The idea of the comfort zone has been around since the early 20th century, when psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of relative comfort creates a steady level of performance. But in order to maximise performance, we need a state of relative anxiety – a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This space is called “Optimal Anxiety,” and is just outside our comfort zone. Too much anxiety and we’re too stressed to be productive, and our performance drops off sharply.
An article in Future Science Leaders suggests that any goal or challenge could fall into either our comfort zone, growth zone or panic zone. A goal in your panic zone would be too frightening to do now, but if you try similar challenges in your growth zone, your comfort zone expands so that things that would have been unthinkable at one point become challenging but doable.
Choosing to step outside your comfort zone in a controlled way helps to build the flexibility and resilience to deal with unexpected changes. This could be something as simple as trying a new dish in your favourite restaurant or assigning a regular activity to a different member of the team. Wherever you start remember that small incremental changes are just as beneficial as big steps – and the important thing is to start.