How to Step Outside "The Comfort Zone"

 The dog in his comfort zone.

The dog in his comfort zone.

Kenny Loggins wrote about “the danger zone” and now I’m going to write about “the comfort zone.” Unfortunately in doing so that song is now stuck in my head!

At some point we all find ourselves in the comfort zone. Some spend a lot of time there. Entire lifetimes. Others are shocked to realize where they’ve been dwelling. Still it’s universal. Even all you overachievers and adrenaline junkies out there have found yourself stuck in the comfort zone at some point.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a comfort zone in and of itself. We like what we like. Particularly if our comfort zone includes a lot of what we like, loved ones, a nice home, enough money. But people, we’re ultimately here to grow and stretch ourselves. There’s no getting around it. We all feel a drive for something greater and when we get too comfortable we start to feel uncomfortable. “Stuck” is the word most people use.

 Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

This is where we start to question our lives. Quietly at first. I have this great family, can pay all my bills, and we go on nice vacations, but something’s missing. If we don’t listen to that whisper it becomes louder and louder until we are forced to listen. Hopefully that happens before all spirals out of control and threatens to destroy all the things we love. But hitting rock bottom isn’t just for those who struggle with addictions. Humans seem to have a need to learn things the hard way. It doesn’t have to be like this, though.

I’ve always seen myself as someone who’s more comfortable with change than familiarity. I couldn’t handle the 9 to 5 so I don’t do that anymore. I like challenges and trying new things even if I don’t think I’ll like them. I rarely watch the same movie or read the same book twice. I’m even one of those weirdos that for the most part enjoys moving. And while I ponder reincarnation, I feel the urge to experience everything like this is the only life I’ll ever get. 

Recently, though, I noticed that soft whisper that there’s something missing. Luckily I’ve been mindfully tuned in so I haven’t made any regrettable choices to fight this uncomfortable feeling. So far.

Here’s what I’ve done instead:

I sat with it.

 Silent contemplation

Silent contemplation

I felt those uncomfortable physical sensations that urge us not to sit still. As a doer this may never feel entirely natural for me but it’s become easier over time. I noticed the butterflies in my stomach. I indulged the tightness in my chest and throat. I breathed into those areas without trying to change them. I know those sensations have no choice but to lessen when we fully feel them and biology didn’t disappoint.  

I told myself stories.

I mean we’re all delusional to some degree anyway. So I didn’t become caught up in a negative, spiraling story that I’m anxious and need to do something to fix it immediately (My go to.). Instead I told myself those sensations could be as much excitement as anxiety. Physically the emotions of anxiety and excitement feel exactly the same. Since there’s nothing to really be concerned about in my life right now, it would make more sense that I might be intuitively recognizing positive things on the horizon even if I don’t know exactly what they are. I’ve laid substantial groundwork for many goals so it’s only a matter of time before the physical results manifest.

 Journaling

Journaling

I asked myself what I needed and listened.

In doing so I realized I needed to set some boundaries and spend a bit of quiet time alone each day to reconnect with myself. The hours in my car on Los Angeles freeways and streets between one person’s crisis to another’s didn’t quite cut it. I was so enthusiastic for an abundance of opportunities that I said yes to everything without mindfully considering how it all would actually fit into my life. I found myself in a place where the inevitable burnout was creeping up.

I also thought about how I’m a competitive and creative person but hadn’t been nurturing those sides of myself anywhere near enough. When we don’t support our authentic selves those aspects of us tend to creep out in unhealthy ways. I didn’t want any urges to argue with what I thought to be others’ irrational thoughts to get in the way of connecting.

I took action.

I know that meditation and journaling are important to connect to my deeper self and I’d been neglecting those. So first I scheduled those activities into my daily calendar. This led to further insights, increased clarity, and more inspired action.

While I have always exercised regularly, since I got a dog most of it has been geared toward wearing him out. This wasn’t entirely fulfilling anymore. Prior to the dog, most of my exercise was either an activity I can’t actually do with my dog (Dang no dog beaches!) or in training for some sort of sport or race.

 Running race

Running race

When I recognized how much I missed having physical competition in my life I signed up for a 10k. Granted, I trained for all of it with my dog who isn’t particularly fast nor can run as far as I wish he could, but I completed it and along the way came up with some ideas of how to train more properly and still work out that puppy.  

Last, my inner voice was really trying to tell me that I needed to step even further outside of my comfort zone. To do things I'd been avoiding. Primarily to really put myself out there for the world to see.

I have some aversion to criticism and being judged. I don't know anyone who enjoys that but I know it’s interfered far more than it should with sharing my authentic self in all my glory (and not glory).

I want to live a life where I don’t allow any fear to get in the way of living fully. This might surprise some as I know many people describe me as a risk taker but deep down I can be a fraidy cat. I just don’t advertise that.

So to combat that and continue to meet my need for competition and creativity, I signed up for a haiku duel.

A haiku duel is like a spoken word battle but specific to haiku.

This certainly crossed off many of the things on my “To Avoid” list:
- Writing under pressure with no preparation
- Sharing that immediate writing with a large audience
- Having that audience judge if I made the cut to the next round or not

I’ve been writing and publishing haiku poetry for many years and think I have some talent, but this was putting myself out there on a whole other level. What if people didn’t like it?

stage-performance.jpg

Turns out, I was first up and first down.

But I left the stage exhilarated! 

I didn’t write an absolutely awful poem. Sure, I got a bit nervous and blanked out for most of the two minutes I had to write but I still did it and performed it. I got a lot of applause and the applause was subjectively judged by humans so who knows, I could have actually won. 

Also, I learned much about failure. Namely that I don't think that I failed. The goal was to get up there and step far outside my comfort zone, which I accomplished. Sure, I would have loved to win or at least get another crack at time pressured poetry writing but cheesy as this is, I was a winner simply by participating.

In not judging myself as a loser, I was able to compassionately notice areas of improvement that I wouldn't have otherwise. I could definitely benefit from some practice in improvisation and performing to an audience.  While I haven’t decided to quit my day job and become a Hollywood star, I see how these skills can improve all areas of life. 

It also reinforced how we all probably have far more support than we realize. From my loved ones that showed up to the loved ones that were there in spirit to the entire crowd, everyone wanted me to succeed. My fear of criticism and judgment is probably far more unfounded than I previously thought. 

Sharing our gifts with others (whether we're the best in the world or just starting out) is valuable and appreciated. This is something I'll carry with me when the inevitable fear pops up. Still I think because of this experience overall it’ll be much easier for me to ride out of that comfort zone.