"Step outside your comfort zone."
That has become a mantra among success gurus.
Of course, it makes sense. If you only do the same old things, then you won't change your current circumstances. If you keep doing what you already know, then you won't grow.
That simple... or is it?
Growing, whether in the form of learning a new skill or taking your business to the next level, is not as straightforward as just going outside your comfort zone.
Few people realize this: outside your comfort zone is a vast space, and not everything out there is going to be good for you.
That's why simply going outside your comfort zone does not guarantee success. Research and experience have shown that how far out you go will determine whether you succeed slowly, quickly, or implode.
The Zone of Slow Growth
There is a zone where you can do something new and different by figuring things out yourself.
We do this all the time. Maybe you read a book and then take what you've learned and run away with it. Or you watch a YouTube video and, voila, you've fixed the clunking washing machine.
In this zone, you do grow, but slowly. After all, there's only so much you can work out by yourself. Eventually, you will reach a point where you're not learning anything new anymore, or the next step is simply beyond your capacity to self-learn. You can DIY only so far.
The Zone of Destructive Anxiety
Far away from the zone of slow growth, there's a zone that's so far outside your comfort zone that it causes high anxiety.
Don't get me wrong. Going anywhere outside your comfort zone causes discomfort. It causes stress.
But while some anxiety improves learning, too much impedes performance, researchers Robert Yerkes and John Dodson discovered in 1908.
You don't want to go into the zone so terrifying that you fall apart. You may grow and learn something new, but at a high price.
The Ideal Zone for Growth
Somewhere in between is the ideal zone for learning and growth. This is what Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky called the Zone of Proximal Development.
This is where you'll find the tasks that you can perform, if you put in extra effort and received proper support.
This is the area between what you can do on your own and what you can perform successfully with the help of either a teacher or a knowledgeable peer.
This is like reading a book and then taking a class on the same subject.
Or trying out a new marketing strategy under the guidance of a business coach.
Or embarking on a regular exercise program and hiring a personal trainer to advise you through the process.
You grow faster in this zone, because your teacher or guide provides instruction, direction, and a perspective you can't give to yourself. Self-study requires trial and error, which takes time and money, and brings unpredictable results.
With a teacher, you avoid the common pitfalls. When you hit a speed bump, solutions are close at hand. Anxiety declines, because you feel supported as you go out into the unknown.
All this creates the perfect storm for you to grow and grow fast.
And so the best way to develop is by moving into your Zone of Proximal Development, neither too close nor too far from your comfort zone.
Success Is A Moving Target
As you stretch yourself, your comfort zone expands.
What was once new and scary becomes your new normal. What was your Zone of Proximal Development has become your status quo.
Some people take a life-changing risk once, succeed, and then, they stay there. They stop taking chances. They stop going outside their comfort zone.
In other words, they stagnate.
And that is the beginning of the end. To keep growing, you must keep moving into your ever-shifting Zone of Proximal Development.