Comfort Zone, Stretch Zone, Panic Zone

Those of us in the Experiential industry often ask our participants to step outside of their comfort zones.   I've used the concepts of Comfort Zone, Stretch Zone and Panic Zone with clients for years, but I've never thought to attribute the three zones to colors.  I was leading a workshop last week and using the metaphor of the stoplight for processing, and one of the participants (Liam McClelland) come up with the idea to use the three colors on the stoplight to represent our comfort zones.  Green:  Comfort Zone.  Yellow:  Stretch Zone.  Red:  Panic Zone.  It was awesome!  I definitely had one of those, "Why didn't I think of that?" moments!  I've been marinating on it all week, so I thought I would share my thoughts on Comfort Zones, how they work and what happens when we push the boundaries of them.
The Three Zones
Comfort Zone:  Where you are comfortable and feel 'safe'.  Routines are easy, I possess skills that enable me to perform tasks well.  
Stretch Zone:  Where you are doing something new, allowing yourself to learn, you feel energized and engaged.  You are willing to take risks.  
Panic Zone:   Where you are paralyzed by fear, cannot think straight and are completely and utterly challenged to use your resources.
Our comfort zone is usually where we spend most of our day to day.  Usually it's with people you know and interact with on a regular basis.  Your work routine is familiar and you are used to your environment.   When I'm facilitating this concept with a group and have a flip chart handy, I like to draw a bulls-eye and label each ring:  Comfort Zone, Stretch Zone and Panic Zone.  Then I ask participants to tell me what each zone looks and feels like. 
Comfort Zone Questions:
  • What does this look like for you?
  • What do you think will be easy for you today?
  • What are some emotions associated with being in your comfort zone?
Stretch Zone Questions:
  • What would it look like if you stretched beyond comfortable today?
  • What would we see?
  • What would you like to change?
  • Where will you start?
Panic Zone Questions:
  • What would push you into the panic zone today?
  • What are you not ready for?
  • What are your roadblocks?
I then encourage them to step outside of their Comfort Zone and into their Stretch Zone with me for the day.  New learning takes place in the Stretch Zone.  We stop learning once we get into the Panic Zone, and we often go into Fight or Flight mode.  That's not a place I want to take people in a 1-2 day training. If I introduce this concept early in the program, I use these terms repeatedly when challenging the group with a new task.  
How could you use this concept with your groups?
What takes you outside of your comfort zone?  

Have fun out there, 
Michelle Cummings headshot
Michelle Cummings
Owner/Trainer/Big Wheel
Training Wheels  
Previous post Next Post