• David Strittmatter

How to boost your learning curve: From challenges to learning opportunities

Every challenge contains within it the seeds of opportunity and growth

Summary:

  • It's not generally a bad thing to be in one's comfort zone

  • Nevertheless, there're significant reasons to regularly challenge oneself

  • Every once in a while, life offers us the chance to challenge ourselves to safely step out of our comfort zone


Practical advice:

  • Ask yourself whenever you're feeling inconvenience and discomfort: Why do I have this feeling right now?

  • Quickly evaluate the long-term benefit of (not) making use of this opportunity

  • Make a decision and act as soon as possible


Dear friend,


Virtually daily, life offers great learning opportunities that enable us to safely step out of our comfort zone.


For instance, in a foreign language class, you might be asked what you're about to do this weekend. Many people feel inconvenient or even stressed when they're asked to answer such a question in another language in front of other people, preventing them to speak up and capitalize on this learning opportunity.


Another example: You're in a team and need to elaborate an improvement concept. After you successfully conceptualized a great solution, someone asks who's going to present it to your boss/teacher/... Again, discomfort and stress arise in all of your teammates, and only hesitantly someone volunteers.


Stepping out of our comfort zone isn't an ease - for anyone. But why should we nonetheless regularly step out of our comfort zone? How can daily learning opportunities help us to do so? And how can we make use of them? That's what this week's blog article is all about.


Learning outside of your comfort zone


The comfort zone is the routines and realms of our daily lives that give us a sense of familiarity, safety, and security. Unfortunately, this expression has become an overused negatively connotated buzzword for teachers, coaches, and other motivators who encourage us to push our boundaries and try activities outside our usual limits.


It's not generally a bad thing to be in one's comfort zone. There're many good reasons to stick to our familiar, safe, and secure routines. Hence, it's quite unfortunate that motivators often don't emphasize with people who would rather stay inside.


Nevertheless, there're significant reasons to challenge oneself and getting regularly outside of one's comfort zone:


First, we cannot live life to the fullest once we stop learning. Every time you say no to a challenge and avoid leaving your comfort zone, you risk another regret. Don't want to do that safari because you're too afraid even though you would love to do it? Didn't ask that boy/girl for a date because it'd cause inconvenience? If you don’t perform activities that scare or challenge you, you miss out on growth opportunities. And if you don’t try something new, you won’t succeed at anything new. Rewards come to those willing to take risks.


Second, you'll never be truly happy if you cannot overcome your dissatisfaction with parts of your life. For instance, every time you travel to another country and feel too ashamed to use your basic foreign language skills, you'll feel terrible. What's worse, though, nothing will ever change if you don't leave your comfort zone and start using the foreign language. Another common example: There's a person at work, school, in your sports club, ... who behaves like an a**hole. If you and nobody else leave the comfort zone and speak out against this person, this person won't change.


Third, the more often you challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone, the less stressful and inconvenient it will become, and at some point, you'll find yourself having fun breaking out of your familiar routines and realm.


Daily learning opportunities to challenge yourself


Every once in a while, life offers us the chance to challenge ourselves to safely step out of our comfort zone. For example, a foreign language class is a safe environment to practice speaking another language. Nobody will ever talk sh*t about you because you mess up the pronunciation or grammar when you're in this safe learning environment.


Too often, though, we portray these situations not as such but rather as unpleasant, annoying, or even pointless. In your next/first job, you'll be very likely asked to elaborate and present something in a group during your onboarding week. Yes, this procedure won't feel like a great pleasure and you'll question the purpose of those exercises. And when it comes to the question if you want to present your results to another group, you will feel stress and discomfort. Nonetheless, these challenges are great learning opportunities to practice vital skills you'll definitely need in the near future.


By harnessing these little challenges and seizing them as development possibilities, you can safely and easily boost your learning curve. But how can we actually do that?


Identify and capitalize on growth opportunities


First, we need to spot the challenges that manifest as great learning opportunities. Ask yourself whenever you're feeling inconvenience and discomfort: Why do I have this feeling right now? For example, your boss/teacher asked the question in your group: "Who wants to volunteer and lead this initiative on [insert a topic you're passionate about]?"


Since the question was raised, your hands have been sweating and your stomach has been feeling upset. Most people would succumb to these defensive reactions, not even ask themselves why they actually feel this way, and try to alleviate them. This default behavior makes total sense, though, it's not optimal. Our instincts want to protect us from seemingly dangerous and unfamiliar situations, but our amygdala - the part of our brain mainly responsible for these reactions - cannot think long-term but only short-term.


Second, once you identified a situation that might reveal as a great learning opportunity, you need to quickly evaluate the long-term benefit of (not) making use of this opportunity. "What are the benefits of volunteering and leading this initiative on [this topic you're passionate about]?" What could you learn? What do you have to invest in? What are the risks?


Thirdly, make a decision and act as soon as possible. Don't let someone else make the decision or the opportunity pass you by. Too often, we wait too long. Give yourself a max. of 5 seconds to act. The longer you wait, the more inconvenient the situation will become and the less likely you will make use of it.

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