Working in the growth zone: between stretch and panic

The other night in mixed martial arts, I had my tip test, an interim exam before testing for a full-color belt.

You work with one partner all class, running through different drills, so that the instructor can evaluate your technique.

I always have great training partners. They are focused, hard-working and strong. Usually, they are in my age and belt range.

This time, I was paired with a teenage black belt. Thankfully for me, he was just recovering from a cold, so instead of running four circles for every one of mine, he just ran two. His reflexes are lightening fast, and he is always the first to finish a set of 25  burpees (a torturous exercise devised by Royal H. Burpee in the 1930′s, probably as some form of  payback for a rough childhood).

From the first drill, I could feel my heart pounding. He started with a much faster pace than I was used to, and I wondered if I could sustain it the whole test.

But after adjusting to him, I started to notice something: I felt better. I pushed harder. And my head was more in the game, because if I did not pay attention, I would actually get smashed in the face.

Nothing like clear incentives.

It made me think about all the areas of my life where I need to get out of my comfort zone, and into my growth zone.

Your growth zone

Your growth zone happens right between stretching yourself to do better than your best, and feeling overly challenged and panicked.

Every part of your life has growth zones: parenting, fitness, work, romance.

If you keep doing the same old thing, your performance will not improve, and in many cases, it will begin to suffer. That which does not continue to grow usually starts to die.

5 Ways to find your growth zone

  1. Know your best.
    If you are a blogger, know which post was your best-written, or most effective at bringing traffic to your blog. Study it, and remember what you did to elicit great performance. If you are a runner, know your fastest time.
  2. Find people who make you feel slightly uncomfortable because they are so good.
    If you have been successful, it is easy to get used to always being at the top of the class. People pat you on the back, and you get that self-satisfied, slightly glib attitude.
    Find someone who runs circles around you. After your shock wears off, you may feel some passion burning in your chest. Passion to push yourself, to study them and understand what it is they do that makes them so great. Ask any great performing team in a corporation, or sports, or partnership what makes their relationship great, and most will tell you that every person pulls equal weight, and pushes for mastery and personal development.
  3. Switch up your routine.Monotony breeds complacency. If you are a soccer nut, try a Zumba class. If you love to write, try a weekend singing class. Pushing yourself in new directions will open up your brain, and your body. To borrow from my self defense background, the safest people are those who are alert, aware and slightly paranoid that something scary is coming around the corner.
  4. Take new risks.
    Put yourself in situations where you really stretch  your limits. Put out a business offer than is more complete and expensive than you have ever done. Sign up for a marathon, even if you don’t think you can do it. Submit an article to the most prestigious publication you can think of, even if you don’t feel totally ready.
  5. Practice humility.
    It is impossible to be in the growth zone and not fail, sometimes publicly. When you do, take your losses with grace, always looking for lessons to apply to the next time.  If you push yourself in the growth zone, you will fail, but learn a tremendous amount.

The comfort zone is safe, reliable and pleasant. It is also deadly.

The growth zone brings you alive.

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