You hear a lot about how important it is to get out of your comfort zone. I don’t buy it.
All those boot camps, hell weeks, hot yoga, ice swimming, strict diets, high mountains, world travel, Spartan races, #beastmode, and so on, and so on, and so on.
For myself, I’ve never found it particularly hard to get out of my comfort zone. I put my mind to something, and force myself to do it. Sometimes it’s willpower, sometimes just stubbornness. Or at least a focused narrowing of awareness. Goal met. Box checked. Achievement unlocked.
That all seems easy enough to me. Just throw me into it, push myself, brain off and make the leap, or use some manipulative strategy on myself to make it happen.
Whatever works. It gets done.
You know what I find harder? Getting something done IN my comfort zone. Maybe you understand what I mean. Doing something with attention, with empathy for myself, accepting that it is what it is. Being there. Being with. Not trying to force anything, not trying to grow faster, not pushing. Just saying, feeling and accepting: it’s enough. I’m there.
I am exactly here.
I’d like to let those four words sink in with you. Read them slowly, one by one.
Does that make you feel anything? Maybe a calmness, but not one that puts you to sleep? Being present. Nothing more, and nothing less.
I am exactly here.
Quite a far cry from the steady stream of hashtags that we get thrown at us all the time.
And the incessant advertising messages all around. And, no doubt, the targets that your boss sets for you – or that you set for yourself. The constant pressure to go further. More, harder, wilder.
Don’t get me wrong, growth is all well and good. So is hard work, and developing your craft, and putting the hours in.
After all, nature grows too. Mother Nature keeps everything growing with a relentless, underlying flow that can’t be sped up or slowed down. But do you think she does that out of her comfort zone?
Take the seasons. They just are. In the winter, we may long for the summer and want to bring it back early, or when it’s ending, make it last a little longer. But we can’t. Try as we might.
Of course, people talk about the weather – it’s fine as a conversation starter, but all too often I see people really getting worked up about it, like a subconscious resistance to this flow. The weather is the weather. So be in it.
And on the subject of growth and nature: the only time we see spectacular, continuous growth in nature is in the processes where cell division is out of control. These are generally unhealthy, or even fatal, processes.
I have to say, I see parallels with my clients who have done whatever it takes to climb the ladder as fast as possible, but at some point have to pay the fiddler. Those who climb fast also come down fast, as a wise woman from Amsterdam once put it to me. We see it with some top athletes: after a few years of peak performance, they burn out, leaving themselves in bad shape physically and mentally. There’s a place for pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, and it can bring you some benefits, but it also has a downside for you and those around you.
So how should we look at growth and improvement? Summer, fall, winter, spring. Here we see two seasons where the flow turns inward rather than out. Fall and winter, inward. Spring and summer, outward. Work, rest. Dark, light. Talk, listen. Do, be. Perfectly in balance.
So many traineeships, personal growth processes, books and so-called influencers put so much focus on living outside your comfort zone. Come on! Push yourself! Do whatever challenge! That word in itself – “challenge” – there it is, right? It’s like a magic word. Once you say that, it’s practically a given that most of us will jump up and get on it, because it scores points and produces spectacular images. The kind of things that in business training deliver good Net Promoter Scores. After all, wasn’t it spectacular? And it makes you feel something, so I must be on the right track, thinks the (hapless) participant. So the trainers and the HR managers keep doing it. Each more outlandish than the last. Where does it end? What’s next? Cow-cuddling parachute jumps into an ice bath?
In reality, the thin veneer of spectacle that this type of “training” builds (which in itself pastes over the true, deeper lessons) starts to crumble even before the exuberant applause of the group stops.
It’s wasted time and energy.
Which is never a good thing.
The way I see it, the real lessons are to be found INSIDE the comfort zone, in the silence of the self. Being quiet, feeling. When you’re in the kind of training session where you can make contact with that, then instead of shaking from the excitement you feel something more like a smooth sense of fulfillment. Sometimes humility. You might even quiet yourself.
(author in 1994, bottom row, second from right)
I felt that recently, when finally, after 26 years of playing football, for the very first time I was truly having fun with the player I was covering, and joking with him instead of trying to take him out with an elbow or any dirty trick I could use.
I suddenly understood it didn’t have to be so hard, so forced. And I didn’t have to take anybody down because I had to WIN.
I finally understood that it actually isn’t about winning.
Finally playing football IN my comfort zone, instead of pushing myself (and others in the process) outside the comfort zone.
I saw myself doing, laughing, and I felt it, felt myself:
I am exactly here.