It’s time to find our courage. Learning takes place in the stretch zone, explains Dr Asma Naheed
Life offers many opportunities to step out of one’s comfort zone, but it can be challenging to do so. We all want to grow up and be successful in life. Most of the time, it is not our lack of knowledge that holds us back but our state of mind. In the 1990s, the phrase ‘leaving your comfort zone’ became popular. The term ‘comfort zone’ was coined by management consultant Judith M Bardwick in her 1991 book Danger in the Comfort Zone.
In 2006, Ryan and Markova developed a theory about the learning process. They distinguished between different zones – comfort, stretch and panic.
The first is defined by a lack of fear or discomfort. A person feels safe in the comfort zone. All things are familiar. Within this zone, there is no need to embark on a learning process. Since individuals are not challenged, there is little reflection or development. Things remain the same. Some people prefer to live in a risk-free, fuss-free routine.
At the other end of the scale, panic zones overwhelm us because the challenges are so far from our comfort zones. This zone is defined by stress, anxiety and challenges in ways that make learning impossible, as the focus is on, for example, the fight-or-flight response. All our energies are spent managing and controlling fear and panic. The longer a person stays in this zone, the less likely they are to test their limits, preferring instead to go back to their comfort zone.
In contrast, learning can take place in the stretch zone. It is a zone where you can expand your potential, work on self-development and explore your limits. When people feel they can’t control or handle a situation, they may retreat into their comfort zone. However, working or studying in this zone expands your comfort zone and allows you to grow accustomed to new experiences.
We need to remember that each individual’s threshold for different zones is personal and may change depending on the situation. Driving the learning process and forcing people into specific zones is to be avoided. Otherwise, it might not be possible to achieve the individual ‘stretching’ of an individual.