Do you want to thrive with joy despite the most challenging situations and keep producing with passion and sustained energy?
My purpose in this article is to share a hard-learned lesson, which made a life-changing impact on my success and insanity. The approach I share in this article helped me to stay calm and composed in the midst of critical situations. It helped me enjoy my personal and professional challenges. It is not a quick fix though! It is simple but not easy.
In the earlier years of my career, my stress level was 99%. I was almost in a detrimental crisis mode. However, gratefully, a wise mentor taught me to re-frame my thoughts and change my perspectives based on a simple technique. I rigorously applied this technique and turned it into a lifetime habit. Let me reveal this simple and metaphorical technique so that you can enjoy your life in difficult situations, be more productive, create new opportunities consistently.
The technique, at a conceptual level, requires visualising four distinct zones in your life. We frame them as 1) Comfort Zone 2) Stretch Zone, 3) Risk Zone, and 4) Danger Zone. Based on our character, capabilities, and values, we can define and customise these zones. Let me briefly share how I did it as an example.
In my life, my comfort zone represented the behaviours originated partially from my reptilian brain and mainly from the limbic system. Some behaviour patterns in this zone were enjoying only comfortable work, wanted to stay in bed long hours, ate comfort food, drank sugary beverages, not exercised, not exposed to cold, distracted from little interruption, got upset if challenged for minor matters, talked with only the familiar people. You got the picture. This zone included my most basic survival mode behaviour.
The stretch zone was taking the next step. Getting up on time, studying to pass an exam, earning a new degree, finding a better job, reducing the clutter at home and in the office, having cold showers, exercising regularly, refraining from comforts foods, and enjoying outdoor activities. This was the zone I started growing and gradually reducing my stress level. These activities help me rewire my brain by changing its biochemical composition. I even felt a substantial increase in my dopamine level. My muscles became stronger, flexible, and more nimble.
The real difference and the game changer to my life was to move to the risk zone. When I learnt and was adapting to this zone, I started taking calculated risks starting with simple actions. For example, I started to talk to the strangers in the street, engaged with people during the train or plane trips by exchanging business cards and following up for creating new synergies, invested in new revenue streams, conducted research to learn difficult subjects, invented, published, spoke in international conferences, became fat-adapted, thrived with a unique zero-carbs diet, and constantly grew as my heart desired. This transformation happened by learning how to turn my risk zone to my comfort zone, hence my risk zone never bothered me again. In other words, I redefined my comfort zone. Magically and gratefully my body and mind collaborated for this success.
In summary, the most optimal approach for me was to swing between the stretch and the risk zone as it related to my life goals. The comfort zone made me sick, unhappy, stressed, and even depressed. I also tried the danger zone a couple of times and noticed that it was not fun to operate in that zone. I found it unnatural and did not want to compromise my values in life.
As the risk zone provided me with the optimal values, I’d like to briefly touch on the mindset shift that I applied. We know that uncertainty is in the very fabric of life. We all experience it but give a different meaning to it. Uncertainty can be seen as a reality to deal with future events. However, the future is unknown to us. There can be a myriad of hidden causes beyond our control, which may affect the outcomes.
How does uncertainty relate to operating at the risk zone?
Learning to tolerate uncertainty is an indication that you operate in the risk zone. Uncertainty is part of the risk management discipline. Taking calculated risks is one of the requirements and the most fundamental characteristics of entrepreneurs to create successful business outcomes and a balanced lifestyle. Risk and opportunity are like inseparable yin and yang.
At the most fundamental level, we can even simplify that, no risk, no opportunity in life, equating the proverbial “no pain no gain”. However, once we learn how to operate in the risk zone, we become capable of turning the perceived pain to pleasure in a magical position. This behaviour is evident and observable from the success of high achievers such as elite athletes, successful investors, and eminent professionals who contribute and influence our society. Successful leaders know that opportunities are created by taking risks on a consistent basis.
There may be different approaches to manage risk and operate in the risk zone consistently. You may develop your own style. My risk management approach included four primary focus areas covering my major brain areas: applying logic, leveraging prior learning, tapping into my emotional intelligence, distinguishing between reality and fantasy, and listening to my intuition. The three broad approaches helped me to deal with uncertain situations both in a creative and methodical manner by taking full responsibility for my life.
At a personal level, one of the common techniques I used was to learn from past failures and transfer them into valuable learning experiences in my risk-requiring engagements. This is a qualitative approach and can be embedded in our lives as a habit. However, we need to focus on the quantitative aspect as well.
From a quantitative perspective, I use data effectively in my life. As data-driven entrepreneurs, we can use available data from various sources related to the risks that we take and mitigate. In my future articles here, I plan to provide details on using publicly available data sources and their importance.
In addition, we can create our own data by constantly recording our observations, personal experience, and action results, particularly when dealing with considerable risks. Our risk zone must be documented as the most precious book of our life. I also plan to share with you, how I documented my personal life in a future article on Medium.
In the workplace, I noticed that dealing with uncertainties especially in complex transformation initiatives was critical to creating new options and choices leading to desired innovation. We experienced that innovation did not happen in the comfort zone. Innovation can only thrive by being fed by nutritious risks. Why does innovation matter in this context?
Because, innovation is the most effective way to create more options in our personal and business lives, to have a joyful life, to generate new business, and transform our current business. We can thrive by creating new transforming solutions in our lives by linking optimal options, enabled by innovation, in a creative, smart, and integrated ways. Therefore, risk and innovation are tightly related.
My recorded observations, as part of a cognitive study, revealed that the transformational leaders went out of their comfort zones, operated in risk zone and passionately embraced uncertainty in order to become change catalysts for generating insights, new business, and transforming their stagnant business. With the consistent challenge from uncertain situations, these master transformers were able to create immunity towards uncertainties, develop strong risk-handling muscles, and turn their risk zones to enjoyable comfort zones.
Many successful entrepreneurs, who operate in the risk zone by taking the magical pills of uncertainty on a consistent basis, keep dancing with joy, smiling, and seem to be not working at all. Oddly enough, they depict no stress signs and just keep enjoying life even in the midst of the most critical situations. This unusual behavioural pattern surprises their colleagues, peers, and customers, as they usually think that these people are wealthy therefore they are so stress-free and happy in life.
However, the secret to this optimal lifestyle has nothing to do with wealth. It is to move out of our comfort zone, extend it to stretch zone, and then operate on the risk zone on a consistent basis. As an optimist, I believe we may even come across euphoria along the way. Please let me know when you reach that state, as it is my next goal in my journey.
I don’t want to leave this optimistic article with a pessimistic conclusion, however, it is my call of duty to raise a caveat. I’d not recommend moving to the danger zone, because, based on my observations, some ambitious entrepreneurs tried to operate in this zone and they terribly failed in life by losing their health, passion, family, and other more values. My humble advice is to keep dancing between stretch and risk zone to reap the optimal benefits in life, as evident in the lives of many successful high achievers around us.