We’ve all have heard of the comfort zone, but did you know there are two other zones? Tom Senninger explained a helpful model of two other zones. According to him, there are three zones. Comfort, Learning & Panic zone.
In order to learn we have to explore and venture out into the unknown. We already know our immediate surroundings, which form our Comfort Zone. In the Comfort Zone, things are familiar to us; we feel comfortable and don’t have to take any risks. The Comfort Zone is important because it gives us a place to return to, to reflect and make sense of things – a safe haven.
Although it is cosy to stay in our Comfort Zone, we have to leave it in order to get to know the unknown. We need to explore our Learning Zone, which lies just outside of our secure environment. Only in the Learning Zone can we grow and learn, live out our curiosity and make new discoveries, and thus slowly expand our Comfort Zone by becoming more familiar with more things. Going into our Learning Zone is a borderline experience – we feel we’re exploring the edge of our abilities, our limits, how far we dare to leave our Comfort Zone.
Today’s photograph of Weaver ants on Indian almond leaf is my experiment going out of my Comfort Zone into the Learning Zone. I was shooting with Canon EOS 5DS R with Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. I used LumiQuest SoftBox III on Godox Ving V860C II E-TTL Li-ion Flash as the backlight behind these large leaves to illuminate. There were several difficulties faced. When I used on green leaves the ant too turned green which was difficult to correct in post-processing. Then I had to choose brownish leaves which had ants on them. Since the leaves were still fixed to the tree, I had to raise a light stand and position the softbox behind the leaf strategically. I was able to trigger the flash wirelessly using a Godox X1C Wireless Trigger.
Since this was a macro capture of the leaf as well as the ant, I did not go very close to the ant but captured the scene from little away from the ants to get that deeper depth of field. The images here are slightly cropped.
I also wanted to get a good composition, especially of the leaf veins and ants. The nats also need to be translucent and clean y focused. With all these constraints put to me, it was quite a struggle. Since I could not talk to these ants to pose in a certain way, it was another struggle to wait for them to give me the pose I want. Fortunately, they were searching for a nesting location nearby, so were in large number. There were many moments during this shoot, I went into the Panic Zone and returned back to Learning Zone.
Panic Zone lies beyond the Learning Zone, wherein learning is impossible, as it is blocked by a sense of fear. Any learning connected with negative emotions is memorized in a part of the human brain that we can access only in similar emotional situations. Experiences of being in our Panic Zone are frequently traumatic, and any sense of curiosity is shut down by a need to get out of our Panic Zone. Therefore, we should aim to get close to, but not into, our Panic Zone.
Both the comfort zone and the panic zone can be confused for the learning zone. In my photographic workshops, I would wonder why my students never were getting better. It turned out they were practising in their comfort zone. They were taking the things they already knew (like a very familiar subject) and clicking it over and over. While “practising” they were essentially going through the motions, but not engaged and therefore they weren’t getting better. If the task at hand is boring or too easy, it’s an indication that we’re not in the learning zone.
On the opposite end, we can also mistake the panic zone as the learning zone. Some people make this mistake since they’ve heard “no pain no gain” so many times. However, they’re not synonymous and if this were true, the happiest and most successful people would be in lots of pain. If you’ve ever watched someone learn to swim, they often start in the panic zone and need to be talked down into the learning zone before they can actually acquire the skills to stay above water. While the panic zone and learning zone may involve forms of “pain” and challenges, the panic zone is a place where we are lost and in the learning zone, we are focused and open to new ideas.
So, if we know that boredom is an indication of the comfort zone, and losing focus or being frantic is indicative of the panic zone, the learning zone is easier to spot. The learning zone can also be thought of as the growth, engaged, or enjoyment zone. When we learn, there’s usually a level of engagement or enjoyment. We’re neither bored nor uneasy; we’re learning. Identifying what zone you are in and making the necessary adjustments to be in the learning zone will mean consistent progress and growth.
The three zones are constantly changing and forcing oneself to stay in the learning zone is a hard task. As you operate in the learning zone, you will get more comfortable with the current skills and they’ll start to move into the comfort zone. As this happens, tasks that were once a part of the panic zone will move into the learning zone and the cycle will continue.
In the transition from Comfort Zone to Learning Zone we need to be careful when taking risks that we don’t go too far out of our Comfort Zone – beyond the Learning Zone – into the Panic Zone, where all our energy is used up for managing/controlling our anxiety and no energy can flow into learning. Importantly, these three zones are different for different situations and different for each person – we all have our own unique Comfort Zone, Learning Zone and Panic Zone.