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How to Grow by Stretching Kindly

We Don't Have to Invite Fear When We Peek Beyond Our Comfort Zone

We are all creatures of habit. We develop our own comfort zones based on our strengths. Outgoing people have their favorite places - often amongst people. Introverts tend to find serenity by themselves or with their small group of confidantes.

Everyone, extrovert and introvert, needs to continue to stretch and reach in order to grow, but it may be particularly difficult for more reserved people. Many introverts grow up frustrated as they battle the pressure of social norms. This can often lead to an overt sense of self-consciousness, often coupled with low self-esteem. This may be especially true when compared to others who seem much more at ease, carefree, and adventurous.

So how can you break free to become your best self?

Growth Rings

Growth Rings provide a simple yet effective way to expand your comfort zone for any facet of your life, from relationships and social outings to work and hobbies. This process provides small steps to test one's self in a compassionate and rewarding way. As such, I've stretched myself to run a half marathon, mentor many individuals at work, and be vulnerable enough to write my own memoir.

And perhaps most importantly, I've also been able to give myself permission to pull back when I've stretched too far.

This week's post is an update of one of our most popular posts yet! I think this subject resonates with many introverts because as much as we all cherish our comfort zones, we are often quite driven to chase our dreams and try new things. We just aren't sure how to do it.
Yet the benefits are well worthwhile. As we explore and embrace our natural strengths, we build the confidence to apply those talents to overcome traditional obstacles. As we do that, we can recognize that nothing is out of reach if we approach it 'our way.'
The Growth Rings Model provides a roadmap for doing just that!

As a result, I've had many magic moments I'd never dreamed of and have discovered a new sense of self-esteem that has been absent since my childhood. You too can reach new heights with your own Growth Rings:

  1. The inner circle is your HOME Base. This is your natural comfort zone. It's whatever brings you tranquility and peace that you migrate to at the end of a long day. For introverts, this may include reading, writing, watching a movie, or having dinner with family. This also includes those most comfortable times at work when you can pursue your passion without feeling the need to put on a mask or be someone else. However, as enticing as it sounds, you are missing out when you only stay in this zone. If you dip your toe in the water, you will find anxiety at times, but you will also find new favorites, passions, and pride.

  2. The first ring from the middle is the Neighborhood Ring. It's nearby, it's familiar. It doesn't require much risk-taking. If you acknowledge your introversion and learn about your strengths, you can begin to use those superpowers to stretch beyond your natural comfort zone and try new things. These new activities apply your natural abilities in different ways. For instance, on a social scale, you may be most comfortable at home alone or with your immediate family. But if you leverage your strengths of creativity and planning, you may find a whole new joy socializing with co-workers or friendly acquaintances.

  3. The next ring from the center is the Adventure Ring. This ring requires you to go further out of your comfort zone. It's like a road trip. We are in new, unchartered territory. It's exciting yet scary. Here again, lean on your strengths to try new experiences. You will feel like you are stretching far from your comfort zone. In our social example, you may attend a friend's party with mostly strangers. You can lean on your preparation to ease your apprehension. You can ask your host in advance who will be there. You can prepare some interesting points about yourself and questions you may throw out to others to meld into the conversation. I even jot these points on a piece of paper and review them in the bathroom if I suffer from introvert's paralysis (brain freeze) during the evening. This ring is much less comfortable. You may grow to like it. It may take some practice but it's a valuable skill.

  4. The outside ring is the Frontier Ring. You are far from comfortable. You may never feel ready to take this leap and that's ok, but if you take steps through the Neighborhood and Adventure Rings, you may feel up to the challenge. Socially, you may attend a cocktail hour, go to a bar, or join a conference social with a room full of strangers. Come prepared to introduce yourself and meet others. Let curiosity be your guide.

This formula provides a pathway to test your limits and challenge your fears. As a lifelong introvert, I understand how difficult this might be. But I also understand the value of trying new things.

