Expert Voices: ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’ - By Myffy Cairns

Myffy Cairns is an Associate Data Coach at Multiverse.

‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’ 

This is a phrase often used when justifying your decision to go mountain biking, traveling for a year, or even jumping out of a plane. It helps to provide that much-needed courage to overcome those feelings of fear or anxiety in extreme situations. But what if this mantra was not solely reserved for the justification of extreme sports? What if it was also used in the workplace and what impact would it have?

In my first year as a secondary school teacher, I became aware of the unique and diverse fears that students faced in every lesson at school. For some it was the fear of putting up their hand to ask for help in front of the class and for others it was reading text out loud from a textbook or working in a group. A student’s fear of completing these tasks could often trigger a negative spiral of behaviour that compromised their learning and the learning of others. As their teacher I began to reflect and ask myself a few questions; how have I overcome my fears in the past and how could I empower students to overcome theirs and accept them as challenges? 

Whether it was to calm my nerves before an exam or mentally prepare for a netball match, the mantra above helped me to manage my emotions and see things as learning opportunities. But how could I use this to help the students manage their emotions too? As everyone does in the 21st Century, I turned to google to help me out. I found an interesting article on the ‘Comfort, Stretch and Panic model’, which describes three different zones:

  • Comfort Zone - where everything feels comfortable and there is no fear or discomfort

  • Stretch Zone - where things feel awkward and unfamiliar but not too extreme that learning can’t occur

  • Panic Zone - where things appear overwhelming and uncontrollable

 

In order to engage in personal development, one has to push themselves into their stretch zone to constantly expand their current capabilities. Over time, your fears will become your challenges and your challenges will become your normality.

With the students in class, we each identified what was in our comfort, stretch, and panic zones. This sparked discussion around the students’ basis for their fears and how they would overcome these by using effective goal-setting. I was overwhelmed with the honesty and motivation from the students and the impact this had on positive relationship building. By acknowledging their fears and setting goals, it gave students the confidence to put up their hand to ask for help or offer to read out loud. The smile on their face from such a simple action was priceless.

It was so powerful that I repeated this exercise at the start of the year with every new class. I would first show the items in my comfort, stretch and panic zones and then encourage the students to do theirs too. Even though this process started as a learning experience for the students, as I repeated it year on year, I was overwhelmed with the powerful impact it had on my personal development too. It was exhilarating moving items from my stretch zone into my comfort zone and panic zone into the stretch zone from one year to the next. I went from fearing speaking during staff meetings to delivering presentations to the whole staff body. 

This method allowed me to reflect and acknowledge my fears, prioritise my areas for development and set myself small, manageable goals to help overcome them. I actually learned to enjoy those feelings of nerves as I knew that I was pushing myself to be better but it also helped me to realise when things were too overwhelming and I needed to take smaller steps. Sharing my experiences with the students added another dimension to our discussions, completely shifted my mindset and has helped to realise the individuality of the challenges everyone faces on a day-to-day basis. 
 

Why don’t you try this too? 

  1. Make a copy of the template here 

  1. Identify what is in your comfort, stretch and panic zone. This could be speaking in a meeting, presenting in front of your colleagues, asking to work on a particular project, asking a question, asking for help or anything else that is specific to you. Don’t be afraid to put it down now matter how small it seems.

  1. Set yourself 3 goals based on items in your stretch zone.

  1. REVIEW and REVISE!! This is often forgotten, but it is the most important. Take time to reflect on what you’ve achieved and make sure you celebrate your success! Revise the items in each of your zones and set goals for your future development. 

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