Recently I have found myself reflecting back on how much I have grown as a person over the last year. The beautiful thing about growth is that your progress is measurable, meaning that you can see very visible results. Often when we get too fixated on self-improvement and growth we can forget to sit back and reflect on how far we have actually come.
Through deep reflection I came to the realisation that due to my ‘go getter’ nature once I achieve a personal goal I go straight on to the next one, leaving little room for me to appreciate the present moment. I also observe this same thing happening to those around me. What is the purpose of putting in hard work and dedication while working towards an achievement if you do not acknowledge your own progress? While being focused on achieving these goals in order to become your best possible version is amazing, it is also equally as important to hit the pause button sometimes. It is mandatory to sit back and acknowledge your progress in the present moment so that you can let the gratitude flow through you before moving on to your next goal. After all growth and self-improvement is a life-long process and there will always be new goals, so if we do not dedicate time to honour our own hard work and progress then when will we? Everyone wants to aim for greatness so that they can push past their comfort-zone and I whole-heartedly support pushing your own boundaries for growth, however did you know that pushing too far out of that zone too soon can actually be counter-productive?
Firstly lets address the basics, American psychologist Robert Yerkes most recognised for his excellent intelligence testing skills in humans and animals created meaning to the word “comfort zone” alongside Dr John Dodson. Together the two discovered that in order to achieve a consistent level of progress individuals needed to be in a state of relative comfort. To achieve the highest level of consistent performance however individuals need to leave their “comfort zone” and achieve “optimal anxiety”, which is where stress levels are slightly more elevated than normal. Staying within this area is ideal for those who are striving for success through maximum performance. If however you push even further and begin to experience higher levels of anxiety due to pushing too far out of your comfort zone (and into the danger zone as highlighted by Terkes (1907), then this will result in a drop in performance, as there is too much stress around internal and external expectations. Staying within the danger zone too frequently can subconsciously reinforce the message to yourself that change is “bad” and that anything outside of your comfort zone is a direct threat to your wellbeing. This is important to consider because as discussed in various previous posts we now understand that the subconscious brain takes up 95% of your brain. This means that it controls almost all of our actions.
This brings me back to my point above about how it is very important after achieving a goal to sit back and be present in the moment. Kelley (2016) places emphasis upon this point too, in her book ‘Career Courage’. She acknowledges that it is important to “reach the finish line” and “keep moving forward” but also explains that you need to “take a break form your efforts to get ahead”. So for example if you have just achieved the goal of ‘changing the way that you react’ in certain situations, if you do not allow yourself to sit in the present with this new non-reactive attitude then each time you react in this new way you will be sitting just outside of your comfort zone in the “optimal anxiety” zone. This means that each time you are ‘not reacting’ to situations that you normally would, you are consistently maintaining your maximum amount of progress because it is out of the ordinary to react in this way so this new behaviour is unsettling.
This can be worrying because then if you come across say 5 situations that require your new “non-reactive attitude” then it can push your past your “optimal anxiety zone”, as it is five different situations that require unfamiliar behaviour, resulting in even more anxiety. In turn this means that your performance levels will drop dramatically. If however you choose to reflect on your non-reactive behaviour and learn to sit in the discomfort while staying present in the moment, then this unfamiliar behaviour will soon become familiar, later residing within your comfort zone. In which case you would be able to move along to your next goal by stepping outside of your newly grown comfort zone. Kelly (2016) also acknowledges the importance of sitting with uneasiness as Executive Coach Kim Ann Curtin told her that “helping clients learn how to live with discomfort eventually builds up their tolerance and they find it gets easier and less unfamiliar over time”.
Maybe after that then next goal could be to ‘practice setting clear boundaries’? In this case you would repeat the process all over again. The point of this example is that it is very important to push past your comfort zone in order to grow, as emphasised by authors like Nelson Beaudoin in “Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone” (2005). He states that pushing passed your comfort zone results in change, which “leads to discomfort, feelings of incompetence and self doubt. But even though those feelings exist, the outcomes are usually good and sometimes miraculous”. However if you do not sit there in that moment after growth and appreciate how far you’ve come then familiarise yourself with the new changes then you may become stagnant due to excessive anxiety and stress. If you set goal after goal and just keep knocking them off your list without adjusting to the new change (and appreciating it) then it is highly likely that your progress and performance levels will drop.
Upon reflection, this topic in general is very interesting to me because it is right in front of our eyes, everyday. For example after working out you will not see any physical results or feel any muscle pain until your body has time to hit the pause button and acknowledge what changes have been made to it. Only afterwards it reacts accordingly and not long afterwards that becomes your “new” fitness level so the next time you workout you are able to push even further than the last time. This same concept can be applied to practically any situation and it still is accurate. Another example could be people who train for all-you-can-eat competitions. After earing large portions, their stomachs hit the pause button and react appropriately adjust to the new changes by growing. This is why for their next competition they will be able to eat more, as their stomachs have grown, in turn expanding the “comfort zone”.
So how do you take time out to appreciate your progress and become comfortable with change? I find journaling helps a lot because that way you have a tangible track on your progress. So you can go back to last month or last year and read where you were at in that point of time and then compare it to where you are in the present. This way you can pin point how much you have grown and how capable you are of achieving things that might have felt unattainable just a few weeks back. You can look at what your thought process was during that stage, what your goals were, whether there was a shift in confidence levels, coping mechanisms and many other things. If you are not that interested in journaling even just sitting back and reflecting on how the “old you” would have handled situations that you may face right now. It is only when you compare yourself you truly realise how much of a shift has occurred. I find that these comparisons are very motivating for me because they act as a reminder that you can make the impossible possible. It also highlights the fact that most barriers are illusions and that you really can do anything that you put your mind to. That is of course assuming that you are willing to obtain the necessary skills and if you are not facing any systemic barriers that are out of your control. An example of a systemic barrier might be a lack of first or second generational rights (to education, healthcare, housing etc). Another example might be racism and other forms of oppression and exclusion.