People sometimes talk glibly about being outside the comfort zone, and if you google it you'll find lots of hits, many about getting back into it (or staying there). However, it's often where growth and significant change happens. But (like childbirth) being significantly outside your zone (and it's different for each of us) will leave you changed, possibly permanently. I.e., you may not look the same coming at as you did going in. (Just ask my wife after having delivered our daughter.)
This leads us to a way of measuring where we are - Ask yourself:
Does this [process | change | new direction | new relationship] have the potential to alter who I am, or how I see the world?
In other words, any significant personal undertaking must involve a change in you, the doer.
There are two related questions:
First, if you acknowledge that moving outside your comfort zone will change you, consider whether it's changing you in ways you like. I find it useful to periodically ask myself: "Do I like the person I'm turning into by doing this?" The "this" can range from big changes (like work and relationships), down to the daily inputs you let into your life, including how much bad news you take in, and how many acts of violence you watch. I'd argue that each one is changing us.
The second question is: How often are you asking:
What in the world do I think I'm DOING!?
In other words, moving out side your comfort zone can leave you feeling out of control, at least temporarily. Why is this important? I think it has to do with how humans evolved. As children we reveled being outside the comfort zone (in fact we are built to be outside it - it's called learning). However, when mature and reach child-bearing age, nature turns it off - makes us less comfortable outside the zone - in favor of safety. This is because as parents we need to provide a stable framework for our offspring to do the same thing - to get safely outside their comfort zones.
This means that, as adults, we have to work to get outside the zone, and that it's easy to stay in it. Hence, having manageable amount of periodic chaos is a good thing. The good news is that we can train ourselves to get outside the zone by doing it regularly. Yes, the first time it's painful (just ask me about the first workshop I put on), but it gets easier over time, and you get more resilient in the process. Plus, you're making yourself into someone you like!
So how about you? For the year passing:
- Were you out of your comfort zone enough?
- How did each move out event change you?
- Do you like who you are turning into?
- Two books I've found helpful around this are Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers, and Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson.
- You may also enjoy Alvin Soon's article The Most Important Thing to Do: Stretch.
- Steve Leveen of Levenger says in an interview with David Allen: "begin before you're ready" (but do prepare) - there is power in acting "as if" (AKA "fake it 'till you make it"). Also, "take the plunge!" - that's where the learning really kicks in. Don't be "too smart to start."
- In the anime movie Ghost in the Shell, we have this dialog at the end:
- Major Motoko Kusanagi: I wonder where I'll go now. The net is vast and infinite.
- Puppet Master: Your effort to remain what you are is what limits you.
- Major Motoko Kusanagi: You talk about redefining my identity. I want a guarantee that I can still be myself.
- Puppet Master: There isn't one. Why would you wish to? All things change in a dynamic environment. Your effort to remain what you are is what limits you.
- From Pema Chodron's book Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings:
A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not-knowing is part of the adventure. It's also what makes us afraid.