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Are you in the learning zone?

‘The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.’  Bertrand Russell

Creating legacy and the learning zone

The learning zone is located between things you find really easy to do (the comfort zone), and things that are so difficult that you don’t really have the courage to attempt (the panic zone). When a task is located in the learning zone, it is neither too easy nor too difficult for you; it stretches you to go just one bit further than you’ve been in the past.

Only by choosing activities in the learning zone can you make progress. That’s where the skills and abilities are located that are just out of reach, not too close yet not too far.

It is when you are in the learning zone that you are most likely to create legacy. This is because you feel challenged enough to try out new things, but not so challenged as to be tempted to give up easily.

Try to stick to the learning zone

Keeping the progress of your legacy project in the learning zone is easier said than done. The reason why I’m writing about the learning zone today is because I’m currently experiencing problems with this in relation to one of my legacy projects.

This legacy project is a play for two actors. The writing was going quite well until Monday, when I tried to write out a few scenes that I hadn’t yet planned out properly yet. This was my mistake, because it immediately put the project into the panic zone, and for the past few days I ended up having to get my spirits back up after having failed miserably at writing those scenes.

And as I was trying to figure out why I have failed, I realised that this is because I stepped out of the learning zone into the panic zone, trying to speed the process of writing the play up a bit. As you can see, it didn’t pay off, and I’ve now lost a few days of work because of it. Lesson learned.

The learning zone keeps changing

Another thing to bear in mind about the learning zone is that its boundaries keep changing. As you are becoming more and more comfortable with your legacy project, tasks that were once in the panic zone will become part of the learning zone, and then the comfort zone.

For example, I’m sure that in a few weeks I’ll be laughing at how trying to write those few scenes blocked my progress on writing this play in such a massive way; it’s just the way legacy projects work, you have to approach things one step at the time.

How to find the learning zone

A handy little exercise I’ve learned about finding the learning zone is to take a big sheet of paper (ideally, one of those things they use in presentations), and map three concentric circles onto it. The smallest circle is the comfort zone, the middle circle the learning zone, and the largest circle the panic zone.

On a stack of post-it notes, write down tasks you have to do for your legacy project in the forseable future, e.g. the next month. Now see where along the three circles each of your post-it notes belong.

As you’re getting the tasks completed, try to mix those from the learning zone with those from the comfort zone, so the comfort zone tasks don’t become too boring.

Once you get those complete, you may find that your learning zone has changed, and that some of the tasks that were previously in the panic zone are now in the learning zone. So get those done next, and so on.

If you do this exercise, let me know how you got on, and if you can think of ways of improving it.

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