12 February 2015
This week we posted a well-known image on Linkedin and Twitter. It depicts two circles. One is your comfort zone and the second is a large area ‘where the magic happens’. Of course, you can only get to the latter if you leave the former.
There is science behind this theory and it’s not just a set of business buzz words. Robert Yerkes and John Dodson conducted a number of psychological studies in 1908 looking at human performance in different conditions. They made a number of findings. Contrary to most motivational posters you’ll see, being in your comfort zone isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Being ‘comfortable’ means you are familiar with your environment, your surroundings, your tasks and activities and your expected outcomes. You’ve been there and done it all before and you therefore know how to do it again. A certain level of performance is achieved and maintained and it’s consistent.
What Yerkes and Dodson then found was that to maximize our performance we need a state they describe as ‘relative anxiety’. In other words we need to step out of our comfort zone. In this state our blood pumps a little faster around our body. We release adrenaline. Our pupils dilate. We up our game. When we arrive in this space it is described as ‘optimal anxiety’. We all know that anxiety can get the adrenaline going. Most of us have experienced this phenomenon when we’ve challenged ourselves to do something different because the benefits of achievement are potentially high and worth the levels of anxiety we inflict on ourselves. Taking your driving test. Sitting an exam. Asking someone on a date. A parachute jump. You get the idea…
We can also have too much anxiety however. Anyone who has suffered with anxiety knows how debilitating it can be. It can stop us functioning entirely and our performance reaches a low-point very quickly. Getting out of your comfort zone isn’t reckless risk taking.
Getting out of your comfort zone regularly in a controlled and risk-assessed manor is where we make breakthrough differences. It’s where we make step changes rather than incremental improvement. When was the last time you gave yourself a little anxiety to achieve a piece of magic? Go on, challenge yourself tomorrow to do something that makes you feel a little uncomfortable and see the difference you can make!