In the mid 80's I first read Scout Cloud Lee's excellent book "The Challenge of Excellence" which described how and why she used the High Ropes to add depth and breadth to her NLP training courses.
At the time I was running my own training courses in applying NLP in stress management and in enhancing communication - but, as these courses were hotel or training-room based, I could not envisage how outdoor activities could be incorporated into them.
But 14 years later, in November 1998, things changed.
Let's team-build with the High Ropes
About a dozen of us had got together to form a network of corporate trainers and consultants and we decided to have a team development event to enhance our inter-personal communication. And, on the recommendation of one of the team, we decided to visit a High Ropes Course in the New Forest (the centre which we now hold al of our in-depth NLP Core Skills courses).
I loved the idea! I'd read Scout's book I was really up for the idea of climbing trees and swinging on ropes. In theory. But the reality turned out to be different. Especially when I first saw the High Trapeze Jump - which looked a lot higher and more daunting than in the book.
The High Trapeze Jump
The High Trapeze Jump (which is also called the Leap of Faith!) is high. It's a bit like a very high telegraph pole (just about the height of two double-decker buses one on top of the other) with tiny little wooden steps.
Hanging a little higher than it and a metre or two from the pole is the actual trapeze.
The idea is that, secured with a safety rope and harness, you climb the pole, then stand on the top (which is often a bit wobbly), pause for a moment, and then jump outwards and grab the trapeze which is hanging in mid-air in front of you. Then you are lowered to the ground on the safety rope. Easy!
When I first saw the Trapeze Jump my stomach fell. I 'knew' I couldn't do it: ‘No way! Never – there's no chance I'll ever do that!’
How we do the High Ropes
Participation in the High Ropes is framed by two models both of which are attributed to Karl Rohnke:
- Challenge by Choice: in which each person chooses their own challenge or "stretch" and everyone else respects that choice. It's a great model and a great replacement for the "support" which you all from get in outdoor activities and which, in reality, is really "peer pressure".
- Comfort, Stretch, Panic: in which we each identify what activities are with their comfort zone, stretch zone and our panic zone – and then undertake to self manage our participation and only take part in activities that fall within our comfort or our stretch zones. (this is fully explained in the previous article - see the link above).
My experience of my first High Ropes session was exhilarating - and terrifying - instead of being exhilarating and fun and stimulating. And it was entirely my own fault. We had a briefing on both models before we began and were encouraged to keep them in mind five participating in the session.
But I wasn't listening to the briefing! So I drove myself, often well into my panic zone, through all of the activities.
The Comfort Stretch Panic model
Much later I thought about Ronke's CSP model and re-approached the Ropes in order to get better at the activities and with a view to becoming an Instructor. Using the model I pushed myself ‘only’ to the outer edge of Stretch – then came back within Comfort.
So, for example, I might climb halfway to the top and then come down. Next time – and it might be fifteen minutes or a few days later – I'd go higher. Until I'd brought the activity well inside my Stretch Zone. Then I'd move on to another, more challenging activity. Soon I could do all of the activities without entering Panic and after about a year I had qualified as an Instructor.
Nowadays we recommend both models to participants in all of our NLP Training courses as a way of ensuring that their learning experience, and not simply the High Ropes sessions, are stimulating and stretching and enjoyable!
The Comfort Zone
Your Comfort Zone is just that – comfortable – and includes everyday activities such as doing the same things and mixing with the same people. When most of your activities are in this zone life is, of course, ‘comfortable’ but you do not learn very much nor develop yourself – it’s simply more of the same and it can lead to the zone shrinking.
The Stretch Zone
Your Stretch Zone is the area of novelty, exploration and adventure. Here are the things that are a little or a lot out of the ordinary – the things you haven’t done for a long time or have never done before.
This zone is not really a comfortable place – but it is a stimulating one. It is where we stretch and challenge ourselves mentally, emotionally or physically. In social life it could be going to a different restaurant or pub. At work it could be handing a project in a new way or seeking a better position.
The Panic Zone
The Panic Zone is the area of things-to-be-avoided either because they are unacceptable to you or because they are currently a ‘stretch’ too far!
For example, being dishonest or abusive towards others could be in this zone because such activities are not in accord with your personal values. Participating in extreme sports might be here because you consider them too daunting but ‘also’ because you find the concept of deliberately flirting with danger unacceptable.
However you can also have activities in the Panic Zone which you wish were not there. Someone who experiences a phobic response when near a spider might prefer to have more choices in such situations. Again, to a teenager asking someone for a date could be a Panic Zone issue in which they would like to feel differently. And for many people public speaking falls into the Panic Zone with limiting effects on their career.
My panic can be your stretch
At Pegasus NLP courses we have extended the application of Rhonke’s model into a tool for fostering respect for individuality and respect for oneself. Each person makes their own choice of what is in each zone – and we each recognise and respect the choices made by others.
