A few weeks ago, I saw this picture. It reminded of research that shows a strong connection between our ability to overcome challenge and our willingness to experience discomfort. In other words, if there is too much overlap between the two circles, it will it be harder — or even impossible— to change. Too much overlap means I’m not challenging myself enough. However, the opposite is also true. If I am pushed too far outside my comfort zone, I feel threatened beyond my ability to respond. If I’m stretched too far I will give up or freak out. When it comes to growth, it seems we need to “go all Goldilocks.”
Effective growth happens when we are significantly stretched to meet important demands. But if the stretch is too difficult –or we don’t feel we have the resources or skill to achieve it— growth becomes unlikely.
Take a look at the picture again.
Think about a challenge or opportunity you currently face. When you think about that growth opportunity, what distance would you put between the two circles? Are they overlapping at all? Are they separated by quite a distance? When we face growth-challenges, the gap between the circles matters, a lot. There are, of course, times when the gap is wide. The wider the gap, the more likely we are in some kind of crisis. During a crisis it’s often difficult to believe there is any magic to be made at all. We are just trying to survive. After a crisis though, we look back and see that there was magic in the mess. We can learn a lot during times of crisis. But we certainly we don’t want to live in a perpetual crisis just so we can experience change or growth. And so that leads to the Goldilocks technique I will name, “strategic distancing.”
Strategic distancing occurs when we strategically move the two circles away from each other until we find the place of healthy tension or pressure. Once in the healthy tension, we can utilize our resources to engage the challenge, which then is more likely to lead to the growth or success we desire. The trick is to keep the circles at a distance that allows for the healthy tension, and the possibility of growth.
Think about building physical muscle in the gym. To build muscle we have to strategically add weight to tax our muscles (the right amount of weight adds healthy tension). Too much weight and we hurt ourselves. Too little weight and we build no new muscle. When it comes to adding muscle mass, the key is finding the right distance between weight that is too hard and weight that is too easy. The same is true for psychological, emotional and professional growth of any kind.
Again, think about that area of change or growth you are currently facing.
Here a few suggestions and questions that can help you strategically distance your comfort zone from the the place of greater effectiveness.
- First, name your area of growth. If you had to give your challenge a name that was both realistic (highlighted the hard work) and optimistic (highlighted the desired change), what would you name it?
- Next, what are you doing to stretch yourself beyond your current capabilities?
- Are you overloading yourself with so much difficulty that you are unable to manage the change?
- Are you cutting yourself too much of a break in order to stay comfortable, which in turn will thwart new growth?
- What are the signs that things are getting too easy or too hard in your quest for change and growth?
- And finally…What is one action you could take today that would help you put the right distance between your comfort zone and the magic? Be specific.
Strategic distancing allows you to determine the distance between comfort and “stretch.” We don’t always have this luxury, but when we do we should take full advantage of it. Don’t wait for the crisis. Start putting the right distance between your current state and the one you desire. Goldilocks your growth.