My last post started to explore the idea of being centered and offered a simple breathing technique to help you move in the direction of relaxed attention and focus.


This post will look at the concept of the comfort zone and will offer a second practical approach that can help you become more centered.

The comfort zone can be shown as the diagram top-right.

The comfort zone (CZ) is a name given to an area of psychological safety.  Within our CZ we feel safe, outside we feel unsafe.  A sense of real or perceived threat keeps us inside this area and the possibility of taking a risk allows us to expand it.

Immediately outside the CZ is a stretch zone – an area that we can see the possibility of entering but that also looks scary.  Most types of change, new learning, new jobs or relationships all sit in this area and often contain a mix of excitement and trepidation.

Beyond the stretch zone is the danger zone.  This is the area where we feel distinctly unsafe, where it is probably a bad idea (for some of us) to spend time. 

As we change and grow over time the different areas shift and change, what at one time seems dangerous, will at another be part of our CZ.

The zones relate to all aspects of our life.  As babies we have an innate fascination which leads us to constantly be moving into the stretch zone.  As adults we vary, some of us choose to keep stretching or moving toward danger, others of us grow comfortable within what we know.  What we think of as risk taking will vary, some people may take up sky diving, others may have a tough conversation with their partner, for some people leaving the house or making social connections may feel like a trip into the danger zone.

If we want to leave or expand our CZ, what is it that enables us to move into our stretch zone? 

There are two facets to this, one internal and the other external.

The external is to do with other people and influences.  The influences may be books, people we hear about, something that we want that drives us.  It is also other people who actively help us, possibly by direct encouragement or by modelling a type of behaviour that enables us to stretch.

The internal is our own sense of resilience, competence or drive.  What we know about ourselves and how we act on this knowledge. It is fostered and supported by our ability to be centered.

If we can center, we are able to look at the stretch we wish to take from a responsive place rather than a reactive one.

Being centered will help us pay attention to our emotions without being overwhelmed by them.   We will be more accepting of our thoughts and feelings and then able to take greater responsibility for them and the choice we are about to make.

This choice may include not taking the stretch – but if we are centered then it is a choice, a response and not a reactive shying away from something difficult.

In my last post on centering I focussed on breathing – I suggest that you keep using this and I realise that if you are reading this post then you have successfully been breathing since reading the last one.  What I mean is choosing to take an occassional deep and mindful breath and now to also pay deeper attention to your body.

How are you sitting or standing right now?

Are you relaxed or tense?

Which parts are relaxed, which are tense?              

How is your posture?

Are you slumped in a chair or rigidly holding yourself in position.  Are you leaning toward or away from a sore hip, shoulder or other bodily ache?

It will be easier for you to breathe if your posture is comfortable.

What I  notice is that when we change our posture both our thinking and our sense of well being changes. 

When your spine is straight and head, heart and gut in vertical alignment you may feel more alert and have more mental clarity.

Being centered is not a static state;  it is not about sitting in a lotus position on top of a mountain bathed in sunlight.  It is a choice at any time, anywhere.  I move, bend, slump, switch off and get unfocussed but when I need to support myself, remembering that it is okay to sit up or stand up straighter and take a breath helps me get centered.

Our comfort zone is often a relaxed place to dwell but the following quote also fits:

“if we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always got”

If you want something different and that requires a move into your stretch zone, take a breath, adjust your posture, ask for help and take the step.

Being effective and clear may be your usual state but what happens to you in moments of stress, conflict or crisis; can you hold onto the part of yourself that operates well?

Centering is a simple key to effectiveness. It is a way of taking a moment to check in; of managing what is going on and supporting yourself to make clear choices.

Centering affects your body, your mind and your emotions.  It is a way of looking after yourself in any situation and importantly, it’s a choice.

No matter what you are doing, if you aren’t centered then you will be operating at less than your capacity.

Being centered is the feeling that you have when you are focussed and relaxed at the same time.  There are a range of things that you might do which encourage centering.  Some sports help, being in ‘the zone’ whilst running, playing a musical instrument well enough that you make music rather than notes, gardening, cooking, writing.  Some activities focus on centering like meditation, yoga and some martial arts.

It is the state where you have a sense of relaxed control, where you feel prepared and are breathing easily.  It is a choice and you can bring this state into your moment to moment interactions and activities.

Centering is the ability at any moment to gather yourself together, recognise who is in charge of you (which hopefully is you) and to then make a decision.  It is about having a response rather than a reaction.

A reaction is what happens when you receive a stimulus and instantly get triggered into some form of action.  We will never stop having reactions, we are designed to have them, what we can do is limit the hold that reactions have over us.

A response is what happens when we start to have a reaction and then notice that we are reacting.  We can then engage with our thoughts and feelings and this in turn helps us toward making a choice.

It’s okay to not be centered, but can you choose it when needed?  It’s easy when you are relaxed and things are going well, the challenge is to be able to choose it when you are feeling stressed or under pressure.

Whether you are at home looking after young children, winning (or losing) a game of tennis or running a large business, there will be a mixture of times when our sense of being centered slips. Perhaps you need to have a tough conversation, there is a moment of conflict or you are  feeling negative stress.

You may be blaming others for your situation, or doing a great job of avoiding something that you know is going to be tricky.  You might spot yourself getting very busy doing lots of things except dealing with the key issue.  Conversely you may seem entirely unable to focus on anything - -flitting from task to task without focus.

These are all great examples of being reactive – caught by the thoughts and feelings that accompany what we imagine will be a difficult situation.

As a coach I often feel that part of my role is getting people to stop ‘doing’, to take a moment to reflect and think and just ‘be’.  Helping them get off the treadmill of reactive behaviour and moving toward making useful responses.  As a mediator, one of my tasks is slowly to help people gain a bit of perspective, so that somewhere a choice starts to seem like a possibility.

There are lots of routes toward getting centered and the two exercises that follow are an easy start.

Quick centering exercise:

  • Take a breath, just one, right now. 
  • Let your belly relax and expand as you breathe in and then contract slightly as you exhale.
  • Now take another, slowly and deliberately

That’s it, you can do it anytime but make it a choice.

Slightly longer exercise:

  • Take a moment, close the door, and put your phone and computer on silent
  • Pause
  • Take a breath and then another one.
  • Try to notice what is running through your mind?
  • Is your thinking relaxed or tense?
  • How are you reacting to being asked to pause?
  • What is going on in your body?  Check it over from your toes to the top of your head.  Which parts are relaxed and which are tense.  Are you still or moving?
  • What is your body telling you (if anything)?
  • Take another breath and when you are ready carry on with your day.