“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
Neale Donald Walsch
An important concept for the coach is the Comfort / Strech / Panic Zone model.
The comfort zone can be described as a behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk (1). A person’s personality can be described by his or her comfort zones. Highly successful persons may routinely step outside their comfort zones, to accomplish what they wish. (2) A comfort zone is a type of mental conditioning that causes a person to create and operate mental boundaries. Such boundaries create an unfounded sense of security. Like inertia, a person who has established a comfort zone in a particular axis of his or her life, will tend to stay within that zone without stepping outside of it.
To step outside a comfort zone into the strech zone, a person must experiment with new and different behaviours, and then experience the new and different responses that then occur within their environment. To step out of the comfort zone raises the anxiety level engendering a stress response, the result of which is an enhanced level of concentration and focus. White (2009) refers to this as the Optimal Performance Zone – a zone in which the performance of a person can be enhanced and in which their skills can be optimized. However, White (2009) also observes that if the work of Robert Yerkes (3) is considered in which he reported ‘Anxiety improves performance until a certain optimum level of arousal has been reached.
Beyond that point, in the panic zone, performance deteriorates as higher levels of anxiety are attained. If a person steps beyond the optimum performance zone they enter a “danger zone” in which performance will decline rapidly as higher levels of anxiety or discomfort occur.
The objective of the coach is to cause the person to enter the optimum performance zone for a sufficient period of time so that new skills and performance can be achieved and become embedded. The same reasoning is used with goal setting: change the anxiety level and the performance will change.
- White, Alasdair A. K. “From Comfort Zone to Performance Management” White & MacLean Publishing 2009. ISBN 978-2-930583-01-3. 
- A study by the University of Pennsylvania examined many people to find the most important ingredient of success. It was neither IQ, nor EQ, but the ability to persevere when things were not going well, and the quality that allows a person to work on things that are difficult, rather than gravitating towards things that are easy.
- Yerkes, R & Dodson, J. – “The Dancing Mouse, A Study in Animal Behavior” 1907 “Journal of Comparative Neurology & Psychology”, Number 18, pp 459–482