I have been carrying something heavy, that I need to let go, but the address it needs to be dropped off at, is far beyond my comfort zone. So here I am trying to run, jump, walk and crawl to the other side of the causeway, that doesn’t seem safe, peaceful or even endurable –
The Causeway Across The Comfort Zone
You cancelled the trek trip, because your friends aren’t coming. Mornings seem unbearable without the Cappuccino. You never tried the highway route to your work place. Humans are creatures of habit. Life is best led this way. Or may be, it’s more safe and comfortable. We are accustomed to the comforts of the closed small community, and often confuse discomfort with inability. Every decision we make, big or small, determine the person we aspire to become. If you feel that you don’t want to take any steps until you guarantee to ace it, take my word, your life would shrink.
WHY WE LIKE TO LIMIT OURSELVES TO OUR COMFORT ZONES
1) FEAR OF FAILURE or I CAN’T DO THIS…
Fear is often a story that we tell ourselves, or sometimes faint memories of tales told by friends and family, long long ago. When I was twelve, my school friend told me about her Kamal uncle, whose skull got smashed between the doors of the steel elevator.
Now I’m 36, and still scared of the automatically closing doors of the stainless steel elevator. The fear instilled 24 years back, is lazily laid, not willing to vacate my mind. But, it doesn’t stay there alone. It has its best friend, Claustrophobia as a roommate. Claustrophobia – the fear of closed confined spaces. Where on one hand, I struggled to board the elevator everyday, the daughter is a daredevil. We were at LegoLand last year and daughter wanted me to compete with her on the LegoRacer. LegoRacer is a colourful, narrow, elongated tube, water slide. Inspite of being claustrophobic enough to withstand that zesty, flamboyant, plastic, rounded slide, I climbed till the top of the ride and crept inside the yellow tube. But froze at the time of letting go. I climbed out of the tube, giving others a chance, while my little one looked at me expectantly. “What kind of an example am I setting for my 5 year old, if all I did was cheer from the bench? What if she inherently accepts my fears as her own?” And I climbed back into the tube. The security personnel had assured me, the ride merely lasted 10 seconds. So, I closed my eyes and slid. Before I could realise, it was over. I did what I thought I couldn’t do. Even with eyes wide shut, it was quite an experience. The daughter asked to repeat and I readily agreed. This time I saw the inside of the tube. It wasn’t as scary as I thought. It is fascinating, how fears held close for a lifetime, could be dispelled in a matter of minutes.
In the above diagram, nicely and neatly drawn by me, you can see my significantly small green comfort zone, the purple far-far away, where I need to desperately declutter and in red is optimal anxiety. Optimal Anxiety – is the behavioural zone right outside our comfort zone, where the stress levels are slightly higher and performance marginally better. This is exactly where fear pushes you back into the comfort zone.
2) FEAR OF EMBRACING UNCERTAINTY
Previously, I worked as a design manager. I was well trained and doing awesome. But the heart was glued to the pen. As a child, I had serious reading problems. Whenever I saw a kid struggling with academics, there was this innate desire to help out. It was empathy. But I wasn’t sure if I’d be as comfortable, teaching children, as I was designing couture.
It is alright, to not have a plan, and be scared, doubtful and uncertain. We are sometimes stuck stagnant, even if we don’t belong to a particular place, because of the reluctance to give up all we have, to pursue a dream, which may or may not work out. For most of the people, their passion and purpose, in life is just outside their comfort zone, in the optimal anxiety circle.
Loving someone with a whole heart, without a guarantee, is incredibly hard. And we are scared to speak out. The fear of getting hurt in the process of growing, keeps us away, from reaching our optimal anxiety, thus missing, what could have led to an excellent possibility. We are all worthy, of being loved, not because of where we stand, but who we are. Ironically, we readily share our happiness and achievements, but withhold, our struggles and failures, creating an emotional hollow. Not being able to hold on to that picture perfect image, is an inbred insecurity. It’s ok to be facing difficulties and problems.
Have the courage to share your struggles. In fact, the word ‘Courage’ is derived from the Latin root ‘Cor’ which means heart. The earliest form of the word courage meant, ‘to speak one’s mind, by telling all, one’s heart.’ So, speaking our heart out, showing our soul to another is an act of immense courage and audacity.
Our comfort zone is a safe and pretty place, where nothing ever grows and there is no scope for transition.
WHY LEAP OUTSIDE THE COMFORT ZONE?
The caterpillar turns into a colourful butterfly, only after it comes out of its safe and cozy cocoon. Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone. By leaving our comfort zones behind, and taking a leap of faith to something new, getting to know our camouflaged capabilities. Lack of comfort develops creativity and coping mechanisms. No spectacular stories ever come from people who choose to stay comfortable.
HOW TO CROSS THE COMFORT ZONE
Everyone has a small comfort zone in the beginning. All we need to do is find ways to expand it. At first, when we come out of our comfort zones it feels like –
1) Losing identity
2) Having to cross a wall without a ladder to climb
3) Jumping off a steep cliff with no safety harness
Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable –
Our desire should be bigger than our fear. Our ‘WHY’ should be substantial enough for us to make the ‘HOW’ work. The No.1 fear in the world is that of public speaking. Getting on the stage and singing in front of an audience was my biggest fear. Inspite of having a degree in classical vocal I couldn’t sing to an audience. I still remember, standing on my aunt’s terrace, thinking whether or not to grab the mic. The feet froze and the voice choked. But I was dying to sing.
Taking little steps towards our goal everyday would immune us enough to plunge into that big step. Do small things to push past your constraints little by little. Map the baby steps. And reward yourself for them. I started with the karaoke mic alone in my bedroom. In the beginning, I sounded drab, out of tune and tempo. I chose a song and repeated it more than a hundred times. In time, I got used to the echo of my voice. The same pattern, I followed with many songs, till deemed perfection. The reward for me was the greater sense of accomplishment. Do little things that make you uncomfortable. For example, if you aren’t social – reconnect to an old friend or complement strangers.
People suffer. Accept the fear and the suffering. We catastrophize the fear in our thoughts, and the way we speak to ourselves. We need to de-escalate that language, we must try, even if afraid. If it doesn’t work out, it’s ok, life goes on. The first time I faced an audience, I wasn’t audible enough.
BUILDING A SUPPORT SYSTEM
A cheer leader, buddy or support system always beats going it alone. It turns out that fear gravitates to lonely people on comfi-cultures. It doesn’t necessarily goes away. But it gets easier with others having similar vulnerabilities. Father-in-law loves music and plays a constant cheer leader.
Once we are across our optimal anxiety circle, we realise, what felt extremely uncomfortable previously, came about easy, natural and peaceful. The brain is wired to remember trauma, past incidents, and fears, often rooted from irrational thoughts, that are there to protect us from pain. Life is a constant brawl with the comfort zone. You push at it, it pushes you back. Accept the fear, step out of it and push it further. Just take that plunge, a second guess, might pull you back. So try something new, with no expectations and only possibilities. Choose the outside of your comfort zone, where every day becomes a new territory with unknown outcomes. The light crawls in, where the window is open, and the darkness, remains an assumption.
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