The Stretch Zone

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about the importance of connection, and I discussed an article that had run in the Chicago Tribune. It talked about a camp for adults, called Fireside, which was started by two men who had been campers at Camp Walden. One of the lines from the article talks about the “transformative power of discomfort.”  The article says,

“Likening it to the micro-tears that allow us to build muscle, he pointed out that being away from the safe and familiar surroundings of home helps campers build new strengths that empower them in whatever they do.”

The transformative power of discomfort. I love that description, because it so simply sums up the magic that happens at camp.  No matter how amazing the food, activities, or people at camp, there are going to be aspects of a camper’s time away that are uncomfortable. They are surrounded by new people. They miss home. They are in a kayak out on Lake Superior. The food is different. There are mosquitoes. Some activities may be a little scary.  As parents, it’s hard to see our kids uncomfortable. Our first instinct is to fix whatever is wrong. I talked about this in another blog last September. How “lawnmower parents” want to “mow down” all the obstacles that their child faces. That doesn’t serve them in the long run.

Our friend, Audrey Monke, at Sunshine Parenting, talked about it in one of her blog posts, Why Kids Need to Get Uncomfortable. She talked about how, as parents, we need to help our children learn to tolerate discomfort. In the Voyager and Pioneer Leadership programs, Patrick always talks about the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. He discusses the three zones, as shown below.

It’s easy to stay in our comfort zone. But that’s not where the growth happens. And if we are shoved too quickly or forcefully into a new experience, it sends us into our panic zone, and growth can’t happen if we are in flight-or-fight mode. The stretch zone is the sweet spot. It’s the place where we are a little out of our comfort zone, but know we are safe, and encouraged to try something new. Camp is the ultimate stretch zone. Campers are surrounded by people who care and will support them. They are encouraged to try new activities in a safe way. Effort is what is celebrated, not perfection. They can take “safe risks” on a daily basis…meeting new friends, trying new foods, attempting to get up on skis for the first time. The list is endless.

Psychologists use a term called “experiential avoidance.” It means we often try to move away from the things that make us feel uncomfortable, but this then takes us out of experiences that are meaningful and full of purpose. And isn’t that what we want for our kids? Experiences that are meaningful and full of purpose? As a parent (or a camp director) it is hard to see kids uncomfortable. It’s painful to see the tears of homesickness, or hear the tale of frustration of multiple falls on water skis. But we get to see that transformative power of discomfort on a daily basis at camp. We can practically see the growth happening before our eyes. We see the changes in kids while they are at camp. And when they arrive back home, we hope you can see it too. What a gift you have given your son…an experience that will build strengths that will empower him for the rest of his life.

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