EXAMPLE: Working the Rings

I've always been shy and reserved (two very different things). Yet one of my HOME Bases at work is a desire or calling to help others - to teach and to learn. I've always sought opportunities to mentor younger employees, listen to their issues, and share some advice.

Eventually, I realized I was getting new energy from sharing and decided to expand my experience as a leader of a mentoring circle of about ten relatively new employees. This was my Neighborhood Ring. I used my empathy and calm demeanor to build trust and we began sharing concerns and solutions for their career development. I took a chance and as a result, made an impact on many and grabbed an energy boost during my day.

Feeling more confident, I later secured a supervisory role in a small team of about 12. This moved me into the Adventure Ring which offered considerably more vulnerability, tension, and responsibilities than mentoring, but it also provided me with gratification and pride. It took a lot of practice and patience, but this leap was well worthwhile.

My career eventually gave me the opportunity to manage a larger team of about thirty staff spread around the globe. I was definitely in the Frontier Ring - far from my comfort zone. I leaned on my experience and worked hard to succeed, but found that this role was not filled with joy. I seemed to be consumed with administrative tasks and corporate politics, far away from the small team meetings and mentoring that I had grown to love. My days had more social responsibilities and moments of conflict than I could tolerate. The stress of the role far outweighed the satisfaction from the activities that drew me to it. In this case, I found the Frontier Ring was not a good fit for me. I eventually returned to a more suitable supervisory role that fit my personality; well beyond the one-on-one mentoring that kicked off this path but far from the unbearable anxiety of the larger role.

4 Keys to Using the Rings

  1. Understand your strengths. Join over 1600 people and take our Personalized Introvert Superpower Quiz to learn about your strengths and how to leverage them. Lean on these strengths to give yourself confidence and the tools you need to test your limits.

  2. Dip your toe in the water. Use your strengths and start with small steps in the next Ring. You will find the enjoyment of the ripples will be alluring and gratifying.

  3. Gauge your excitement. Consider if your excitement, pride, and satisfaction are greater than the fear, stress, or discomfort. If it is, keep going. Practice will help make this part of your expanded comfort zone.

  4. Stretch kindly. If the satisfaction is dwarfed by the stress, STOP. Practice self-compassion. Be proud of trying. Many do not. Your aim is not to be like someone else - a gregarious extrovert, a motivational speaker, or a daredevil. You are just trying to be the best you. This experience of stretching will expand you in many ways. The idea is that the Growth Rings build happiness and confidence in a safe way.

You will find that some activities will remain in your HOME Base. Many others will stretch to your Neighborhood Ring. Fewer will land in the Adventure Ring and perhaps none will land on the Frontier Ring. Your goal is not to push everything out to the extreme, but just to use your strengths to test your limits and create your new Comfort Zone.

Try this tactic at work (networking, meetings, leadership) and at home (socializing, exercise, hobbies) and see how you can make a difference by stretching kindly!


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The Questions Introverts Ponder


The Answers Extroverts Need to Hear

Introversion often feels so alone and many of us assume no one else could feel this way. Contained in this book are many of the questions that have been asked, often by introverts trying to understand this personality trait that can at times govern our lives.

Hi Steve! I just wanted to say I'm incredibly thankful that I came across your blog. I currently have your [Q&A] booklet up on my work computer and every single line resonates with me. I've struggled my entire life with introversion, but your guide is helping me realize that I need to embrace it instead of feeling embarrassed! Anyways, your content is awesome and I'm planning on sharing some info with my team. -GK 2/8/2022

I also hear from many introverts struggling to share their introversion with family, friends, and co-workers, either out of fear or just not having the words. I hope this booklet may serve to educate others to better understand the many strengths and talents we have to share.

I hope you will find this booklet an informative read and reference book with a splash of light-heartedness and inspiration as well. I invite you to start with the questions you are most curious about and share from there.



I'm excited to share my greatest socializing secret...the List of Four!


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