How often do you step out of your comfort zone? If you can’t recall then it’s probably not enough! As someone who is naturally very shy and introverted I often struggle with this one myself. I usually spend a lot of time thinking about stepping out of my comfort zone before I actually do it. For me, the fear can be crippling. Oddly enough, my biggest fear isn’t failure. I’m more scared of what other people will think or say about me for trying it in the first place. Logically, I know that not everyone will like me and the trolls are irrelevant. However, logic doesn’t always prevail and most of my actions are driven by my feelings.
I know I’m not the only one who feels like this. And, I bet your feelings are a major driver behind your actions as well. So, let’s explore the Zone Of Proximal Development and how it can benefit you in breaking out of your comfort zone in a constructive manner. So, according to Russian Developmental Psychologist Lev Vygotsky, the zone of proximal development is this grey area somewhere in between high levels of anxiety and slow growth.
State Of High Anxiety
For some people, stepping too far outside their comfort zone can put them in a state of extreme anxiety. When you’re in a state of extreme anxiety learning becomes very difficult, if not impossible. Depending on the severity of your anxiety, your cognitive function can be impaired because your brain is so focused on whatever it is that is causing you to feel anxious. It can’t process both the thing triggering your anxiety and whatever you’re trying to learn simultaneously.
I’ll give you an example, In college I studied psychology and legal studies. As a child, I wanted to become a lawyer. So going into college my post grad plan was law school. Anyways, I took a torts class as part of my minor. 1/3 of our grade was based on a mock trial assignment. During the mock trial I completely froze. Even with prompts, I couldn’t remember any of my prepared notes. The more I thought about my dwindling grade and everyone staring at me, the more I panicked. Thankfully, since it was a mock trial we were graded as a group. I didn’t fail, but I did feel bad for my group. So, what did I learn from my mock trial? Nothing! Except that I needed to have a couple of glasses of wine before my moot court assignment.
Now that you have a better understanding of how having too much anxiety can impair your ability to achieve growth when you’re outside your comfort zone, let’s talk about why slow growth isn’t ideal either. Slow growth is the zone in which you’re your own teacher. As you can imagine, this can only take you so far. You can read up on a topic and try to follow written instructions but without feedback from an expert your knowledge will be limited to your own perception. As you can imagine, in most cases your trial and error phase will be longer than if you had someone there to guide you. Can you achieve success this way? Maybe, but it’ll usually take a lot longer and there is always the chance that you’ll become discouraged by your lack of progress and give up.
Zone Of Proximal Development
Then there is the Zone Of Proximal Development which is a state in which you’re learning something new, but you also have guidance from someone else who is knowledgeable about the subject matter there to give you advice or tips to improve your performance. For example, if you have a fear of public speaking, you could seek out a mentor or take a class geared toward public speaking that way you are able to receive guidance on your performance in a safe environment. The more guidance and tips you receive, the better you become, the better you become the more your confidence grows, the more confident you feel the less uncomfortable you feel in that situation.
Ultimately, some discomfort is helpful. In can push you to perform and think in new ways. When you’re in a new environment your brain has to figure out how to navigate the new scenario. However, drifting too far outside of your comfort zone can thrust you into a state extreme anxiety. In this state, your brain can’t make those new neural pathways because it’s too focused on what is causing you to feel overly anxious. Obviously, staying in your comfort zone or tip toeing at the edge of your comfort zone isn’t the answer if you want change. That’s what happens in a state of slow growth. You’re basically tip toeing right at the edge of your comfort zone. Sure you could make progress, but the progress will be so slow that you become discouraged by the whole process.
If you’ve ever taken a course through Coursera or EdX with the intent of just watching the lectures and not submitting the assignments you’re probably already familiar with this feeling. I know I am. I’ve tried taking several courses on these platforms with the intent of watching the lectures, but not submitting the assignments because I felt self conscious. I never completed those courses. The moral of the story is if you want growth, then you need to go out of your comfort zone. Just be careful not to go too far or it could hinder you instead.