It is a natural behavioural strategy to avoid situations which are stressful or have the potential to be stressful. Of course, one person’s stressor [condition which causes stress] is another’s excitement, exhilaration or challenge—we’re concerned here not with what the stressors are but how they are experienced.
In addition to stressors in business, such deadlines, cashflow problems, difficult clients, it’s important to recognise that we create our own stressors. In anticipating or avoiding a stressful situation, such as a meeting, we create a further stressor. In these cases, it is not the thing itself that it is the stressor, it is the anxiety the person has that the thing might happen that is the stressor. In other words, the stress is entirely self-induced.
Whilst avoidance of stress is necessary at a primitive level, the trouble is that it is too black and white a tactic. It isn’t the case that something is either stressful, and therefore to be avoided, or not stressful. There are degrees. However, the whole idea of ‘comfort zone’ is so ingrained in our culture that we see anywhere outside our comfort zone as being a stress zone.
A more useful belief is to imagine a stretch zone outside the comfort zone. This is a space where we are challenged, the adrenalin is raised, and we get a buzz. We perform better here. The stress zone only shows up outside this stretch zone. We suggest that deliberately aiming to be in the stretch zone for the majority (but not 100%) of our working time will make us more productive, more effective—better at our jobs.
And, the funny thing is, the more we inhabit our stretch zone, the more we get used to it and the more it becomes absorbed into an expanding comfort zone—thus enabling us to extend, in turn, the boundaries of the stretch zone and successfully rise to new, greater challenges.
A colleague told me:
I like to do things which are “comfortably outside my comfort zone” – challenging, but within my capabilities – nothing too scary. They give me new experiences and make life exciting. But more than that, they expand my comfort zone, allowing me to push out further and further in small manageable steps. Sometimes I look back and am amazed at how far I’ve come from my old comfort zone. It’s an exciting journey.
If all this sounds fanciful, then consider the standard model of stress (below) which shows how performance first increases, but then worsens and worsens as one’s reaction to the situation rises. We have mapped the three zones onto this model as follows:
I am indebted to Reg Connolly of Pegasus NLP for introducing me to the idea of the stretch zone. You can read his take on it here. Thanks also to Phil Cheatle
© 2013 Jeremy Marchant Limited . by Jeremy Marchant . updated 30 june 2013 . extended 5 january 2016 . image: Free Images