I Used The ‘1-2-3 Change Model’ to Expand My Comfort Zone and Cut My Anxiety. It’s More Successful Than I Imagined – Inc.

End of the year resolutions often tap a common theme: How can I step outside my comfort zone to grow?

The problem, as communication coach TJ Guttormsen shares in a course on building confidence, is that we often jump straight into the “panic zone,” causing trauma and permanent resistance to anything remotely uncomfortable.

That’s why I love Guttormsen’s in-between space: a “growth zone” that falls between terrifying panic and inert comfort. The growth zone is where we push ourselves in a direction we want to go without pushing so hard we get PTSD.

I would make a few additions and changes to Guttormsen’s approach, however, that add what I think is necessary context and preparation. I call this the 1-2-3 Change Model:

1. There isn’t just one comfort zone, and not all comfort zones need expanding. 

If you commit to “stepping outside your comfort zone” in the new year, be clear about what this means. Which comfort zone? Do you want to improve work relationships by being more communicative with colleagues? Or do you want to take on more investors by increasing outreach? Whatever your goal may be, be specific about an end point–and don’t be tempted to engage in “comfort zone creep.”

2. Spend time mapping out critical landmarks on your growth journey. 

The first step is to know the lowest threshold for panic. At what point–what action, event, or engagement–will you experience panic when trying to expand a specific comfort zone? That’s your cut off.

Next, what incremental steps make sense to get you to the furthest point in your growth zone before you hit panic?

Lastly, how long (realistically) will it take you to hit each step? With these questions answered, you not only have a clear map to success, but you have a timeline and a clear end point — that doesn’t risk a terrifying trip to the panic zone.

3. Create an anchor to manage bouts of fear and anxiety. 

If you’re anything like me, much of your anxiety comes from the unknown. Your mind takes a swirling mass of possibilities and picks the worst case scenario, then runs with it.

In these moments, step back from what you’re doing and identify three things that anchor you to reality and wellbeing as a counter to what your anxious mind is telling you. These can be as simple as passing compliments or kudos. For example, “I’m not failing. My colleagues said in the last meeting that I’m doing a great job.”

This derails the anxiety train, and gets you back into a growth mindset where you can focus on progress, not pitfalls.

Bonus: Be willing to pivot and adjust as you progress. 

Life happens and things get in the way. Don’t be discouraged, but be ready to alter your path to growth as events unfold. I would also urge you to live moment by moment (or one step at a time). The ultimate value to stepping outside your comfort zone–and the growth it creates–is in the journey, not the destination.

If you have the time, I urge you to take Guttormsen’s class. As you do, keep the three steps above in mind so you can build a mental system for growth that is not only successful once but is sustainable and scalable regardless of the comfort zone you’re working to expand.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.