Leaning into Growth and Challenge: How to Gauge Yourself in a Healthy Way. ll By Stephanie Boulton

I used to work as a field Instructor for Outward Bound Canada. Outward Bound is an outdoor education school which uses the outdoors to teach real life skills to mainly teens but also adults. The whole premise of Outward Bound expeditions is to take a group of people who don’t know each other and put them in an unfamiliar situation. Facing those challenges together is what makes the magic happen. 

At some point on our trips we would draw three circles in the sand; each circle inside of the other one. The inner circle we would call the green zone, aka the safe zone. The medium circle was the yellow zone or the growth zone. And the largest circle was the red zone or danger zone.

The point of this was to encourage students to stay in the growth zone. If the group stayed in the comfort zone where it was cozy and safe then there was no challenge, no risk and also no growth or learning. However, if there is too much challenge or risk you get into the red zone, where you are too activated in fight and flight mode for learning and growth to happen. 

Each person’s circle is different. For one person, sky diving is in their yellow zone, but going to a cocktail party might be in the red. Where it is probably the opposite for many people. Also, sleeping in a tent could be a luxury for one person, while it could be terrifying for another.

One thing I’ve learned over the years, is that as complex societal and social beings we are crafty and have the ability to override our instincts and impulses. For example, my dog can’t hide what he’s feeling when he is in the red zone. His eyes go wide, his ears flat, his tail goes between his legs and he will do anything to get out of that situation until he gets back into safety. But, human beings, on the other hand, have a magical ability to override what our insides are telling us, or just or suppress those warning signals. Sometimes, we can also numb ourselves out by taking drugs or distracting ourselves. Humans are not always the best at tuning into what our bodies are telling us. Thus, as humans we need to rewire ourselves to learn to listen to these signals. 

Here are some tips and thoughts to help you use this approach for your own personal growth:

  1. Start listening to your body and body signals. The growth zone can feel pretty intense and stressful, but if you are too overwhelmed to pay attention or learn, you’re getting into the red zone. 
  2. AND You can probably be in your yellow zone more than you think you’re are capable of. 
  3. Everybody’s circle looks different.
  4. Remember in order to grow you need to put yourself out of your comfort zone: write a list of things that are in the yellow zone that you don’t do but you’ve always wanted to do. And start encouraging yourself to try new things.
  5. As you spend more time in the yellow zone, your red circle actually gets smaller and your yellow circle gets bigger! (e.g. You get more resilient).
  6. Notice when you are in the red and do whatever you need to do to get back in the yellow. Reaching out to another person is the best way to bring yourself back. Safety first!

Stephanie (she/her/hers) believes that healing results from expanding our capacity for meaningful connections and relationships. She has a background working with a diversity of people in outdoor settings and draws from attachment theory, body-based and experiential therapies, as well as ecological and feminist approaches. Currently pursuing her MA in Counseling at Regis, Stephanie aims to incorporate how familial, social, economic and cultural forces interact in our society to impact individual well-being. Stephanie is currently an intern in the Affordable Counseling Program at People House.