Advertising
Advertising

The Science behind Relentless Breakthroughs

The Science behind Relentless Breakthroughs

Life isn’t supposed to be comfortable all the time. While most of us crave a degree of stability, a life without challenges robs you of your fighting spirit and motivation.

Without discomfort, there can be no growth. In a rapidly-changing world, stagnation is the first step towards obscurity and mediocrity. There’s a science behind experiencing the right amount of struggle to spur growth.

The best state: optimal anxiety

Your comfort zone exists so that you have a safe space from which to operate most of the time. In your comfort zone, you know what to do and how to behave, and there are routines and patterns that you follow to reduce stress. People in their comfort zone are generally happier than those who live in a state of heightened anxiety most of the time.

Clearly, stability is something to aspire to, but if things are too comfortable, people tend to become complacent. They may not work as hard to achieve their goals, and they may even lose their ambition altogether.

If you can reach a state of optimal anxiety, then you can enjoy some time in your comfort zone while still feeling pressure to succeed. Optimal anxiety allows you to experience the burst of energy and heightened state of awareness that you need to take on a challenge.

The Harvard experiment on stress levels

We’ve known this for over a century. In 1908, two Harvard psychologists, Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson, sought to explain different levels of performance. People in a state of comfort could often maintain a steady performance level, but those with high-stress levels experienced decreased productivity. People who wanted to experience growth had to endure some anxiety.[1]

Advertising

When our stress levels elevate slightly, we enter into a state of optimal anxiety. This sweet spot, just outside of our comfort zone, is the place where we can improve our performance and make greater gains in our work.

How to reach a state of optimal anxiety

Choose things that are 50% familiar to you

Things that are too commonplace, and things that are way beyond your current understanding won’t keep your attention. Without a doubt, your eyes have glazed over as you listened to someone give a technical lecture on a subject with which you are unfamiliar. You’d be equally disinterested listening to someone repeat the same story over and over. When something is 50% familiar and 50% new, it is more likely to keep you interested.

Educators think about striking this balance between familiar and novel all the time. Developmental psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, calls this area in which we are challenged to learn but not overwhelmed as the “Zone of Proximal Development.”[2] In the Zone of Proximal Development, you have enough context to understand the basics, but you also have room to grow.

Think about when you had to learn math in elementary school. If your teachers tried to teach you trigonometry in pre-school, you would not have been successful. Trigonometry is too difficult to complete without understanding basic math concepts first. It is more likely that they taught you the words and symbols associated with numbers and left the discussion of trig for your high school years.

Break things into baby steps

Advertising

You might wonder how you’ll ever learn anything if you are stuck choosing things that are about 50% familiar to you because there are a lot of things that you don’t know. True, when you are trying to learn things, there are more unknowns than knowns, but narrowing the scope of your question can help.

Writers encounter this overwhelm all the time. Imagine that you want to write a book, but you’ve never written before. The concept of writing a book is so foreign that you may not even know where to begin. There’s a lot that you don’t know, and it’s going to obstruct your ability to see what you do know.

If you’ve hardly written more than a few paragraphs since high school, it is unreasonable to think that you can accomplish the Herculean task of writing a book without some steps in between. Break it down by focusing on writing one paragraph, a chapter, or a page. The more you practice, the more you can expect from yourself each day.

Make it a continuous process: Scare yourself every day

Learning must be gradual and continuous. Choose something that exists just outside of your comfort zone every day, and work to understand it. Whatever that unfamiliar thing is, keep breaking it down until you find something you are 50% familiar with. At that point, you can work to tackle the project.

Perhaps you want to be able to host a group of friends at your home for dinner, but you are afraid you’ll ruin their evening. Instead of embarassing yourself or causing too much stress by inviting over ten of your best friends, break the task down into smaller steps.

Advertising

Start by trying out the recipes you want to make for your friends. Chances are, you already have some idea about how to cook, and you just need to build confidence and experiment with cooking times and menus. Then, practice by having one or two of your closest friends over. When you feel good about this step, you could invite others over for a dinner party.

People have to tackle big goals all the time. Learning to drive a car, understanding a complex concept in school, and giving speeches can all be accomplished by breaking the goal into smaller steps.

Mark down your worries during the process and review them later

When you’re stepping out of your comfort zone, your brain is going to try to protect you by giving you lots of things to worry about. The torrent of “what ifs” can hold you back from making real progress.

Instead of letting those thoughts own you, write them down. After you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone for the day, review what you wrote. You’ll find that most of the things you worried about didn’t happen. In the future, you’ll be able to recognize that most of your fears are unfounded.

Keep track of your tiny achievements every day

Advertising

Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to achieve the end result that we forget to recognize the small accomplishments we make every day. Any accomplishment–regardless of how great or small it is–activates the reward centers in our brains.

If your goal is to exercise five days per week, keep track of your work outs every day. When you see how much you’re doing, it can motivate you to do more. When work seems so overwhelming that you are prone to procrastination, try taking note of each time you begin a project early instead of waiting until the deadline.

