Imagine your ability to learn as a circle. Everything within the circle is within your power to understand or know, given the right amount of effort. The very center of your circle is all that you know right now. It is your comfort zone, where everything is known, accepted, and normal to you. Within this part of the circle, you are not learning.
The Learning Zone
As you head outside of this part of the circle, you start getting into the unknown. When you step outside that comfort zone, you find skills you do not have yet or have not mastered, knowledge you have not acquired, or perspectives that you have not been exposed to before.
When things are just outside your comfort zone, they seem within reach. They seem learnable. And when those new things are similar to or somehow connected to things you already know, they are easier to learn. But the farther you get away from what you already know or understand, the more difficult learning is.
As you near the edges of your circle, this area represents all the things that you CAN learn but would require lots (and lots) of effort and time. They are within your grasp, but they may be exceedingly tricky. This area is not conducive to learning because the effort it takes to learn these things is so high that you will likely get frustrated and give up.
That sweet spot, the one in the middle where learning is still somewhat hard but not so difficult that you want to quit, that is what we call the learning zone. Within this area, your brain is still willing to learn because things are familiar enough that you know you will eventually get there. But they aren’t so familiar that no learning is taking place.
Every time you expand that comfort zone, the outside of the circle expands, too, doesn’t it? Because when you learn new things or skills, it brings new ideas within your learning zone and therefore puts new ideas into the outer reaches of your circle. So, the more you learn, the more you can continue learning, and the more you can ultimately know and be able to do.
How Mindset Affects Learning
But, before you can do any of this, before you can know where your comfort and learning zones are, you must believe that you CAN learn, that you CAN expand that zone of comfort by doing things that are just a little too hard. You have to have the right mindset that enables you to be willing to take the step outside the comfort zone, to take advantage of that learning opportunity, to embrace the possibilities of the world, and continue to extend that circle over time. Without that outlook, you will remain in the center, stuck in your comfort zone, mired in what you already know with no hope of changing that in the future.
Growth happens when you set goals that are just slightly out of your reach, you work hard to attain them, and then you set new goals that are beyond your previous ones. This iterative process grows your circle of knowledge and helps you evolve and learn new things. It helps you achieve success and realize dreams. But until you believe that this is possible, you will not see learning opportunities or possibilities, and your comfort zone will stay exactly as it currently is.
Learning to embrace the unknown, to seek out learning opportunities, and to adopt a mindset that enables you to enjoy learning can help you achieve your potential and realize all the goals you want for yourself.