It’s where you learn big time. Just outside your comfort zone. But what can you expect there? And how might you navigate the tensions and uncertainties?
I’ve been thinking a lot about comfort zones and edges this past year.
After 25 years in various roles within education – I finally said ‘Yes’ to that:
- which I’d written off previously as not possible, and not likely to succeed;
- which I’d been drawn to again and again, yet always stepped back from.
In saying ‘Yes’ to a new direction as a trainer-coach-consultant for educators, there were a number of associated Yes-es:
- I was saying ‘Yes’ to my health and well-being;
- …’Yes’ to my relationship;
- …’Yes’ to my voice, my intuition, my strengths, and my capacity to be more;
- …’Yes’ to creativity, to innovation, to risk-taking….
Yet as I’ve discovered – there’s SO many other Yes-es that I hadn’t expected.
Indeed, the terrain between the old and comfy worlds and the new yet to be fully realised worlds (if they can ever be fully realised, that is) has proved to be quite a navigational challenge. So much so that I’m thinking that a top quality GPS wouldn’t go amiss on this journey.
So if you’re venturing out – in whatever way – beyond your ‘taken for granted’ or ‘teaching as usual’ approaches, and I know that there’s many of you online (Hello Awesome Personal Learning Network -PLN):
- This post is aimed at you. I want you to know that what you’re thinking and feeling, in what can often be a roller-coaster trip into new ways of being, is completely normal;
- I have some tips – based on key learnings that I’ve arrived at along the way.
Outside Your Comfort Zone: Normal Feelings and Reactions
Those Internal Voices – will probably want to Kick Up their Heels Big Time
When you’re in a new space – there’s often not a deep reservoir of experience to fall back on, to reassure you that you’re on the right track. And since you’re probably attempting a whole raft of things for the first time, there’s plenty of room for insecurity max out.
For me, there’s much that’s new and unfamiliar….tweeting – blogging – wordpress site design – podcasting …..
Sooooo cue those insecure, negative voices:
- How can my site possibly compete? I mean look at all these professional sites.
- What if no-one reads my new post – let alone retweets or favourites it?
- Do they really like my post – or are they just being nice?
- My new post didn’t get as many Retweets – what went wrong?
- Who’s going to want to listen to you?
- Memories of a radio producer telling me my voice was ‘too gay’ come flooding back.
- I’ll never be as good as ……
Expect Brain Ignition like Nothing you’ve Known
Andrea Stringer and Rachael Lehr in a recent twitter exchange discussed whether it’s possible for teachers to ‘switch off’. Andrea referred to the educator lenses through which we can view so much of the world around us.
@stringer_andrea It’s probably wise to switch off at times! Yet I know it takes ages to at year’s end & then I’m planning in my head again!
— Rachael Lehr (@rachaellehr) September 14, 2014
I could so relate to their discussion. In my old worlds, my brain was constantly firing up.
Yet now – in this new, unfamiliar space – my brain’s amped up big time. It’s like woo-hoo, shiny, sparkly objects everywhere. Let’s investigate. Let’s try this out. And WOW that level of action can be so exhausting, especially if you have trouble sleeping.
There’s one more well-worn acquaintance that pulses in the background and sometimes runs alongside whatever I’m doing. Its name CONTROL – characterised by a fierce desire to bring back order – to bring back certainty and to get the lay of these new lands. It’s all about having CONTROL, just like in my old worlds. It’s as though once I have this ‘control’, then there’ll be peace. Dream on Greg, I hear you say!!
Procrastination – I know you well
Now I’m no stranger to procrastinating but with so much learning to do and with so many new ‘scary’ steps to take, my apartment has never looked cleaner and my indoor plants, well they’re radiating.
And whilst procrastination offers temporary respite, it’s often followed by a sinking feeling. Those ‘must complete’ tasks are still sitting there, glancing expectantly in my direction. You know that glance too, don’t you!
The Grass is Greener
It’s like a siren call (of sorts) that springs to life if:
- something doesn’t work;
- something goes wrong;
- something fails;
- the new task suddenly metamorphoses into something infinitely more complex than expected.
It’s an ‘oh so compelling’ call back to the familiar, ‘comfy’ and ‘certain’ worlds of old:
- You did so well there. You achieved so much.
- It wasn’t really that bad, was it?
- Remember when you….
- Remember the student who…
- You really knew what you were doing back there, unlike now.
The siren call gains its potency – through appeals to our ego – through nostalgic references to the ‘good times’ – and through glaring omissions.
By glaring omissions, I mean the following:
- those health and well-being concerns;
- that sense of stagnancy;
- that lack of recognition or appreciation;
- that toxic culture.
If in doubt about your Siren Call omissions, just ask your partner or best friends, they’ll certainly have stored up your list of grievances from conversations over the past year or so.
And there’s one other aspect here – that can be potent – that reluctance to cut the cord, to say goodbye and to LET GO.