Every time you catalog a success, your brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine.[3] Dopamine triggers that feeling of achievement and pride and energizes us to keep moving forward with our goals. Since your brain loves to be rewarded with a hit of dopamine, it will motivate you to replicate your actions.

Make room to grow every day

Busting out of your comfort zone is more than just a means to achieve your dreams. Finding your optimal level of anxiety affects everything from the amount of motivation that you feel to the neurotransmitters in your brain. A fear of the unknown is just an opportunity to break what you need to learn into accessible steps.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” –Neale Donald Walsch

Reference

More by this author

Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

100 Incredible Life Hacks That Make Life So Much Easier 10 Best New Products That People Don’t Know About Book Summary: The Power of Habit in 2 Minutes 1 Minute Book Summary: How To Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less 2 Minutes Book Summary: Thinking Fast and Slow

Trending in Psychology

1 How to Increase Your Self Awareness to Be Much More Successful 2 Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering 3 How to Do Meditation at Home to Calm Your Anxious Mind 4 How to Handle Rejection and Overcome the Fear of Being Rejected 5 8 Powerful Reasons to Love Your Enemies

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on February 1, 2019

How to Increase Your Self Awareness to Be Much More Successful

How to Increase Your Self Awareness to Be Much More Successful

Self awareness can be defined as having a clear understanding of your personality, including your beliefs, emotions, motivation, strengths and weaknesses.

A 2010 study by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations found that self awareness is a key and common characteristic of successful leaders. [1]

And research[2] by the Driehaus College of Business at De Paul University has also demonstrated that high self awareness leads to improved team performance.

Self Awareness Makes You Improve Much Faster Than the Others

“If I have lost confidence in myself, I have the universe against me.” – Ralicoph Waldo Emerson

Self awareness allows us to understand who we are, and how others see us. From this, we can determine how similar or different we are to other people.

Advertising

Individuals with high self awareness tend to live happier and more fulfilling lives. That’s because being self aware brings several powerful benefits, including:

  • Finding and expressing your authentic self.
  • Being proactive, instead of reactive.
  • Enjoying positive and harmonious interpersonal relationships.
  • Having deeper thoughts.
  • Revealing your true purpose.

One secret behind the magic of self awareness, is the fact that being self aware allows you to see your weaknesses. Once you know what they are, you can then act accordingly to fix them (where possible).

As an example, think back to a time when you achieved a major success in your life. Your confidence jumped off the scale, and suddenly, everything in your life began to look rosy. However, success was fleeting, and before long you were not only back where you started – but had lost your initial faith and confidence too.

Instead of seeing this as bad luck or personal failure, the better response would be to analyze exactly what happened.

What caused your success? What caused your failure? And what could you have done differently?

Advertising

By answering these questions, you’ll gain insight into your decision making and personality traits. Most importantly, you’ll be able to discover where you went wrong, and how you could avoid this next time around. This is how self awareness becomes a crucial partner in reaching your dreams and goals.

How to Increase Your Self Awareness

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.” – Lao-Tze

Okay, you’ve now seen some of the ways that self awareness can boost your success in life. (And we’ve only scratched the surface of potential benefits.)

It’s now time to reveal several tips and techniques that will increase your self awareness.

Take a psychometric test: You’ll understand more about yourself

Advertising

Psychometric tests are ideal for raising your self awareness. The tests force you to think deeply about yourself, and how your react to different situations. Self reflection = Self awareness. Try this free, 100-question psychometric test offered by the University of Cambridge.

Keep a personal journal: It can reduce anxiety and depression at the same time

Writing a daily journal can be a great tool for increasing your self awareness. If your writing is honest and open, you’ll quickly discover things about yourself that you’d never previously realised. You’ll also begin to see how habits create your conditions. For self awareness purposes, your daily journal should (at the very least) list your biggest failures and greatest successes of the day. Science supports the effectiveness of journalism, with a recent Psychotherapy Research study[3] showing that writing a daily journal reduced anxiety and depression.

Learn to meditate: To clear your thoughts

If you’ve never tried meditating before, then you should definitely consider trying it, if you want to boost your self awareness. Meditation can help you to delve below the incessant chatter of your conscious mind, and instead, let you tap into the depths of your subconscious mind. As well as boosting your well-being and health, meditation can clear your thoughts, and help you to become more creative.[4]

Advertising

How to get started? There are plenty of books and videos that can teach you the basics of meditation. Alternatively, you’ll be sure to find mediation classes in your local area.

Ask for feedback: You’ll be amazed

Choose a close family member or friend who knows you well. Ask then to give you an honest appraisal of your actions, beliefs and motivations. You’ll be amazed (and possibly shocked!) at what you hear. In fact, it’s likely that you’ll gain a completely new perspective on yourself. Use this new knowledge to make positive changes that could increase your effectiveness and success in life.

Through boosting your self awareness, you’ll begin to see new, exciting opportunities for growth and success. You’ll also learn how others see you. This will help your interpersonal relationships – as well as your ability to read others.

Self awareness can help you predict the success of others. It can also help you predict your own success.

So, choose to follow in the footsteps of the highly-successful, and start developing your self awareness today.

Reference

Read Next