Stretch Zone: Between Comfort and Danger

Emily Woodhouse Adventure Stories

Most people have heard of a Comfort Zone. It’s the part of our lives that we are most comfortable in. Whether that’s sitting in bed watching a movie, or paragliding – everyone’s is different. But in our comfort zone, we are 100% happy with what we’re doing. Either it’s so normal we don’t even think about it, or we have mastered the skill. There is no stress involved in our comfort zones. We are content.

It makes sense then, that people often talk about “getting out of your comfort zone”. If you’re in your comfort zone, you’re static. You’re not growing as a person or pushing your horizons. It’s okay to spend some time in your comfort zone – and we all retreat there sometimes. But it’s also good to test your limits, learn new skills and have new experiences.

However, there’s a fine line between being stretched and disaster. For some reason people are very keen to push us out of our comfort zone but not as keen to mention when to stop.

What is a Stretch Zone?

The Stretch Zone is the name I have for the area between comfort and danger. It’s definitely outside of your comfort zone, but not so far out that you’re in trouble.  If your comfort zone is a circle, I image the stretch zone as a band around it.

Usually we can tell for ourselves what lies in each section. For example, eating pizza is in my comfort zone. Eating pizza on top of a 4000m peak would be in my stretch zone. Eating pizza in the middle of a rock climb would be in my danger zone. But, a comfort zone is only simple if you can fit everything into one circle. Life’s not really like that.

Suppose you have been skiing since you were 5 years old, but had never been kayaking. Your comfort zones for skiing and kayaking would be very different sizes. They are probably not even related. You have separate comfort zones for skiing and kayaking. The same goes for everything. You have an acceptable level of weather, altitude, exposure, stress that you still feel comfortable in. After that you’re outside your comfort zone.

Your comfort zones (and associated stretch zones) for each of these factors all interlink when you do an activity. I’ve kept the diagram above to two factors (circles) for simplicity. The intersections of these two circles are the only places where you are truly in your comfort, stretch or danger zones for both factors. I’ve used green for comfort, amber for stretch and red for danger.

In these areas, you know exactly where you stand. Anywhere else it’s a little more hazy… and imagine if we had more than two factors to consider…

Where do you get into Danger?

Things start to get a bit more complicated outside of these definite areas of stretch, comfort and danger. For example, consider all the bits that are outside of the stretch zone for one thing, but inside the comfort or stretch zone for another. I’ve highlighted them in the picture below.

This is a particularly dangerous place to be. You are happily within your comfort zone (or being stretched) for one thing. However, you are hopelessly out of your depth in another. Most accidents happen in these areas. You are lulled into ignoring one danger by the comfort of the other. For example, you might be doing a walk you’ve done hundreds of times in weather so bad you should have never left the house.

The Best Place to Be

The sections left, then, are these two little sections: when you’re in one comfort zone and one stretch zone at the same time.

This is the perfect place to gain new skills or push yourself a little. You know that you’re mostly comfortable, but with just a little bit of stretching in one area. It’s an incremental step from where you are already, to where you want to be. For example, you might be doing a new route in weather you’re comfortable with. Or you might be a confident swimmer going swimming outdoors instead of indoors for the first time.

I refer to the stretch zone a lot, so hopefully this now explains exactly what I mean! If anyone pushes you out of your comfort zone (me included) remember to check where your danger zone starts too.