Exploring the Zone of Proximal Growth

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As human beings, we have extraordinary potential that we can tap into and actualize in our lives in significant ways—if we know how to leverage the innate tools we possess in our minds and bodies.  

A concept I love to speak about is what I call the Zone of Proximal Growth (ZPG), inspired by Vysgosky’s Zone of Proximal Development that I learned about when I was studying psychology at the University of Sunderland in England more than 30 years ago.

I discuss: 

  • Understanding the Zone of Proximal Development
  • How the Zone of Proximal Growth applies to personal development
  • Embracing the chance to expand my comfort zone

Understanding the Zone of Proximal Development

Understanding the Zone of Proximal Development

To understand the ZPG, we must first look at Vysgosky’s Zone of Proximal Development. 

Vygotsky was a Soviet psychologist who lived at the beginning of the 20th century. 

He came forward with the concept that the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem-solving and the level of potential development determined through problem-solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers, was the Zone of Proximal Development.

This concept was groundbreaking for child development because, at the time, it was a common belief that children had certain capabilities to do on their own and additional support or collaboration could not change those abilities to see improved or different results.

What Vygotsky was saying meant that children would benefit from specific collaboration with capable adults to help expand their development—with the right guidance, they can grow their development to things they cannot do alone and eventually, they will be able to do it by themselves.

The skills that were too difficult for the child to master on his or her own could be done with the right guidance and encouragement from a more knowledgeable peer or adult. 

How the Zone of Proximal Growth (ZPG) applies to personal development

Zone of Proximal Growth

We all arrive at a stage of development as an adult where we understand our strengths. We start avoiding things that we’re not good at, and sometimes even shy away from trying new things and exploring new interests.

However, if we embrace the zone just outside our comfort zones—not too far out that it paralyzes us, but enough to stretch our capabilities and expand our horizons—we have an ideal space for proximal growth.

By giving ourselves the correct support and conditions, we have the chance to connect the dots and expand our perspectives, leading to solutions we wouldn’t have thought of otherwise; that’s where the magic happens when I work with groups and individuals.

I recently had an experience that expanded my own ZPG at a professional event in California. We were invited to participate in an iFLY indoor skydiving experience—they suit you up and put you in a vertical wind tunnel with an instructor, mimicking the sensation of regular skydiving. I had never done anything like that before, and the temptation to back out was potent.


Embracing the chance to expand my comfort zone

Embracing the chance to expand my comfort zone

I recognized an opportunity to expand my comfort zone and seized it. I embraced the challenge. 

When you are in the simulation, the noise of the wind is so powerful that you have a helmet and earplugs, and you cannot communicate with words when you are in that space, so you have to learn hand signals to communicate, to help you be in the proper position. 

The instructors had one crucial message beyond basic safety, and that was to relax so we could float and fly more easily.

We each got two turns in the simulation. The first time, I surrendered to the wind and gave myself to the experience entirely, emptying my mind and being in the moment. The second time, I realized it could be fun and gave myself the chance to express more freedom and playfulness as I floated.

You can see the pure joy on my face in the below video: 

Think about the moments in your life. Think about situations where you stepped into your Zone of Proximal Growth—what did you learn, and how has it shaped your willingness to embrace new challenges?

Be sure to check out my full episode about the ZPG for further insight!