THE THREE ZONES: Comfort zone, stretch zone, and stress zone

It truly is a nice thing to be able to sit down on the couch and relax after a long day. Or even to enjoy spending your time with your friends and loved ones indoors, maybe watching movies and playing boardgames. With the world occasionally being chaotic, it is also nice to know what to expect and rely on. Change is constant, however, it does not mean that our lives have to be constantly changing. It does not mean that we have to have new experiences all the time.

Spending time with what you know and what makes you feel comfortable can be very nice and necessary. We have all heard about the comfort zone and many of us have an opinion about it. Is it wrong to be in a zone of comfort? Is it true that ‘nothing can grow there’ or are we looking at it from a faulty perspective?

I have come across a model that explains three different zones: the comfort zone, the stretch zone, and the stress zone. The strength of this model is how it explains the interaction between these three zones. Each zone has its positives and negatives and we can use them to our benefits.

The comfort zone

The comfort zone is a place where you feel comfortable and safe. There are no stressors and there is no internal or external pressure. You know everything here, it is all familiar and there are no challenges.

The comfort zone is a perfect place to rest and recover. The knowledge you gain in the other zones is manifested in the comfort zone. Just think about going to the gym. Your muscles grow and heal when you are at rest. The same goes for the comfort zone. The internal and external stressors you have endured in the other zones have caused some wear and tear, which can now heal with you being in the comfort zone.

However, if you stay here too long it will get boring and meaningless. If you stay with what you know and never look for new things to do or to learn, your life will stay the same. There is no challenge to be found in the comfort zone, which means that there is no opportunity for growth. 

The stretch zone

The stretch zone is just outside of the comfort zone. Now you are stepping into unfamiliar territory allowing yourself to look in the unknown. Here is where growth lies and where you can experience and learn new things. The stretch zone is like working out in the gym, but not too much. Here you workout with weights you can handle, causing sufficient wear and tear on your muscles that can easily heal in the comfort zone, at rest.

Eventually, the more you learn and experience in the stretch zone, the  bigger your comfort zone gets. At one point the stretch zone becomes familiar and your comfort zone growths. The stretch zone is a good place to learn and grow, but you do need to get back to your comfort zone to rest and heal.

The stress zone

In the stress zone, the challenges we face can start to become overwhelming. The challenge is so far away from what is comfortable that we can experience stress and fear. It requires a lot of energy to manage those physiological reactions and we get worn out rapidly. Imaging being able to lift 10kg of weights and then deciding to lift 50kg. Or imaging having difficulty giving presentations to your family and then deciding to speak to a crowd of 100 strangers. Not that these things are impossible to do, however, if you are not comfortable with it yet you might want to take a step in between. If you stay in the stress zone too long you lose the interest and willingness to explore the unknown and run back to the comfort zone saying things like ‘I should’ve never done that’. It is not a bad thing to put yourself in the stress zone, however, be conscious about how long you stay in there.

What to do now?

As mentioned before, you can use all of these zones to your own benefit! Put yourself in the unknown and see how far you come. Whenever it starts to be overwhelming, take a step back, recover and go back at it again. The more you step into the unknown, the more you get to know it. This means that your comfort zone expands. This means that there is more territory for you to explore. Now you can go even further.

Give yourself the time to recover from the adventures in the dark, but don’t stay too comfortable for too long. Life is growth and deep inside you there is an urge to explore.

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