We might think about being in the ‘zone’ in the context of sport and hitting the point of being really focussed, determined and in tune with our body and mind. However, there are different zones that we can be in and all affect our performance either negatively or positively.
If you are in the ‘rust zone’ you may be bored, uninspired, unmotivated and literally rusting! This could be in a work context, in a relationship or in life in general. When in this zone, our performance is low and it can be a stressful place for some, especially if ordinarily you are someone who likes to feel engaged and valued in what you do.
I often hear people refer to the next zone – the ‘comfort zone’ – being in it, being nervous about something outside of it, stepping out of it or wanting to be out of it. The comfort zone, is, well, comfortable. It is a place where we don’t feel challenged, but for the most part, we like to be in it. However, our performance is about average – we are not pushed or pushing ourselves and so we tend to sit back.
The ‘stretch zone’ is where the magic happens! We are motivated, challenged, take risks and are inspired to perform at our highest. In the workplace, in sport, in relationships, this is where we can get the best out of ourselves and other people – we are literally stretching, developing and pushing to succeed in whatever we have set our mind to.
The ‘strain zone’ and the ‘panic zone’ are the zones where we start to see performance reduce and anxiety increase. Being in the strain zone short-term means we are working under pressure that is more than we can realistically cope with but we may be working to a deadline, or an audit and so there is an end in sight. We might have short periods of strain in our relationships too due to tensions and difficulties. However, long-term, being in the strain zone or tipping in to the panic zone can impact on our mental and physical health and we may become anxious, low in mood, have an inability to cope, become exhausted, struggle to sleep, our eating may be affected, we can burn out and as a result, be physically unwell too.
In essence, we need to be aware of which zone we are in and for how long. If we spend too much time in the rust or comfort zone, stepping out of these can become anxiety provoking and change can become really challenging – what if I can’t do it? What if it doesn’t work out? What if people judge me? (Anxiety loves ‘what if?’).
If we perform more highly in the stretch zone, then surely we need to be there all the time? Well, actually being able step back into our comfort zone, or recognise that where something may have stretched us, it no longer does and is now in our comfort zone, means we can step in and out enabling us to recover, evolve and grow.
Some questions for consideration for you or people in your organisation could be – which zone you are in at the moment? Are you content there? How easily do you move through the zones? What do you need more or less of? Are you in the same zone in all areas of life? Are you stuck in a particular zone and know it is affecting your health and wellbeing? If you feel you need to, what could you do to make positive changes? If you can think about small steps or quick wins, then these may be something you can do to make changes quite quickly and you can start to feel more in control, more motivated and your performance will increase.