Working as facilitators on a high ropes course has taught us many things about fear, comfort zones and experiential learning. We open every session with a challenge by choice interaction where we ask our groups to step outside their comfort zone. We wondered how this applies to travel. Not in your comfort zone is, by definition, uncomfortable. Are we really going to suggest that people spend their vacations being uncomfortable? Expanding your comfort zone or returning to it for a brief respite are critical tools for travel but, in the end, you need to leave your comfort zone for one very important reason. Just outside of comfort is an important place for experiential learning – the growth zone.
Your comfort zone is like a fuzzy robe and slippers
The session goes something like this… Everybody reach your arms out and give yourself a big hug. This is your comfort zone. It’s safe and cozy like a fuzzy robe and slippers. Now open your arms up wide and turn around. This is your challenge zone. You are open to new experiences but outside of your comfort zone. Somewhere, out beyond your fingertips is the panic zone [we say as we wave our arms in the air]. We don’t want you in the panic zone, and if that happens you can always come back to the comfort zone [as we hug ourselves] until you are ready to return to the growth zone [as we open our arms wide].
New experiences live in the growth zone
Lets think of some things as see how they make us feel. Sitting on the couch eating mac and cheese. Trying new food from a street vendor in a night market. Eating bugs with Bear Grylls. Your hometown. A foreign city where you can’t read the signs or speak the language. The tree you see laying in your bed. A redwood outside of your tent. Rushing down a river in a whitewater kayak. Swimming with sharks. Petting dolphins. Your family holiday celebration. An exotic festival with new songs and bright costumes. For each question, the group will have given a self-hug, open to the world or waving their hands in panic.
Everybody is different
After the comfort, challenge, panic exercise we ask open ended questions about what we have learned. The usual responses are: Some people are afraid of nothing. Everybody has different things they are comfortable with. Some of the things that sounded the most fun also sounded scary. It’s ok to be afraid, but you still want to challenge yourself. After a day of climbing high elements and zip lining, we ask the group about their comfort zone. Almost everybody says they felt a little afraid at times, but they were glad that challenged their fears and tried new things.
Travel is a tool for personal growth
The growth zone is always just beyond your comfort zone. Travel is a fantastic tool for personal growth and experiential learning. We will continue to offer advice to expand your comfort zone (or at least ward off panic) and inspiration so you know it is all worth it. We hope that you will continue to choose challenge and open your arms wide to the world. In the end, that is what being an adventurist is.