#956 Your Learning Zone

vs. Your Comfort and Panic Zones

In our last +1, we did a gold-medal-winning layback Ina Bauer with Shizuka Arakawa.

Then we counted the number of times she had to fall on her butt in order to achieve that ineffably elegant level of excellence.

Recall: Estimate = 20,000 times!!!

While discussing Shizuka’s sheer awesome, we referenced some wisdom from Geoff Colvin’s Talent Is Overrated about the fact that great performance comes from being willing to step outside of our comfort zones far enough to master new, harder skills.

As he said: “A study of figure skaters found that sub-elite skaters spent lots of time working on the jumps they could already do, while skaters at the highest levels spent more time on the jumps they couldn’t do, the kind that ultimately win Olympic medals and that involve lots of falling down before they’re mastered.

Although I made a quick parenthetical aside praising the power of “Stretching out of our comfort zones into our stretch zones (but not into our panic zones!) for the win!,” I want to make sure we’re all on the same page on just how important it is to STRETCH but not SNAP.


Let’s take a quick look at some more wisdom from Colvin on the subject.

He tells us: “Noel Richy, a professor at the University of Michigan business school and former chief of General Electric’s famous Crotonville management development center, illustrates the point by drawing three concentric circles. He labels the inner circle ‘comfort zone,’ the middle one ‘learning zone,’ and the outer one ‘panic zone.’ Only by choosing activities in the learning zone can one make progress. That’s the location of skills and abilities that are just out of reach. We can never make progress in the comfort zone because those are the activities we can already do easily, while panic-zone activities are so hard that we don’t even know how to approach them.

Identifying the learning zone, which is not simple, and then forcing oneself to stay continually in it as it changes, which is even harder — these are the first and most important characteristics of deliberate practice.

I like that.

Three concentric circles.

Comfort zone.
Learning zone.
Panic zone.

VERY similar to our chats on Dynamic Tension and finding the right spot where we s t r e t c h but don’t SNAP!

Imagine a rubber band held between your pointer fingers on your left and right hands. If you don’t pull at all, there’s no tension. Comfort zone. Not a whole lot of growth. If you pull TOO hard, you’ll snap the rubber band. Snap zone. Ouch.

The ideal? Stretch it so there’s some nice dynamic tension. Not too much. Not too little. The stretch zone. Aka the Learning Zone.

btw: This is ALSO very much like our chat on finding the “Flow Channel” in which we match our Skills to appropriate Challenges.

Recall: Too much Skill without enough Challenge and we get Boredom. Whereas, if we have too much Challenge and too little Skill we get Anxiety. Proper match? FLOW!

Call it whatever we want:

Learning Zone. Stretch Zone. Flow Zone.

Let’s play there.


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