Stretching your comfort zone to combat mid-semester burnout
Julie Patton, Contributor
“How did I end up in this situation?” I thought to myself as I sat alone at a table in a busy restaurant. I was wearing a dress that I never had the courage to wear. I was wearing red lipstick when previously I’d only worn it in the comfort of my room. And I was alone; I’d never eaten in a restaurant by myself before.
It may be surprising, but I did this for a class.
Last year I took the class Creativity for Entrepreneurial Practice at Mount Royal University. For class, I was graded on stretch quests, the act of leaving my comfort zone. Katherine Ziff, an instructor at MRU, taught the class I attended. She said that stretch quests have many benefits for those who attempt them.
“It’s a stretch, not a break,” she said. She never encourages anyone to leave their comfort zone so far that they’ve entered their panic zone. “It’s something to shake you up, get you out of your routine, and get your brain into a different state.”
She explains that stretch quests make people push their limits and help them to realize their limits may be wider than they initially believed. As people expand their limits through stretch quests, they learn more about themselves.
“It’s super valuable to reflect on them,” she adds. “Take time to ask ‘Hey, what did this mean to me?’ and ‘What did I learn about myself?’… In fact, that kind of reflection, for some people it just happens naturally, but for a lot of people, that in itself could be a stretch quest.”
As students enter the second half of the semester, they may experience mid-semester burnout. However, through participating in stretch quests they can create new experiences and motivate themselves through the excitement of change.
Ziff said that most burnout stems from feeling trapped or not feeling like you have enough energy. By completing stretch quests people can be excited by their lives again.
Patrick Moskwa, another instructor of the Creativity for Entrepreneurial Practice course, said stretch quests don’t need to be revolutionary. He encourages students to start easy.
“Think about how or what is just a small, tiny, little thing that I can achieve today that I wouldn’t do normally,” Moskwa said. He adds that more challenging stretch quests, like skydiving or backcountry skiing, can have their benefits but they’re not the most important.
“If we always spend our time doing those crazy things, then we spend too much time in this sort of anxious space and we lose track of what our comfort zone is for.”
Comfort zones are great to have, and the purpose of a stretch quest isn’t to eliminate them, but to stretch ourselves so that we have the ability to live on the periphery of it. By living our lives slightly outside of our comfort zones we expand our living and can feel motivated by the excitement of trying something new.
The most important aspect of a stretch quest comes after you’ve completed it. You should have learned something new about yourself – even if that involves learning that you didn’t enjoy the quest you partook in.
“If we never do anything that we’re uncomfortable doing, we’re not going to learn anything. Nobody would be in university. Nobody would be running a marathon…We wouldn’t be making all of this new technology if somebody didn’t take a risk,” said Moskwa.
Ziff suggests that students incorporate stretch quests into their school life. Potential stretches can include taking a different path to class, exploring an area of campus you’ve never been to, speaking to a stranger in the hall, trying out a new order at Tim Hortons, or simply putting away your phone.
She includes that stretch quests can also involve breaking current habits or creating new ones, like joining a club or going to the gym.
From my experience participating in stretch quests, I learned that my social anxiety was less limiting than I thought. I can eat dinner alone in a restaurant and not worry that someone is judging me. I can attend school events and meet new people without caring how they perceive me.
It all began with small stretches, testing my limits, but from it I have grown and I feel motivated by my own life. As mid-semester burnout sets in for many students, these small stretches can help them feel excited by life again. Whether it be at home, on campus, or at work, stretch quests can be accomplished anywhere. So give it a try, stretch your comfort zone.