Boredom Anxiety Bell Curve

The Curve: Gain Traction and Stay Engaged in Any Area of Your Life.

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This picture is a simple tool to help you gain traction and stay engaged in any area of your life. If you use this tool consistently, you will learn how to quickly and efficiently be the most engaged you’ve ever been. You will feel the momentum build and regularly (almost predictably) experience the rush of taking on and conquering new challenges. And it starts with understanding where you’re presently “at” in your life.

Let’s set the stage and then get into the details. At the extremes are Boredom and Anxiety and we won’t deal with these too much here. In the dead center is the Comfort Zone- we all talk about it and know it exists, so there it is, illustrated for convenience. To the right of our Comfort Zone is Challenge; notice it’s on the Anxiety side of the curve but not to the extreme. Same with Complacency on the left side; it’s outside our Comfort Zone, but not in the extreme of Boredom.

The Reality:

We all live, in every area (Mental, Physical, Emotional and Spiritual) of our life, somewhere on this curve. You can plug any one of these areas into the curve and gauge where you’re at. You may be emotionally Challenged (Stress) or mentally Complacent (Disengaged). You’ve probably experienced a physical Comfort Zone while sitting on the couch watching a movie.

But that’s all intuitive- you already know all that.

The Drift:

Here’s the first thing to realize: where we’re “at” on the curve doesn’t stay the same, our position isn’t static. We Drift to the left, toward Complacency and ultimately, Boredom. We feel Challenged, stressed or anxious for a period of time at the new job, but we “get used to it”; meaning, we feel it drift back toward our Comfort Zone.

That’s neither good nor bad- just something to realize. It can help you get through a stressful time, remembering it won’t last- this too shall pass. It can also be a warning- when the thing that used to be stressful isn’t anymore, you can bet its going to get boring pretty soon.

How soon? Funny you should ask. The research suggests that we stay in a fixed point on the curve no more than 2 or 3 weeks. There are variables, for sure, but it’s a good starting point to understand how it works.

Challenge:

I like to think of it in clicks. A disciplined person can move themselves out of their Comfort Zone 2 or 3 clicks into Challenge. Your high school coach could push you into a 4th or 5th click. A USMC Drill Instructor can happily provide you with 6 or more clicks. Right now, there’s no scientific way to measure these clicks- but hang on because there will be and how great will it be for you to say “Oh yeah, I already knew that.”?

Challenge in the only place where healthy growth occurs. Each area of our life requires us to consistently seek out Challenge in order to grow, to get better, to be all that we were created to be. Challenge is where we get it done.

It’s worth mentioning that beyond Challenge (which is healthy and good) we get into a stress zone that moves us toward Anxiety and unhealth. When (not if) you find yourself there- that’s a good time to give yourself some grace. Address what issues you can and know that, physiologically speaking, this too shall pass.

The Zone:

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Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book, Flow, tackles this all-important aspect of the curve. Flow, or The Zone, is about 1.5 clicks into Challenge and you can only hang there for a few hours at a time- that’s how precarious and precious The Zone is. The Zone is where you do your best stuff- where you are fully, creatively engaged in your area of expertise. The crazy thing is that you can learn to enter The Zone on a regular or even daily basis. It doesn’t have to be left to Chance or Muse. Or, if you believe in Muse, then this is where you learn to invite Muse in and not scare her away.

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