As a leader in outdoor education, Outward Bound utilizes the growth zone model to increase students’ confidence as individuals and leaders.
Part One of a Three-Part Series on Outdoor Education within the Growth Zone.
Whether you’re interested in Outward Bound and have been scrolling through the website or if you’re an alumni reminiscing, you probably know that one common thread that ties together all Outward Bound programs and expeditions is that the experience is challenging. Some days it’s a physical challenge like carrying a backpack for long distances or canoeing for miles across a lake. Other days it’s more of a mental challenge like rappelling off the side of a cliff. There are social challenges like being around a new group of people and other challenges we can’t choose, like the weather and the condition of the trails.
One thing you may not have realized is that having challenges like these is the purpose of Outward Bound.
Escaping Discomfort in the Modern World
In today’s world, it’s easy for us to escape discomfort. We can surround ourselves with exactly what we want to hear when we want to hear it. When things get challenging for us, we can simply modify our circumstances to feel safe and comfortable. If we get into an argument with a friend, we can walk away or pull out our phones to contact a different friend. If we have plans to go outside, but the weather looks bad, we can stay inside and turn on the TV. At Outward Bound, these everyday escapes are not options. We have to come face to face with challenges and learn to not only overcome but to thrive through adversity.
Introducing Challenge on an Outward Bound Expedition
Perhaps the most important job of an Outward Bound Instructor is to cater the level of challenge on the expedition to the skill level of their students. When this balance is reached, group members can feel like they are in a flow state where time passes by without anybody knowing it and everybody is highly motivated and feels clear-headed. These are the best, unforgettable moments where everything falls into place and we create memories to last a lifetime. One of the concepts used to help reach this is the Growth Zone Model.
The Growth Zone Model
The thought here is that the majority of our time is spent in the comfort zone where we feel safe and in control. Once we push through the fear of being in a new place with new people trying new and challenging endeavors, we begin to learn. However, learning isn’t the only goal. The ultimate goal is to grow. To do this, we need to have an open mind and be willing to try something different. If we can reach the growth zone, we will begin to realize our potential and will feel safe setting newer, more challenging goals for ourselves.
One of the first things I learned about outdoor education over ten years ago is that there is no learning without risk. And while there is a lot of nuance around this topic, mostly in how much risk we take and how we manage it, the general sentiment remains the same: we cannot develop if we stay in our comfort zones forever.
The Growth Zone Model exists as one tool in an Instructor’s toolbox to plan and implement life-changing experiences for students of all ages. With Outward Bound, you will spend very little time in your comfort zone. At times, it might feel like you don’t have control and things might be overwhelming. This is normal and it is an intentional strategy. Learning how to handle this stress will help you out significantly when you return home.
Moving Between Your Comfort Zone, Growth Zone and Beyond
Of course, it needs to be stated that we cannot exist in the growth zone forever. The very purpose of the growth zone means that we are supposed to take our new goals and aspirations and apply them to the comfort zone, fear zone and learning zone. Over the course of a lifetime, these circles grow bigger and bigger. Outward Bound is one way for us to spend time in the growth zone where we are uncomfortable and don’t have our usual escape mechanisms, and then return home to our comfort zones and apply our new skills. If we can have tough conversations in the pouring rain after hiking for ten miles uphill, then sitting around the dinner table with our family will feel like a walk in the park!
What I like most about this model is that the arrow continues beyond the growth zone. This means that we are never finished growing, learning and pushing ourselves. At Outward Bound, you will learn that you have limitless possibilities. You will push yourself to new places you have never been. With the help of your crew and your own hard work, you will learn that you are capable of more than you know.
To learn more about how Outward Bound students learn beyond their comfort zone, watch this this video below by Edutopia.
Inspiring Bold Futures
Learn more about how students are finding success in school, work and life by discovering their personal potential through Outward Bound’s local and regional outdoor education programs.
About the Author
Nick McEachern is an outdoor educator based in Salt Lake City, UT who has worked for the Northwest Outward Bound School since 2017. His passion is looking at the edges of the map for adventurous ways to travel across landscapes with his friends. He enjoys skiing powder, drinking coffee in his sleeping bag and paddling into a headwind.
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