The Stretch Zone
Updated: Feb 28
Our unconscious human mind instinctively seeks out safety, security and comfort. Our distant ancestors had to spend time hunter-gathering, fending off predators and trying to keep cool, dry or hot, depending on their location. Danger and fear burn up substantial energy, so being able to relax somewhere safe, with enough food and water was essential for survival.
As we’ve evolved, we are less likely in the modern world to be hungry, thirsty or without shelter. We are, however, more likely to be worried about other pressing issues such as debt, relationships and job security.
We’re unlikely to get through life without having to make changes of some sort, breaking out of routine, or trying something new and challenging. Resting on our laurels won't yield new results, but sometimes moving outside one’s comfort zone feels literally threatening.
Our prehistoric selves are still with us through the unchanging response of our unconscious mind. We respond with unease, fear or even panic. Worse still, this part of our mind tells us that sticking to the status quo will keep us safe from harm. However, fear of change can prevent us making the progress we seek.
The corporate world coined the term ‘stretch goals’, those achievements that require high effort and which are high risk. Such goals are aimed at inspiring the team and shaking it out of complacency. It’s important to note that stretch goals are not intended to be completely achieved but are set to improve drive and enthusiasm.
The space between your current circumstances and your stretch goal is your stretch zone.
It offers opportunity, a chance for self-fulfilment, forward motion, new horizons. Call it what you will, you won’t be standing still. Fortunately, the stretch zone can be conquered by taking small steps. Every single step is a win. Small steps mean you are always moving along without unmanageable anxiety.
Stress - friend or foe?
The word ‘stress’ is bandied about considerably in our busy modern times. It’s a code word for negative feelings of strain and pressure. However, there are forms of stress; distress is unproductive and uncomfortable. Eu-stress (from the Greek eu, meaning ‘good’) is the positive energy that drives us. Uncomfortable, but not insuperable.
As we move towards change, we may experience three modes – current comfort, the stretch zone and panic. Comfort is where we are now. In panic mode we are responding with our prehistoric, unconscious minds, unable to learn while we are busy managing our flight or fight responses. The likelihood is that we retreat to our comfort zone again, burnt by experience. It makes us less likely to try again.
In the stretch zone however, difficult and unfamiliar situations teach us where our boundaries lie, what we can really achieve and how personal development is possible. Working in the stretch zone can actually expand the the comfort zone to somewhere new and uncharted.
Where is the boundary?
If my heart is pounding because I am about to go on a rollercoaster, am I afraid or excited? The physical response may be the same, but the interpretation is different.
When I see a musician at a high-profile concert take the stage, I often wonder what they are feeling – and suspect if they were not at least a little nervous, their performance wouldn’t be quite so refined and perfect. This nervousness I like to call ‘performance adrenaline’ – the body’s chemical response to challenge – just enough to encourage focus and excellence, not so much though that you drop the violin, miss the piano notes or flee the stage. That’s the sweet spot.
When we are in unfamiliar territory, moving with some level of trepidation, but still in control, learning occurs.
So how do we manage our stretch zone?
Familiarise yourself with discomfort.
Habits are formed in our unconscious mind. When we use our rational mind to begin something new, our unconscious resists. But repetition and resistance to failure helps us form new patterns.
Remember: discomfort is always only temporary.
Monitor your progress.
Remember those times in the past when you’ve tried something new and adapted. Flexibility is key. Situations that used to be difficult may have become When approaching a challenge that feels outside of your comfort zone, it can be helpful to remember times you’ve faced other new situations and learned to adapt. Circumstances that once made you feel nervous are now established and familiar.
Take it slowly.
Take small steps that you can take without feeling overwhelmed. What is your goal? List-makers – make lists! Spread-sheet enthusiasts – plan it out! Mind-mappers – grab a sheet of A3 and coloured pens!
Then decide when, where and how you’re going to take those steps. Picture it in your mind, even if it’s a courageous conversation, or a visit to tackle something challenging.
How are you feeling?
Ask yourself how you’re doing. Am I overwhelmed with panic, or am I nervous, but moving along? What am I proud of? What’s been good this week?
If you feel challenged, you’re in the stretch zone. If you feel panicked, you’ve moved beyond that and won’t be learning or progressing.
Move back one space if you need to.
While you’re in the stretch zone, movement is possible. Also your unconscious tells you, you are actually fine and can continue safely. If you’re suddenly feeling panicked or overwhelmed, your unconscious will be sending danger signals which may manifest in bodily symptoms. These prevent learning. At this point, it’s fine to take a step back. It’s important not to retreat totally to the comfort zone as this sets up repeated patterns that tell the mind that it’s unsafe out there and change is threatening.
You may need someone with you on the journey through the unfamiliar. A solution focused therapist or hypnotherapist will help you remember and monitor what has been positive at each stage and will help you maintain self-esteem and forward motion.
Contact Flourish Hypnotherapy in Harrogate and District for friendly, professional, experienced help with your stretch goals. www.nowflourish.net
#stress #Harrogate #hypnotherapy #anxiety #lifegoals