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We all get comfortable and follow routines that are familiar to us. We wake up, drink coffee, and get ready to take on the day. We go to work the same way, eat lunch at the same place, and drive home listening to the same music. We do all of these things without even realizing we have been on autopilot for hours. What is happening in our brains is not rocket science. Study after study finds that people inherently tend to gravitate toward the known; in other words, we love our little comfort zones. Psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson took on the idea of comfort zones back in 1908. They found that a general state of comfort resulted in fixed results and set levels of performance; however, if participants wanted to enhance their performance, unfortunately, they needed to get a little uncomfortable. This zone is what they called the optimal anxiety zone, and it’s just outside our comfort zones. If ideas of bungee jumping and skydiving are causing you to hyperventilate right now, go find a paper bag to breathe into, and sit down. This is probably not your optimal anxiety zone. So, relax and step away from the parachute.
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No, no, no…The results clearly state that too much stress or anxiety can cause you to shut down. So, if you’re scared of heights, using the optimal anxiety zone theory might look like hiking up a hill or taking an elevator to the top floor of your office building. It’s pushing yourself past your comfort zone but not going to extreme measures. By getting uncomfortable, you prove to yourself that you can handle whatever life throws your way. So, each time you try a new dish, take that hike, or decide to go sliding down a water slide called the vertical blackout, you are sending signals to your brain that stress is okay and new situations aren’t scary.
What if I fail?
What if that new dish tastes awful, that hike was unsuccessful, or you bailed on taking the vertical blackout water slide. That’s okay, give yourself a break and resolve in your mind that you will try again later. The problem so many people have is they fear failure. No one likes to fail. The word failure conjures up countless flashbacks of moments that were often painful or downright embarrassing.
However, you must realize that even those moments taught you something valuable. In the book, “Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration,” Ed Catmull says it best:
“Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.”
Maybe the lesson you needed to learn was to study more before a test, take feedback with a grain of salt, or allow plenty of time to prepare for an interview. *Or maybe you learned that you should never put tortilla chips in the oven, because the oil explodes into an angry fireball! (So, I’ve been told.)
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The lessons we learn have the power to change us for better or worse. By taking control of your mind and seeing even your biggest failures served a purpose, you allow yourself the freedom to step into your optimal anxiety zone and change your life.
What is one thing that makes you uncomfortable that you will do today? Here are some suggestions to help you begin brainstorming.
1. Speaking up when you have a new idea in a meeting.
2. Going to that exercise class that plays your favorite music.
3. Learning a new language.
4. Learning a new instrument.
6. Going to a new restaurant.
We’re cheering for you!