Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Zoning - In or Out of the Comfort Zone

Rachel Burnham writes: A few years ago we were away on holiday in Dumfries & Galloway and went out for a walk along a headland.   It was a beautiful day, blue skied, white fluffy clouds, seabirds calling out, wildflowers in bloom, one of those days that seem near perfect.  Our path took us alongside a cliff top and suddenly, out of nowhere I was rocked with dizziness and had to sit down right there & then.  I couldn’t move.  I was frozen.  Some other walkers passed us and I was dimly aware of them looking at me and commenting on me.
That was the first indication that I had developed vertigo.   I am no great walker and even less of a mountain climber but I have always managed. Now, whenever, I find myself with a steep slope to get down – I either have to get down on my bottom or backwards very slowly with my hand held by a patient family member.  Either way pretty embarrassing. 

About a year later, I found myself in Central London with a free afternoon and decided to visit Tate Modern.  As it was a lovely day, I decided to walk along the river and cross the Millennium Bridge.  This bridge is well known for its movement and vibration.  Wow, what a challenge that was – for me!  For most people, it would be a straightforward and pleasant way to cross the river.   But for me, on my own, that afternoon it took me right out of my comfort zone.   

I was OK at first, the rocking movement was immediately noticeable, but I wanted to do this and I felt fine & full of confidence.   But that confidence all dissolved as I got out into the middle of the river and the motion got worse and worse, while I started to feel sick and then got stuck – unable to move – right in the middle of a bridge in the middle of London.   I know it seems crazy, but I froze feeling panicked – how on earth was I to get off this wretched bridge, I was all alone, there was no one to help me.  It felt like ages that I stood there – I don’t supposed that it was actually that long.  Because somehow I focused my eyes on the shoulders of a person who was just in front of me and just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other.   And slowly, one step at a time, I got over the bridge.

I didn’t see a single thing either side of the bridge, I had to  concentrate too hard on moving forward.  And when I got to the other side, I was shaking and too tired to visit the Tate – I headed straight for a cup of tea. 

But I had crossed the bridge.  (To this date, my family still don’t quite believe that I did.)  

Often in L&D, we talk about taking people out of their comfort zones and challenging them.  We talk as though this is always a good thing.  About the benefits to be gained from trying new things and taking on new challenges.  And this is often true.

But we never really know where the boundaries between zones are for individuals. Where the boundary is between that place where we are challenged & can learn and a place where we are panicked & unable to learn.  If we find ourselves in a place that is too uncomfortable, we can shut down and be so focused on just getting through it, that we are unable to learn much at all from the experience.

It is good to offer stretch.  It is not good to force it on someone else.  It is good to encourage taking on new challenges.    It is not good to push someone else.  Though it is good to push yourself to try out new experiences, new responsibilities, new styles, new ways of thinking.  It is great to offer choices.  It is great to be invitational & to encourage people to ‘walk with you’ in a new direction and to walk alongside in support.

I have been reflecting over the last few weeks about how I challenge the people I’m working with.  How I challenge friends & family.  And how I challenge myself.  I am not sure that I have been getting the balance right and want to do better.

I think I have been making too many assumptions about what will stretch and be a helpful challenge for others, based on my own experiences and not listening/observing enough.  I could be more responsive to what I notice.

How do you challenge the people you work with and yourself?  How much challenge is a good thing?  How do you widen that learning zone and spot when the panic zone is being approached?

(By the way, 'Zoning' is the title of one of my very favourite albums by the jazz pianist, composer & arranger Mary Lou Williams. It is well worth listening to.)
Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals become even more effective.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance.
Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

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