Recently, I have been doing some work with an international group called, Right to Play. They’re a fantastic group that teaches life lessons and leadership in ‘third world’ nations through sports. I was part of a team that went to two remote “first nations” communities in Northern Ontario as a part of Right to Play.
We trained high school and college youth leaders. They, in turn, would eventually lead our summer children’s program. So we spent a couple days in each community and did a variety of training exercises. What was really interesting during the visits was that I found myself becoming a student rather than a trainer!
One of my favorite games during the training, is something called “Beyond the Comfort Zone.” This is where we put the students in a gym and mark off three distinct areas. The first area was called the ‘comfort zone’, the second area was called the ‘stretch zone’, and the third area was called the ‘scared zone’. And so, with three distinct areas in place, Jules, a training guru, would then ask a question and allow the participants to analyze their position and feelings. The participants would then move about the gym into their zone.
So, for example, a question would be, “If you had to give a speech in front of 500 people, where would you go?” Some people might go to the comfort zone, but probably not many because public speaking is something that always rates higher than death when it comes to the things that people fear most!
Some people would go the “scared zone.” They might say, “Oh my God, public speaking is the worst thing in the world!” On the other hand, some people would go to the stretch zone and so forth. I have to say, it was quite interesting to see where each of us landed with some of these questions! Jules went through a variety of different questions during the exercise – each one very telling and enlightening for the participant. If you were in the scared zone, she would ask people, ‘what would it take for you to get into the stretch zone?’ She would get all sorts of answers: “Well, maybe if I did it with a friend” or, referring to public speaking, “Maybe if it was a topic on what I love,” and so on. We always came up with answers that would move us from the scared zone to the stretch zone or the stretch to the comfort zone.
During the exercise, I thought “This is an incredible game!”
Jules asked, “Where do you think all of your growth happens?” And we all agreed that growth happens in the stretch zone. Now, this was probably something that we already knew, but it was a fun and illuminating exercise to really see visually and physically, where we happen to be, and that we all grow most in the stretch zone.
So my question was, “What do we need to do daily to move from our comfort zone to our stretch zone?”
I have come up with three things that I do and that can really help:
1. I learn from those who have done what I am trying to do. So, for example, when I was trying to run marathons. I went from not running at all to running three marathons for Team Diabetes. That was probably the scared zone for me at first. But, I moved to the stretch zone when I learned from people who had already done it. You can take the same approach for business or anything you want to do. Learn from speakers or others that have done what you are trying to do!
2. Don’t do it alone. It’s kinda like sex. It’s always more fun with a partner! Learn from others. Get your support team together. There are a lot of people out there who would like to help and support you. Using my marathon example, I learned that I was not alone. Going to online communities or running groups really helped me. The socializing helped reaffirm that I was not by myself with these challenges.
Sometimes diabetics tend to think that we are the only ones on insulin; we are the only ones that have to test our blood, that we are the only ones that know what a blood glucose low is. And yet, others are out there too - struggling everyday with our same challenges. Support each other! Small actions like volunteering or opening yourself up will move you from the scared zone to the stretch zone.
3. Make leaving your comfort zone a habit – daily. We generally are creatures of habit. We do the same things with the same kind of people. Instead, try to make it a habit to leave your comfort zone. I know when I started doing some work in New York City, I was going from my comfort zone of Canada to a scared zone. There were times that I’d be in New York and I would be walking the streets and I would think to myself, “What am I doing here?” I would feel so uncomfortable and I felt that I was so over my head.
But to grow, we need to go into those stretch zones, we need feel a bit uncomfortable and we need to make that a daily habit. And they don’t have to be big things. Small things matter too. For example, take a different route to work, read some different magazines, hang out with some different people or ask good questions! Kids ask good questions all the time and sometimes we don’t. Leaving our comfort zone will ensure our personal and professional growth!
If you do these three things, I think that you will find that you will be moving not only from the comfort zone to the stretch zone, but also from the scared zone to the stretch zone. And the stretch zone is where all the best learning happens.
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