The ‘uncomfort’ zone

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The comfort zone. We’ve all got one. Wikipedia describes it as ‘ a behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk’.  Sounds pretty boring to me.

A couple of years ago I was attending a residential course for my MBA. It was for the subject ‘change management’ –change management is a business term that relates to making changes to processes and procedures and supporting employees through those changes. Basically helping them move outside their ‘comfort zone’. 

This was an experiential learning experience where each day we were pushed further and further outside our own comfort zone to experience the feelings that change brings. I consider myself a change embracer but this experience was tougher than I had imagined, I had no control over, or in fact any idea about, what was happening next. 

On the final day we were told that as a group we had to perform a song and dance in a video. Now I’m pretty confident in my dance moves but I am terrified of being in front of a camera. All I could think was how awful I would look, and how people would judge me when we watched the video back at the end of the day. So I did what any normal person would do. I panicked, looked around for the closest exit and got ready to run!  Small problem though, I was miles away from home and if I left now I’d have to repeat the whole subject again to get a pass and finish my MBA.

But then I thought it through. I realized that if I felt this way, many of the other students would surely feel the same, in which case when it came to watching the video the only person they would be focusing on was themselves.  So I harnessed my courage and changed my focus. I knew if I didn’t embrace it then all I would see when watching the video was how awkward and reserved I was and this would make me feel even worse.  I thought if I have to do this I might as well have fun with it and I just let myself go. 

So what was the result?  Well I had fun, a lot of fun. And when I watched the video at the end of the day I looked like I was doing just that, having fun.

Comfort zones may be easy places to hang out but if we don’t step outside of them and take a risk we will never know how great we can be, how much fun we can have and what we are capable of achieving. I really believe that if you stay within your comfort zone for too long, you will become ‘uncomfortable’.  You’ll be stuck living with the anxiety and stress that has built up over time because you haven’t been living to your full potential.  So get out there, embrace your fears and vulnerabilities, and take a risk.  What’s the worst that could happen? Or more importantly, what’s the best that could happen?

How to stop sweating the small stuff

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shit could be worse

“I’ve lost everything!”

These were the words I was greeted by late one Saturday night as I opened the front door to my distressed flatmate.  “What do you mean?” I asked. She repeated, “I’ve lost EVERYTHING!”

Now I’ll let you in on a secret, she was a bit tipsy, so I assumed there was some overreaction going on.  I could see that she was still fully dressed so she hadn’t lost her clothes, she found her way home so I assumed she hadn’t lost her mind, but it was clear that she had obviously lost her keys.

I brought her inside and tried to get to the bottom of the situation.  Turns out she’d lost her bag.  In her bag were her keys, her phone and a small money purse, technically not ‘everything’. Fortunately I was able to work through this with her, help her realise the real scale of the problem and send her off to bed with a big glass of water. It did, however, get me thinking.  Here was a girl who had previously lost many possessions in a house fire, ended a relationship whilst travelling in a foreign country with only her ‘now ex’ partner and spent large amounts of time with no income whilst looking for work when returning back to Australia.  A phone, a few bucks and some keys seemed extremely minimal by comparison.

Clearly the few wines she had consumed provided an exaggerated response, and most of us are truly addicted to our phones these days so I can somewhat sympathise, however in the grand scheme of things my flatmate had just experienced a slightly annoying event requiring a little bit of admin the next day.

By focusing on what she had lost rather than how to deal with it, my flatmate caused herself a lot of unnecessary stress. The inability to deal with small, every day, negative events not only creates this stress but it can also lead to trouble.  Generally this is how awful things like road rage come about, a small annoyance that gets blown out of proportion and handled badly. But its good to know that whatever the circumstances when we suffer loss, or disappointment, or frustration, we do have the ability to deal with it.

Losing our attachment to small things (e.g. house keys) better equips us to deal with the situation and save ourselves a whole lot of pain. By putting things in perspective we can tune in to our previous experience, and personal resilience, and realise that we will be able to get past whatever roadblock has appeared. Further, research shows that those who turn their focus from the small negative events to the brief, joyful moments tend to be happier.  Happy people understand that there are ups and downs in life but focus on what goes right rather than what goes wrong, building greater resilience and contentment. So next time you loose your keys why not spend some time sitting on your doorstep, reflecting on all the good things in your life while you wait for the locksmith to arrive.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, my flatmate’s bag was located with all items in tact. Seems she’d just left it on a shelf while she was busting out some moves on the dance floor. Next time, perhaps, a little less wine…