Updated: Jul 24
Testing Your Limits and Challenging Your Fears
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 ourselves or with our small group of confidantes.
Yet, 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. The outside world is often filled with social expectations, with conflict, with stress. Many introverts have grown up with frustration which leads to defeat or low self-esteem, especially when compared to others who seem much more at ease, carefree, and adventurous.
So how do we break free to become our best selves?
Growth Rings provide a simple yet effective way to expand your comfort zone for any facet of our life, from relationships and social to work and hobbies. This process has enabled me to grow in many different ways including running a half marathon, mentoring many individuals at work, and being vulnerable through my own memoir. 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:
The inner circle is our HOME Zone. This is our 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, a movie, or dinner with family. This also includes those most comfortable times at work where we can pursue our passion without feeling the need to put on a mask or be someone else. However, as enticing as it sounds, we are missing out when we stay in this zone. If we dip our toe in the water, we will find anxiety at times, but we will also find new favorites, passions, and pride.
The first ring from the middle is the Neighborhood Ring. It's nearby, it's familiar. It doesn't require much risk-taking. If we acknowledge our introversion and learn about our strengths, we can begin to use those superpowers to stretch beyond our natural comfort zone and try new things. These new activities apply our 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.
The next ring from the center is the Adventure Ring. This ring requires us to go further out of our 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 you and questions you may throw out there to meld into the conversation. I even jot these on a piece of paper and review it in the bathroom when if I suffer from introvert's paralysis during the evening. This ring is much less comfortable. You may grow to like it. It may take some practice.
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 attend 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. Yet one of my HOME Zones 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 is my Neighborhood Ring. I used my empathy and calm demeanor to build trust and we began sharing concerns and solutions as a group for their career development. I took a chance and as a result, made an impact on many and grabbed an energy boost during the 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 1:1 mentoring that kicked off this path but far from the unbearable anxiety of the larger role.
4 Keys to Using the Rings
Understand your strengths. Take our Personalized Introvert 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.
Dip your toe in the water. Use your strengths and start with small steps in the next Ring.
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 a new comfort zone for you.
If the satisfaction is dwarfed by the stress, STOP. 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 yourself in many ways. But the idea is that it builds happiness and confidence, not detracts from it.
You will find that some activities will remain in your HOME Zone. 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.