Posts Tagged ‘comfort zone’

One of the most over used phrases in coaching today is “get out of your comfort zone”. The thing is, I believe almost no one knows exactly what a comfort zone is and that the idea of getting out of it is actually very dangerous for most people. It’s what kills countless wonderful goals dead in their tracks.

The concept of the comfort zone was first described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1980s in his work on Flow. Flow is the state when your ability to do a task exactly matches the challenge of the task. His definition of the comfort zone is the area around flow where you are either expanding your abilities by stretching just beyond flow, or consolidating your learning by repeating what you have just learned until it becomes natural to you.

Outside the comfort zone are two danger areas – one, where you have gone too far beyond what you know and you are in danger of burning out or of stressing yourself to the point of breaking, either physically or mentally or both. This is called the Burn Out Zone. You can go here, but you can’t stay very long before the stress becomes too much and all learning stops. This is where people have heart attacks or strokes or nervous breakdowns! Why would anyone suggest you want to set your goals out here?

The other zone, which is arguably even more dangerous, is the Rust Out Zone. This is where you don’t take any risks, you don’t stretch beyond what you are absolutely certain of and all you do is repeat the same “safe” behaviour until you die of boredom! This is the zone of drop outs, alcoholics and drug addicts and depression and its often the place where people go after they’ve been hurt in the burn out zone!

So I think what people are really saying when they say get out of your comfort zone is “get out of the rust out zone”! The trouble is that’s not what people hear. So they set themselves tasks that are way out in the burn out zone and then beat themselves up when they don’t achieve them. Do this too often and they fall into the rust out zone where they feel safe but depressed. They feel like failures.

So your ideal state is actually right in the comfort zone! Its where your ability to learn is not compromised by stress or boredom. Surfing the wave between learning and consolidation you are at your most brilliant and most extraordinary!

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While letting go might be simple, we all know that its rarely easy. The theory is great, but the reality is that its a big change and the chances of waking up that Inner Reptile are very high. Letting go always means moving out of an old familiar comfort zone and you need to be prepared for the Inner Reptile to put up a fight!

So while its great to say “just do it”, the chances are if you try to “just do it” in one go, you won’t! You need a plan!

Firstly practice visualising what life will be like without the things that are holding you back. Get really clear on this vision, as always the more detail the better. And it really helps if you can make a vision board to help you hold on to this clarity when things get tough. When you put yourself under the stress of making big changes one of the first things that goes is your ability to see into the future, so having a clear and detailed vision will help you here.

If you can, practice letting go and then holding on again. Remember when you learned to swim or skate – the more you practiced letting go, the longer you found you could do it until eventually you didn’t need the support at all any more. Its not always possible, but if you can do this its a lot less stressful and the change is more likely to stick.

Start to spend more and more time with other people who are already where you want to be. Its a hard fact, but often letting go also means letting go of old friends and relationships and they will want to keep you where you are, not because they wish you ill, but because they don’t want to lose you. Make sure you have new relationships being built that will nurture the new you, otherwise its a bit lonely out there! You don’t always need to sever old connections completely but you do need to become very aware of when old relationships are dragging you backwards and be prepared to deal with them when the time is right.

Make sure when you let go you have something really positive to keep you moving forward. Otherwise the temptation will always be to slip back into old ways of being. Change is nearly always uncomfortable so be gentle with yourself. Recognise this is a process and that there may be times you feel like you’re going backwards. But staying conscious and focused on the reasons for letting go will help you get back on track quickly.

It might seem as if all these steps make the whole process really time consuming and tedious. But the truth is, taking lots and lots of small steps is almost always more productive and more permanent over the longer term than trying to make that one giant leap.

The question is, do you want results or do you want drama?

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OK so you’ve set your big scary impossible goal and made the decision to go for it. Now what? What is the first thing you need to do now?

Get into action of course! Even if you have no idea yet how you are going to achieve this goal, there are plenty of things you do know so make a list and start ticking things off. The faster you can create momentum the better!

It doesn’t matter that you don’t know exactly what you will need to do to complete the goal. In fact if you did know, it wouldn’t be a good goal. Remember, the purpose of a goal is not to get more stuff – we all have way too much stuff in our lives anyway. Its not even to get better stuff, even though better stuff can be fun! The purpose of a goal is personal growth. Its all about learning and growing and expanding our horizons. And the best way you can do that is to set a goal that is so far out of your comfort zone you’ll need a map to find it… and then start drawing the map!