What is a stretch for one person can be a Comfort or Panic Zone issue for someone else. My Panic Zone issue in sports might be merely a mild stretch for you. My Comfort Zone issue in another area might be a stretch or panic issue for you.
There are no absolutes – just individual choices or assessments at this moment which may or may not hold true in the future.
Like all good models CSP is not just very simple it recognises how un-useful it is to rigidly classify oneself or others. It takes into account how we are continually changing – how we are dynamic systems so what is ‘in’ a zone today might be in a different one tomorrow or in a month’s time.
If I commit myself to a period of enthusiastic change I will extend my Comfort Zone. Yet if lots of unwelcome change is imposed on me by ‘circumstances’ I am likely to resist it, become risk averse and shrink my Comfort Zone. Now activities that a year ago I found enjoyable and stimulating are perceived as too threatening. And, once I begin shrinking my Comfort Zone, there is a real risk of the process becoming a way of life.
This latter point may explain how difficult it is to get back into the exercise habit after a lazy period. Exercise becomes perceived as being uncomfortable and painful – we know that returning to it will be, quite literally, an uncomfortable stretch.
What if we don’t stretch?
In a nutshell, if we are not stretching we are shrinking. Let’s look at some examples:
Social activities: The adventures and risks that they took as teenagers or younger people can be viewed as alien to doddering thirty-somethings – just as the activities of someone in their twenties or thirties can appear alien to someone in their fifties. And so on. It is a little scary how quickly our Comfort Zone can shrink if we don’t stretch.
Physical fitness: If we do not endure the unfamiliarity and the slight discomfort of progressively demanding exercise, or if we stick to the same exercise standard and routine, what happens? The body gets used to the routine, adapts to it, and we actually begin to lose fitness. What if we stop exercising? After about 6 weeks without cardio-vascular exercise we have lost 80% of our fitness! It’s a dynamic process - use it or lose it – stretch or shrink.
Relationships: you meet someone, settle down, with or without starting a family. Soon the novelty and excitement wanes. Familiarity breeds laziness. You settle into routines. It's Friday we'll have a bottle of wine and a pizza. It's Sunday let's lie in bed till mid-day, etc. Soon you stop making new friends, lose touch with old ones, and become over-dependent on one-another. And your social skills shrink, too.
Ageing: many people start doing less and less with each passing decade. Staying in the Comfort Zone becomes all-important! They lose their vitality because they lose their interest in living – and they carry on, just existing. There's no stretch – 'I'm too old for all that, now!' So there's shrinkage. Mental and physical... 'What's on the telly tonight, dear?' Yet research, notably that carried out at Tufts University, has proved how exercise can not just prevent but reverse this age-related decrepitude – and its emotional and social effects.
Work: are you finding ways of making your job stimulating and rewarding? Are you progressing your career by challenging yourself to learn and develop? Or are you filling in time till you retire? People who retire die earlier than people who carry on working because the latter are more stimulated by doing and stretching than by lapsing into Comfort.
Depressing stuff or a warning? You decide. Are you always growing, stretching? Or are you shrinking? Because you cannot stand still. It’s a dynamic process.
Applying the model
Your personal health and well-being requires maintenance and you can use the CSP model as a useful simple-yet-powerful gauge of how you are doing and as a means of encouraging yourself to begin stretching in all senses of the word.
You can have a set of zones for different areas in your life – health, fitness, family and social life, working life, career, etc.
Utilise the dynamic nature of the model by taking excursions from Comfort ‘into’ Stretch and back again. As you do this you will find that what was in Stretch becomes comfortable. Now you can move to another stretch activity, and so on.
The key is to be in rapport with yourself – allow your feelings to guide you and avoid forcing things. Only move a little into, and only remain briefly in, Stretch. Use this self-rapport to know when you have had enough and then return to Comfort to rest and to integrate the learnings.
Now do it again – this time moving a little further so it is a new Stretch. And so on.
Taking action with Panic Zone issues
If an activity currently falls into the Panic Zone, and you would like to change this, your goal is to get it into Stretch. You can do this by using willpower to force yourself but this is a risk strategy. It can work fine albeit with lots of discomfort. But it often results in a ‘never again’ learning experience in which the activity is perceived as permanently in Panic Zone.
Another way is to slowly work your way out through Stretch in this area of activity. This will often brings the Panic issues into Stretch. It frequently works fine but it’s slow so, if you want a quicker result, you could use one or two simple NLP techniques such as the Swish or the ‘Fast Phobia Cure’.
Stretch for life
Frequently stretching yourself with new challenges, new stimuli, new discoveries won’t just prevent shrinkage it could significantly enhance the quality of your life and have a revitalising effect on perceptions and attitudes – yours and those of the people with whom you interact…
The Pegasus NLP Newsletter
Most articles on this site were first published in the Pegasus NLP Newsletter.
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