a trainer is known as experiential education, basically I give my audience a task or game and then I watch and listen, so that we can review and process what just happened.

One of my favorite activities when I first meet participants is called the comfort circles. I place three concentric rope circles on the floor and describe how the inner one is the comfort zone, the middle one the stretch zone and the outer one the panic zone. We go on to talk about how the comfort zone is like sitting in your favorite armchair, beverage in hand and remote control near by, life is pleasant, it is also easy. The stretch zone sees you with an elevated pulse rate, you are excited and not quite sure if you will succeed, it does not necessarily feel good at the time though afterwards you gain a real sense of accomplishment. Finally, the panic zone is where you shut down, you are no longer able to do the task at hand properly because you are overwhelmed.

Once this has been explained I ask people to vote with their feet. As I describe a situation, they move to the zone that most describes what they feel in that situation. Examples I often use include handling snakes, handling venemous snakes, speaking in public, cooking a meal for 30 people, sweating in public, I then ask the participants to come up with different scenarios. On reflection what they notice is that we all respond differently to different situations. They also come to the conclusion that if you spend too much time in your comfort zone, it shrinks and as you push at the outer reaches of stretch zone it becomes bigger. Finally, they propose that the panic zone is a place to avoid and one to diminish by thoughtfully and intentionally increasing your stretch zone.

Mark Twain had it right, the more time you spend in the stretch zone, the richer your life becomes. What does that mean for you today?

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One thought on “Comfort, stretch, panic

  1. You have no idea how timely this post is, Wil! The last two months have been even pushing my stretch zone. I was even wondering if I should have been doing what I am doing. Your post reminded me that staying in the comfort zone isn’t the best choice!

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