Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Why we must step out of our comfort zone and expand our circle of influence


Arquímedes Machado

Many of you have heard about the “circles of influence” and the “comfort zone”. Today I’d like to talk a little more about these concepts. 

Let’s start with the first one, the circle of influence. To better understand this concept it’s useful to picture two concentric circles, where the smallest is the circle of influence and the biggest one is the circle of concern. The circle of influence represents the situations we can change, those we can control.

This way, whenever we hit a crossroad, we can assess if the situation belongs in our circle of influence or our circle of concern. That is, if the situation is something we can take care of, something we have control of, or rather something that concerns me but is beyond my possibilities. A typical and I think very familiar example for us is the traffic jams in Caracas: it’s very likely each one of you would agree they are stressful. However, a solution to Caracas’ traffic escapes our circle of influence. Luckily we can always improve our situation by taking actions that minimize their impact, e.g. leaving earlier to avoid rush hour, taking the subway instead of driving, all the way to more radical solutions like buying a bike, moving closer to work or even to a different city and job. In any case, these are decisions that can alleviate my traffic related. 

I’ve realized that if there’s something we have to strive for, it’s making our circle of influence grow steadily. This way, if I’m facing a problem (initially in my circle of concern), I’ll be able to control my actions and reactions to solve it, bringing it into the circle of influence. I’ve read that proactive people focus their energy in solving situations within their circle of influence, thereby expanding this circle every time.

Another concept I’d like to discuss is the comfort zone, the space where I’m comfortable with what I’m doing even though it may be hard work, because I have the expertise to do it right. Being in the comfort zone lets me feel good about what I do because I’ve mastered that skill, I’ve become an expert on the matter. However, it’s so important, so valuable for our personal and professional growth to step outside of these boundaries and go into the unknown, facing uncertainty (or what some authors call the learning zone).  

When I visualized the comfort zone I never pictured it as a circle, but just like with the circles of influence and concern, we can use the same analogy and see our comfort zone as a smaller area encircled by a zone of uncertainty (or learning). After reading this article and seeing that image, I realized that both concepts are closely related, close enough to be viewed as synonyms. Personally, I think they’re different. Widening my circle of influence lets me be the master of my actions and reactions toward the situations in my life, having greater control over them. Similarly, expanding my comfort zone lets me have new tools to solve things I couldn’t solve before, acquire expertise in new situations, and broaden my knowledge.  

As both circles grow, we grow as people.

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