Remember, you are not going to do this all in one go, so you don’t need all the information to start this journey. Think of it as a treasure hunt where you pick up clues along the way. All you need is the courage to make the decision and the passion to keep learning.

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Is it just me or is anyone else getting sick of hearing about the latest “secret” that will unravel all of your hangups and challenges and miraculously make your life perfect with no effort from you whatsoever?

Now trust me when I say that if any of this was actually true I would be first in the queue! I love a quick and easy solution! But the truth is that quick solutions are rarely long term ones. Real change takes time and effort and, most importantly, committment! If there really was a short cut to everything you’d ever dreamed of you can guarantee I would have told you all about it by now.

Look at all the lottery winners who suddenly come into vast fortunes and just as suddenly lose everything. Your brain needs time to adjust to great changes and that’s why lasting changes always take time!

Look closely at any overnight success and you will see years of hard work and preparation to get them to the point where the “overnight” success can take place. And if that groundwork is not there then usually overnight is exactly what they will be.

 Look at all the people who lose vast amounts of weight and a year later are back where they started. Your Inner Reptile will always make sure you go back to your comfort zone unless you put time and energy into creating a new enlarged comfort zone.

Quick fixes are not fixes, they are just sticking plasters! They might make you feel better for a while, they might even be the help you need to get over a challenge and send you on towards your goals but unless you keep up the momentum they will not change anything in the long term.

So it might not be easy – but you are worth it!

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So which is better? Baby steps or giant leaps? Well obviously the giant leaps are going to take you to where you want to be more quickly… or are they?

To hear some coaches speak you would think the only steps worth taking are the huge, take-you-out-of your-comfort-zone, giant steps but I’m not sure that’s true. I think there’s a time and a place for both. For some people the giant steps are relatively easy and they get fantastic results and everyone applauds them and wants to emulate them – they want to know their “secret”.

But the thing is not everyone can take giant steps and, if they try to copy the people that can, they will fail. Probably painfully! And after a couple of attempts most of them will give up and think they are failures and incapable. Which is such a waste because its simply not true.

If I asked you to get from one side of a room to another in one step there’s a possibility there’s a long jump champion or a super-hero in the room who could do it, depending on the size of the room of course, but for everyone else it would be impossible. Most people would have to take 5 or ten steps. So if the objective is to cross the room, do it in as many steps as you need to take. Sure, it won’t be as dramatic as the guy who can do it in one giant leap, but at least you will achieve your goal. And you’ll achieve it a lot more quickly and with a lot less pain than if you persisted in attempting it in one giant leap!

Yes, there will be times when only the giant leap will do, but the confidence you will gain by succeeding in small steps first will make those giant leaps so much easier.

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We have so much to learn from our four legged friends:


If a dog were your teacher, you would learn great stuff  like:
a.. When loved ones come home, always run to greet  them.
b.. Never pass up the opportunity to go for a  joyride.
c.. Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
d.. When it’s in your best interest, practice obedience.
e.. Let others know when they’ve invaded your territory.
f.. Take naps and stretch before rising.
g.. Run, romp, and play daily.
h.. Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
i.. Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
j.. On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
k.. On hot days, drink lots of water and lay under a shady tree.
l.. When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
m.. No matter how often you’re scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout…run right back and make friends.
n.. Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
o.. Eat with gusto and enthusiasm.
p.. Stop when you have had enough.
q.. Be loyal. Never pretend to be something you’re not.
r.. If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
s.. When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.


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Have you ever had that feeling that you have a million things to do but you can’t remember any of them?

This is a classic example of what happens when the inner reptile takes over. He will do almost anything at this point to keep you in a state of total inertia – but don’t beat him up for it! Its just his way of keeping you safe! Remember – goals mean change, change means threat.

The worst thing you can do at this point is push forward. This is one of the reasons why I suggest to people that they should have lots and lots of goals, some easy, some hard, some big, some small, some long term and some instant.

Now is a good time to dig out your list of goals and find a couple of easy instant ones. Things like wash the car, walk the dog, even get your nails done. You see your inner reptile doesn’t really know the difference between big scary goals and small easy ones – they are all goals just the same to him, and when you achieve them you need to celebrate. This way the inner reptile gets to see that not all change is scary and he will release his hold on your brain and you can get right back on track.

When the going gets tough – the tough get a manicure!

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