The other day I was talking with friends of mine about the significance of breaking out of one’s comfort zone while not orbiting out in space on the verge of panic. My friends responded immediately saying, “Oh, that’s what our son’s school calls the ‘learning zone.’ There’s the comfort zone where no learning takes place, the panic zone where you’re so freaked your mind is paralyzed and then there’s the learning zone where you’re just able to take in new skills and lessons.”
This explanation is spot on. The comfort zone, although cozy for awhile leads to our premature death. I cringe when I hear people say they’ve worked hard and now want to coast through life or when they feel that because they’re at a certain age, there’s nothing left to learn or they’re incapable of learning. It’s NEVER too late to learn and there is so much to discover, enjoy and do!
When we adopt this attitude, we start to shrink. Suddenly, driving a car becomes too scary; packing a suitcase seems a monumental task; and moving to a new place feels like moving to another planet. This paradigm will lock us into rigidity and fear for the rest of our lives. The learning zone on the other hand describes the edge where we stretch but don’t hurt ourselves; where we find the balance between surrender and will.
The panic zone induces too much, too soon. It’s the equivalent of throwing a kid into the deep end of the swimming pool and saying, “Now swim.” Most likely that child will not be overly fond of swimming sports as an adult. Water can be terrifying. That is too much too soon.
The learning zone takes place in an environment of thrill, risk and a modicum of safety and stability. When a child learns to walk, she most assuredly falls down. She occasionally konks her head in her maneuvering too. Yet typically adults surround her, there to assist if she needs any kind of care and comfort. Yet if the adults hover too persistently, she’ll not take those essentials steps of falter.
What motivates a child to learn is curiosity and desire. The child learns to reach, crawl and walk because there is an object, pet, or person in her proximity that she wants access to and to explore. She wants to touch this object, taste it, and to know where she begins and ends in contrast to this other entity. Growth starts with seeing this said person, place or thing and moving towards it. It starts with vision and then reaching out.
What will motivate us this year to step out of our comfort zones? What do you hope to master and delight in? I dare you to step out in 2016, staying young in heart and spirit by trying something radical, fun, challenging and new. Happy New Years!