From the Comfort Zone to the Discovery Zone

20 Apr

Here are some questions I hope will help you turn change into a learning opportunity.

The comfort zone. That “zone” that a lot of trainers want to take you beyond. I don’t like that phrase.

For a start it implies that we are, well, starting from a point of comfort and that might not always be the case. We might develop habits which are actually preventing us from feeling comfortable: in charge, on top of things and well, happy. However, changing them fills us with fear. Fear of the unknown. Ah, fear, we already know that it is the biggest block to progress – I’ve already spoken enough about fear before, so let’s get back to the comfort zone.

The reason why I don’t like the phrase is because it suggests that, to go outside it, you need to feel uncomfortable. There is a belief that in order to progress, in order to learn, you have to step outside your comfort zone, you need to do things that you are uncomfortable with in order to heighten your awareness and see things differently. Maybe that is the case, but what would you rather be told: that you are going to step out of your comfort zone or that you are going to step into the discovery zone? Both might fill you with a little bit of fear (depending on your personality) but which one has a spark of suspense, a hint of a promise of an uplifting experience?

Change, whether initiated by us or imposed on us by others, will always have an element of discovery within it. We might discover something about ourselves, something about those around us, something about the way the team operates, something about “how things are done” in our organisation.

When thinking about the effect of change, I always start with the effect it has on the individual.

Have a think.

How does change affect you?

It might be better to think about a specific instance, when you had to change something about the way you operate, about the way you behave, about the way you interact with others.

What kind of effect would this have had on others? Were you energised? Was it contagious? Were you frustrated? Was that contagious?

Be aware of what is oozing out of you and how it is affecting everyone else. Be sensitive too. Change will have different effects on different people in a team (I’m keeping this post work-related, for simplicity’s sake) – be sensitive enough to mould your joy if you know that someone around you is struggling with change. Yes, use it to show them there is light at the end of the tunnel, but be mindful enough of their worries.

In a similar way, if you are going through a difficult time, look for support where possible to move on. You don’t need to pretend that times aren’t tough, you don’t need to hide your discontent, but don’t let it wash everything you do and spread to those around you.

Find the right place to voice your concerns.

Try to see your problems from a different perspective. Imagine you are advising a friend, what would you do? (I have observed that we are always better at giving other people advice than guiding our own actions ourselves. For research on this, visit Daniel Pink’s blog.)

If you are struggling with change, it might be useful to look for little nuggets of learning hidden amongst the chaos. What can I learn about myself? What am I learning to do differently that will be useful beyond this experience? How is this changing my relationship with others? Am I acquiring new knowledge, new skills?

Sometimes it might take us a while to see clearly though the discovery zone and sometimes, what we learn won’t always have positive connotations.

But if we have no choice but to go through change, why not try to get comfortable with what we are going through and look for little learning gems?

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Posted by on April 20, 2012 in change, leadership


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