I’ve spoken a number of times in this series about the importance of being open to whatever “it” is when your path reveals itself to you. After many years of practice this concept makes intuitive sense to me, but I can remember a time when this was not so. Openness is absolutely foundational to anyone attempting to live their most authentic life. It also leads to less solidity in direction (a result of persistent exploration) and increased vulnerability. This has the potential to create seemingly more dire situations in our lives than we may have otherwise experienced. As a result, we may plummet down to the bottom of the pyramid Maslow created (if you’re not familiar, check out “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”) and can find that our ability to feel safe and secure or even meet our most basic physiological needs (food, shelter, rest) is threatened. Examples of this level of openness would be quitting a job or ending a relationship to follow our heart. Rereading that, I can see that I’m not selling this very well. Hang in there!

Look no further than pop-culture to know that we have a fascination with the idea of being open to new things. This is greatly a consequence of generations repressing the desire to explore in favor of “safety and security.” The example that comes to mind is the movie “Yes Man,” with Jim Carrey playing the lead role. If you haven’t seen it, the plot goes something like this: man is in a rut, goes to a seminar that directs him to say ‘yes’ to everything, man’s life transforms, lives happily ever after! The movie also portrays, thankfully, the downside of being “too” open, when saying ‘yes’ to everything causes trouble in the man’s life. So, openness is good, but how open should we be?

I use a pretty basic model to clarify what the right amount of open is (one created by Tom Senninger) and, as you may have guessed, it is different for everyone. The concept is this: Imagine that everything you’ve done and feel comfortable with is gathered together into a circle and that everything in this circle is now labeled your “comfort zone.” The comfort zone is a place of safety and security, important no doubt, but it does not include any new experiences. Right outside of this comfort zone is the “stretch” or “learning” zone. Here, you don’t feel capable, at least right away, and there is some anxiety that comes along with the experience. Although these feelings are present, you are able to engage willingly. Finally, outside of the learning zone exists the “panic zone.” This area is where experiences do not allow for learning because our fear response is too great. These experiences are frequently traumatic.

The idea is to put yourself into the stretch zone, at times as close to the outer edge as possible. Entering into this zone is the only way that we can learn and grow. It also puts us in a position to have a greater variety of experiences that can lead to the discovery of our ultimate path. This expands the comfort zone and the number of choices that seem realistic. Make this a practice in your life and you are bound to stumble upon what you are meant for.

Check out these links for more information on "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs" and "The Learning Zone" concepts.