“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” Abraham Maslow

Are you sitting comfortably? Maybe that’s the problem! Leaders need to step out of their comfort zone and into the unknown if they are to grow and achieve.

Most of us love being in our comfort zone – it’s very comfortable, after all. However, real success comes from reaching our growth zone. To get there, we have to step out of our comfort zone, push through our fear zone, and move through our learning zone until we achieve the growth zone.

To describe this process, I have seen various iterations of a diagram circulating on social media. The original author seems unknown, but it derives from the Learning Zone Model developed by Tom Senninger, a German educator; which is, in turn, based on Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. The diagram is this one – or similar.


Source: PositivePsychology.com Toolkit – ‘Leaving The Comfort Zone’


It describes four zones through which you can (and need to) progress if you are to learn, grow, develop and achieve your objectives.

The important thing to note is that leaders spend a lot of time in the learning and growth zones.

Let’s take a closer look at these zones, in brief:


The Comfort Zone

The phrase ‘comfort zone’ was coined by Judith Bardwick in her book, Danger in the Comfort Zone: “The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.”

We are all familiar with this place. Here, we feel comfortable, safe, secure and in control. Who wouldn’t like it? We are quite satisfied with what we know and what we have, here: we know the routine, how to behave and what to do, and if we’re happy with that, we don’t really look towards leaving. There are few or no risks, no anxiety, and from utilising a limited range of behaviors, we can get predictable outcomes. There may be little motivation to move out of the comfort zone, but – the rewards here are limited.

Staying in your comfort zone isn’t bad, but your growth is limited. If you are  looking to lead, make a difference, have an impact – you will need to move out of the comfort zone and travel to the growth zone. It is here that you will achieve your main objectives and experience fulfilment, and can then choose even more ambitious new goals. But there are a couple more zones to pass through on your journey to growth.

The Fear Zone

Upon leaving the familiar warmth of the comfort zone, you will encounter the unknown: you are in the fear zone! Here, experiencing the discomfort of the new and unfamiliar, you will probably feel less self-confident, less capable, and more worried about what other people think and say. You may even be affected or discouraged by their opinions.

However, this is merely a stage on your journey. To develop and evolve further, you will need to spend some time here. It’s important to develop a growth mindset – the belief that you can learn new things, change, and achieve.

The fear felt in this space is actually the normal state of nervous excitement we get from trying something new that often propels us, not a debilitating state of overwhelm that shuts us down. It’s also important to remember that if fear does turn to overwhelm, it is time to stop and check in with yourself. You can’t learn when your amygdala is on fire and you are experiencing a chronic state of fight-flight-freeze. Hence, whether your leap into the unknown is learning a new skill or leading a team, when you frame it as a learning opportunity linked to your values and goals, this can assuage the fear so you can move forward.

The Learning Zone

Here, you will hone and stretch your existing abilities and skills and, more importantly, learn new ones. You will face challenges and problems, and become aware of opportunities. You may experience some pressure, but this can have a positive impact, driving you on. The learning zone shares similarities with Carol Dweck’s work on the growth mindset, especially in the sense of embracing challenge and pushing against the limits of what you already know, to improve and develop your skills. When you challenge yourself, you can achieve things that once felt impossible or scary. This is all part of learning and growth.

Life is an adventure here, so stay curious and ask questions. This is the place where you try out new things, embrace trial and error, make mistakes and take calculated risks.  It makes sense to open yourself to seeing failure as feedback. Choose to leave behind any negative feelings about failing, and simply take the learning forward, to enable your greater success.

Interestingly, when you move into the learning and growth zones, your comfort zone gets bigger, embracing you again. Becoming adept and mastering new skills puts you in a new comfort zone.

The Growth Zone

By the time you reach this zone, you have moved through fear(s), learned new things, risen to challenges, broken through limitations, sought and found solutions. Your comfort zone has expanded with you, and you have moved into personal and professional growth.

Here in the growth zone, you are pursuing and accomplishing self-actualization goals related to your dreams, passion, values, purpose and desired future. This is about achieving your full potential as a human being.

This is where many leaders – formal and informal live. This is also the place for setting more ambitious goals that will help you to live the life you want, in accordance with your sense of purpose.

And since encouraging others to also learn and grow is part of the leadership role, the process is iterative, generating wider benefits to others. Beyond their own self-actualization, leaders with a growth mindset strive to maximise their team’s potential and accountability, driving business growth, too.

So, how do you traverse all these zones, and keep moving forward to reach the growth zone?


3 Traveler’s Tips

Leaders often live outside their comfort zone. So if you are looking to lead and/or have more impact (in any space) you will likely need to travel from the comfort zone into other zones to achieve growth. To do this, it helps to have tangible, actionable steps and strategies to move you forward – and if you’re feeling stuck, you’ll need something to motivate you to keep moving forward.

Here are 3 ways to venture beyond (your) comfort:

1. Tap Into Your ‘Why’

If you’re ever feeling stuck, revisit your values and your ‘why’ – or that which is important to you. Remember why you are venturing outside of your comfort zone, and that sense of purpose will motivate you. You might even ask yourself 5 whys, to drill down further and really get to your highest purpose.

The process is to ask yourself ‘Why am I doing this?’ and for each answer you give, keep asking yourself ‘Why?’ Or ‘Why is that important?’

For example, here’s how I worked with one coaching client, Hana, on this:

Q: Why are you taking this leadership course? – A: To help my career.

Q: Why? – A: So that I can get a promotion and earn more money.

Q: Why is that important? – A: It will get rid of some financial worries.

Do turn any negative motivation (moving away from anything you don’t want) into a positive one. So, here, Hana was running away from something, and I needed to turn it around to something she could move towards.

Q: Can you turn that to a positive? What positive will it give you? – A: I’ll feel that I have achieved something, and have more security for my family.

Q: Why is that important? – A: Then, I’ll feel that I’m living up to my potential and be setting a positive role model for my kids, and it means we can live comfortably and happily.

Q: Why is that important? – A: Because… it’s all I’ve ever wanted – a secure, happy future for my family, and to feel that I’ve made a difference in life.

The motivation becomes more compelling, the more you tap into what’s important to you or your ‘why’.

2. Keep Your Eye on the Prize

The rewards or benefits in the learning and growth zones contribute to our self-actualization and often feed our soul, so keeping your eyes on the prize can help you to move onward.

The rewards of the growth zone include:

  • Personal growth and self-actualization
  • Greater confidence
  • Professional growth and career progress
  • Greater impact and ability to contribute
  • Innovation and creativity
  • Improved problem-solving skills
  • Adaptability
  • Better relationship-building and networks

Focusing on the numerous benefits and rewards can be a strong motivator. When the reward outweighs the risk, it is much easier to motivate yourself to stretch.

3. Get a coach

Sometimes, you need someone objective to help you to identify the best steps to take, and to walk along with you while you take those steps forward – someone to enable you to see the opportunities, help decide on the direction and support you on your journey to learning and growth.

A good coach can help you to progress, whichever zone you find yourself in. Whether you’re stuck in your comfort zone or fearfully stepping out; or in the process of learning or in the growth zone – a coach will help to clarify your vision, identify your goals and develop strategies to get you where you want to be.

A coach can be your thought partner and support, someone who can help you to see the benefits of movement and how this can help you achieve what is important to you. They can also challenge you and provide accountability support.


Are you ready for new challenges and prepared for the journey ahead, to greater growth and even self-actualization? You are not alone. Traverse the zones. Step out of that ever-expanding comfort zone, keep learning and keep growing to become a better leader and a better human being.

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