Data scientist Martin Remy once gave a talk about how we can grow our capability. He drew a picture with a small center circle, then another circle around that one, and a third, larger circle that encompassed both. The center circle he colored yellow and named it the comfort zone. The outer ring, he colored red and called it the panic zone. The middle ring, between the comfort zone and the panic zone, he colored green. He named it the growth zone.
The comfort zone is a place where we know what we’re doing and we’re comfortable doing it. It’s where we feel natural and capable. It is safe. It doesn’t require a lot of effort to occupy the comfort zone; the comfort zone is a place where you can coast. The thing with the comfort zone is that it can be a place of contentment, but it may also be a place of complacency. If you only hang out in your comfort zone, you may feel a sense of stasis. For me, staying inside my comfort zone manifests as a sense of feeling stuck in a rut.
The red panic zone, by contrast, is a place so filled with risk and unknowns that by entering it, there’s a good chance you will careen off the road, crash, and burn. In the panic zone, you are far enough outside your element that have no tools to navigate it; you have no control. You’ll make poor decisions that will be hard to recover from. We should all avoid the panic zone.
The place in between, though — the green place, the place that’s outside our comfort zone but not so far outside that we cannot handle it — is where we grow. It’s where we build on what we do know and are already skilled at, but we push ourselves a little further, into new territory. When we do that, when we push into the growth zone, we add to our knowledge, we add to our confidence, and we make our comfort zone even bigger: we are more capable at more things after we venture into the green growth zone.
In my writing life, writing in my journal is 100% inside the comfort zone. It is the center of the comfort zone: it doesn’t even come close to the edges.
Yesterday I went outside my comfort zone when I published my Writing in 2021 post. It’s one thing to confess fears and attempt to dispute them in the privacy of journal pages, and especially to write cheesy affirmations for yourself. But to publish all that? That’s uncomfortable. There’s nowhere to hide.
Because it was going to be public, though, I analyzed my negative self-talk more thoroughly than I likely would have if I’d just dashed off examples in a journal that I’d never look at again. This meant I was able to find relevant evidence to dispute those stories, and most importantly, to formulate affirmations that address the specific things I worry about. Writing for publication made me really process what I think so I could understand it myself. Only then could I express it clearly to others.
Now it’s out there for me to hold myself accountable and refer back to. If I hadn’t pushed myself to publish that post instead of secreting it away in my journal, I don’t think I’d have gotten to the point of how to move beyond the stories I tell myself, and to identify things I can do differently to change the narrative. I’m in the growth zone! And the thing is, since I’ve pushed myself into this uncomfortable place before, it’s getting easier each time. “Publish embarrassing stuff on blog” is still not in my comfort zone, but it’s now nearer the line between yellow and green, and I understand myself a little better to boot.
This post is for day 3 of Bloganuary, a month-long blogging challenge that includes a prompt every day. Today’s prompt: Write about the last time you left your comfort zone.