Comfort, Stretch and Panic Zones

There are three states we typically operate in: our comfort zone, stretch zone or panic zone. Karl Rohnke introduced this zone model by developing the Yerkes-Dodson law (1908), which analysed the relationship between performance and arousal.

When thinking about making a job move, career change or even longevity in a role, we can consider which zone is the optimum one to be in to help us get the most out of that situation.

The boundaries of a zone will vary from person to person.

Comfort zone
When in our comfort zone, activities are familiar or recognisable and are easy to do. We are calm and at ease here. Sometimes when we’re comfortable, we become complacent and have little motivation or desire to instigate change. We may even be bored in this zone because by continuously doing the same things, we’re not learning or developing.

Stretch zone
When in our stretch zone we’re pushing ourselves by taking on something brand new or relatively new, in order to grow and have different experiences. We’re challenging ourselves without becoming overwhelmed. Thinking about doing these kind of activities give us a nervous excitement.

Panic zone
When in our panic zone we’re scared, distressed, daunted and overwhelmed. We want to run away from the situation because we’re being stretched too far, and may go to great lengths to avoid facing that situation. We’re totally uncomfortable and are unlikely to make progress here.

The optimum
Arguably, thinking about changing jobs or pursuing a complete career change falls into most people’s stretch zones. These are challenging, but achievable activities, requiring qualities like dedication, resilience, creativity and commitment. When stretching we are excited about trying something new – be that a smaller-scale change of being in a new environment working for a competitor, or a larger-scale change of starting your own business in a different field.

Everyone’s zones are different. When are you at your most comfortable, stretched and panicked?