Many people say ‘There’s no learning in the comfort zone, and there’s no comfort in the learning zone’; at least I’ve heard it many times. It probably comes from the feeling that learning is difficult because it is a change (in behaviour or knowledge) and, therefore, an effort. To be honest, I don’t fully agree with that. From my point of view, learning is everywhere: in and out of our comfort zone.
We learn better this way
Before becoming grown-ups, we usually learn lots of things; some of them by playing, taking this as a natural way to learn (many times, without noticing that we are actually learning). This play-based learning has shown a positive impact on individuals’ development because we, human, learn best when at least one of the following conditions is present:
- We take an active role in the learning process.
- We are engaged.
- Information is meaningful.
- We interact in a social context.
Therefore, when we are active, engaged, social and can make meaningful connections with a previous piece of information, we learn better.
That’s why many people facilitate learning and discovery by using tools such Lego®, especially with grown-ups.
You may argue that not everything can be learnt by playing, and you’re probably right, but I feel we should look carefully at this effortless play-based learning.
Is there something here that we take advantage of?
In my previous post, I talked about the dichotomy between control and confidence and how the strategy we choose has to do with the learning process (or the absence of it). From a leadership perspective, it may be important to understand how we can create the conditions to make our team learn fast and with less effort, nearer to their comfort zone.
When we talk about going out of our comfort zone to learn, we are talking about going to a place with a higher level of uncertainty because of the unknown.
This concept, the comfort zone, comes from an experiment ran at the beginning of the 20th century that explained that a state of relative comfort generates a constant level of performance. And to improve that performance, we need to experience a certain degree of anxiety. When we reach that anxiety level, we are just outside the boundaries of our comfort zone. And we can learn.
Do we really need to go out our comfort zone?
We now know, thanks to the advance in neuroscience, that stress and performance are related in an “inverted U curve”. A low degree of stress is associated with low performance, as is high stress (we enter that fight or flight mode). Therefore, moderate levels of stress correlate with the highest performance and can be good for learning.
Some examples of inoculate moderate stress in a context can be changing up the format of a discussion or introducing an activity that implies individual participation or movement.
Well managed, these things are more like senses-awaken conditions and not necessarily anxiety triggers. Maybe it is here where a good learning takes place. In a place where our brain is fully immersed in the activity. This is known as state of flow.
The state of flow is a state where ‘the ego falls away. Time flies.  Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost’. And this can be also applied to the learning process.
It will be the best place for learning, won’t be?
Learning from there has many advantages because it provides better emotional regulation (no need to feel anxiety) and motivation; therefore, people will feel engaged. It also triggers creativity; and the learning process will become way smoother.
Leaders need to create the right conditions for their people to develop and there’s no need they always go outside the comfort zone. Learning is everywhere and if we manage to effortless get it, it will be way more effective.