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Your comfort zone; the place where you feel competent and perform well, but also the place where you can get bored, miss opportunities and stop learning. If you want to grow, it is necessary to step outside your comfort zone.

Senniger’s comfort-learning-panic zone model clearly illustrates this. The comfort zone includes all the situations we already know, skills we have learned and activities that are easy for us. Your panic zone is far beyond your comfort zone; this zone includes challenges that are too great and difficult at the time. You do not yet have the necessary skills, you do not know where to start and you experience a high degree of stress.  The learning zone is located between the comfort zone and panic zone. This zone includes everything that is challenging; things which we have not done before but that are not impossible to do. When you are in your learning zone, you do not experience fear, but rather focus and the positive emotions that come with learning new things.

By spending more time in your learning zone, things shift from the learning zone to the comfort zone. Your comfort zone will ‘stretch’ in this way. Furthermore, other things will move from your panic zone to your learning zone. In other words; you push your boundaries in your learning zone. According to Senniger, you learn best when you alternate between your comfort zone and your learning zone. However, it can be quite difficult to (temporarily) leave your comfort zone; our brain is naturally in the ‘protect and avoid’ default mode. We often prefer to avoid situations that generate tension, uncertainty or other negative emotions in us.

Here are 3 tips that will help you to step into your learning zone:

1. Be brutally honest with yourself. When a challenging situation arises and you avoid it, take an objective look at the reason for avoiding it. If you turn down the opportunity to speak at a conference, is it really because you are too busy, or rather because you find it nerve wracking? Or if you don’t address a colleague about behavior that bothers you, is it because you really believed he would eventually stop doing it, or because you didn’t want to confront him? When you take a look at the excuses you make for yourself and look at them objectively, you discover what the real motives are behind your choices. That is the first step towards making other choices.

2. Turn a big deal into a smaller deal. There are often only a few things that we find exciting about a new situation. That means that there are also things about this situation that we don’t find exciting. By focusing on those things, you can make a difficult situation easier for yourself. For example, do you find it a bit scary to network with strangers, except when it is in a small group of people? Then if you’re on a big networking event, don’t try to talk to everybody there, but focus on 1 or 2 people with whom you experience a click. In any challenging situation, there are opportunities to stay in your comfort zone, even just a little bit. Look for these opportunities and seize them.

3. Take the first step. Stepping out of your comfort zone means there will always be a moment when you cross a threshold. The moment you make the choice to do this, you give yourself a goal to work towards. You can celebrate your first victory over yourself and then focus on achieving success. Therefore, really try to ignore your first tendency to avoid stepping out of your comfortzone.  Make the choice to take that first step out of it and go for something new. Share your goals with others for extra support. Personal growth means growing through trial and error. Leaving your comfort zone will therefore also be accompanied by certain “growing pains”. You take the risk that you can fail, but you also create a chance of great success. By taking small steps and occasionally pushing yourself to do something exciting, you help yourself to reach your full potential.

Good luck!

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