I am frustrated by the fact that this description is over 100 years old, and yet as I look around at society, we clearly don’t get it.
“A little over a century ago Robert Yerkes, a celebrated psychologist, began speaking of a behavioral theory whereby, in order to optimize performance, humans must reach a level of stress slightly higher than normal. He referred to this as “Optimal Anxiety” and it seems that this space exists just outside of our comfort zone.
What this means is that, yes, your comfort zone is a brilliant place to exist, but it likely won’t prepare to handle some of those curveballs life is going to drop on you like an unwelcome family guest at the dinner table you haven’t set a place for. However, Yerkes did also add that:
“Anxiety improves performance until a certain optimum level of arousal has been reached. Beyond that point, performance deteriorates as higher levels of anxiety are attained.””
Here’s the thing. For many of us, and Western society in general, life has never been more comfortable. That’s not to say there are no uncomfortable issues, it’s just that compared to the days of fighting off rival tribes for your house and family, we’re leading pretty cushy lives. Yet anxiety is at an all time high, maybe because we’ve glamorized the ultimate ideas of breaking out of your comfort zone. If you look at social media, it’s clear that unless you’re running ultra-marathons, climbing mountains, or running 3 side hustles to pay for traveling the world, you’re just a slacker. But you can’t go from zero to there. It’s too much. It creates too much anxiety, which lowers your ability to grow, which creates more anxiety and eventually pushes you back to zero. So instead of being crushed by all the things you see on social media that you aren’t doing, maybe it’d be better for your overall growth, and mental health, if you simply focused on going from zero to .1. Then maybe to .2. You can’t get to 10 without those little steps. Trying to skip them is obviously not working.
Remember, a little anxiety is good, it is how you grow and build resilience and confidence. This is an important part of healing. Too much will crush you. Go read the rest of the article for some good advice on how to work in your “growth zone”.