By Mary Jaksch
What does ‘self development’ really mean?
I think it means that we leave the safety of our ‘status quo’ and reach for a way of being that is new. This often means that we have to overcome fear and doubt. There is an easy way to do this and a difficult one.
Which do you choose: easy or difficult?
The difficult way is to jump into the new way of being immediately, without giving yourself time to adjust. For example, if you want to exercise more, the difficult way is to start running for half an hour each morning. That’s a sure way to undermine positive change!
The easy way is to embrace the three zones of change: comfort, stretch, and stress.
- Comfort is the realm of our ingrained habits.
- Stress happens when the challenge is so great that we feel overwhelmed.
- Stretch is the zone in which sustained change happens.
Let’s say you want your body to become more flexible and start doing regular stretches. If you pull back on your stretch the moment you leave your comfort zone, nothing will happen. On the extreme side, if you put too much stress on your muscles, you’ll risk injury.
However, if you move into a zone where there is discomfort, your flexibility will improve.
The comfort zone has its own importance. For example, it’s important to hold a stretch and relax into it until it feels comfortable. Only then should one enter the stretch zone once more in order to lengthen muscles and ligaments.
The optimal way of change is to alternate between comfort and stretch, whilst avoiding stress.
The stretch zone can feel uncomfortable because the new skills or behaviors feel strange and awkward. It’s an important phase of change because it fuses old habits with the new.
Try this: lace your hands together.
Now do it with the other thumb on top. Feels strange, doesn’t it?
That’s the valuable moment we call confusion, when we fuse the old with the new.
After the phase of confusion, the brain begins organizing the new input, creating new pathways in the brain.
This is an unusual take on the term ‘confusion’. But it is in line with the original meaning, as ‘confusion’ means ‘binding together’. It means that it is necessary for the habitual and the new to fuse, in order for a new habit to form.
The stretch zone has important implications for brain health.
Getting into the stretch zone is good for you. It helps keep your brain healthy. It turns out that unless we continue to learn new things, which challenges our brains to create new pathways, they literally begin to atrophy, which may result in dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.
Continuously stretching and challenging ourselves even helps us lose weight, according to one study. Researchers who asked folks to do something different every day – listen to a new radio station, for instance – found that they lost and kept off weight. No one is sure why, but scientists speculate that getting out of routines makes us more aware in general.
Which zone do you tend to inhabit?
- Do your prize comfort? Resist change? If so, you maybe someone who lives mostly in the comfort zone.
- Do you love learning and growing? Then you maybe spend most of your time in the stretch zone.
- If you often feel stressed and overwhelmed, you may be inhabiting the stress zone.
All three zones have their place in life.
The comfort zone is the phase of hibernation. In winter no shoots can be seen above the ground, but beneath the earth root are growing. The shoots are getting ready to pierce the soil and taste the sunlight. This phase is common in creative endeavors. It’s the stillness and seeming dullness that we can experience just before a brain wave.
We need to inhabit the stress zone when we’re faced with new situation that has to be mastered in a hurry.
The stretch zone is the zone of creativity and innovation.
You cannot have innovation, unless you are willing stretch and move through the unknown to the new.
This means that in order to come through confusion into growth, we need to embrace not-knowing. We need to develop a tolerance for ambiguity. This ‘not knowing’ allows us to find something new in our life and grow in a way we couldn’t previously imagine.
What is your experience of comfort, stretch, and grow?
If you enjoyed this article, click here to read How to Develop Your Intelligence at Any Age