Tension and Uncertainty
In finally stepping across that line, taking on something new, expect tension. For me, it seems to just bubble away:
- Sometimes it feels manageable like I’ve made headway and smoothed the seas;
- At other times, it feels palpable, rising up through my chest and taking residency there.
For me, tension is often connected to uncertainty:
- The fact that there’s no guarantees here;
- The fact that I can’t ‘control’ everything. I can’t know everything. I can’t plan for everything.
And given that there’s so many new things to learn and do – within fields that I’m particularly unaccustomed to – there’s MUCH scope for uncertainty.
A relevant early tip here: Check out the Unmistakable Creative Episode with Billy Murphy. Listening to this episode around risk, discomfort and uncertainty reassured me. It buoyed me up, and gave me constructive ways of framing my experiences of uncertainty.
Tips for Navigating Outside Your Comfort Zone
Set Firm Dates & Ship It
It can be tempting to keep tinkering on the edges – to re-draft just one more time – to record just one more take – to make that page even more captivating.
Get whatever you’re working on – out the door. Get it actioned.
Brand your first effort as Iteration 1 – as a first version that you’ll continue to refine and adapt – based on experience and feedback. I’ve written elsewhere about this concept of iteration.
Sign up some Accountability Buddies
Accountability buddies are crucial to maintaining momentum, to getting things done.
Spell out your plans to them including the dates for completion of tasks (Shipping or Action Dates), as well as the markers for ‘achievement’.
Your accountability buddy needs to be someone that you can’t trick or fool, someone who will hold you to account. They need to be able to ask tough questions, without risking your relationship. They need to be relentless whilst also supportive.
Compare You to You NOT the Experts
Beware of comparing yourself to the experts – to those who are excelling in your new field of endeavour – especially those you admire.
What we often don’t often see or hear about – is the various iterations they’ve gone through – the ups and downs and roundabouts – the failures. Instead we see the Super Successful Person – who just seems to crush everything they do.
Also beware the listen to everything you can – or read everything you can on the subject trap. This path can lead to serious OVERWHELM. And I mean ‘serious’ big time.
- Starting up a new podcast, I overindulged in ‘How to Podcast’ podcasts.
- The more I listened, the more things there were to set up to be a ‘successful’ podcaster.
- End Result: A far more anxious Greg, freaking out at the immensity of the tasks ahead.
1. Stop and Focus on You. Recognise the steps you’ve taken to get where you are now. Celebrate the wins along the way – the new skills – the risks you’ve taken.
- Tune into now. Often we’re projecting so far into the future that we lose track with now – along with all the skill and effort we’ve invested to achieve this ‘now’ moment.
2. Focus on ‘just in time’ learning. Jeremy Frandsen and Jason Van Orden at Internet Business Mastery often make this point. Focus on what you need to learn to do right now, not all the other skills that you may need sometime in the future.
3, Be okay with not being perfect and snazzy right out of the box. There are some things that you just don’t need to do right now.
- Distinguish between what’s critical now and what would be nice sometime in the future (when you have more resources and support).
Reach out and Connect
Reach out and don’t be afraid to show your vulnerable side to others. Sometimes when we’ve been successful in the past and have built a name for ourselves – we can be wary of showing that we’re just starting over in a new field
Reach out to other risk-takers, others who dare to step outside their comfort zone.
Set your antenna for fellow-risk takers, and tune into the worlds around you. Maybe they’re within your workplace. Maybe they’re within your friendship circles. You’ll definitely find them online – especially through Twitter.
My Personal Learning Network (PLN) have been instrumental in this time of transition. And I didn’t know most of my online PLN a year ago.
I’ve built this network of support around me.
- They’re people who rev me up and spur me on (my blogpost on my PLN);
- They recognise and draw attention to the steps I’ve taken
- They challenge me.
My PLN keep me centred and always inspire. They’re a firm foundation in uncertain yet exciting times.
Remember the Good as well as the Push Points
There’s much in your past that made you who you are today. (my blogpost about your Creative Past)
There’s much to celebrate, to stay connected with, and to draw upon in your new field or endeavour.
It’s also important though to remember the push points, those triggers for your shift.
Know what it is that finally triggered action on your behalf.
- Catch yourself here. This is not about launching into a whinge fest
- Instead, focus on voicing the triggers in the positive rather than the negative.
- Ask yourself: What is it that you want – and will work towards – in your new field or endeavour;
- Ask yourself: What is it that you were saying YES to – in making this transition.
Be Mindful and Don’t Overindulge your Thoughts
I’ve written elsewhere about the importance of mindfulness around our language in terms of how we talk about situations and events. And especially in terms of how we talk to ourselves (and ultimately care for ourselves).
For me there’s much pleasure to be had in endlessly churning through ideas, questions, worries, and possibilities – when it’s SLEEP-TIME.
It’s like my head goes – he’s stopped – PARTY TIME PEOPLE!!
I don’t profess to have all the answers here but what works is CATCHING my self, highlighting to myself what I’m doing (without put-down or negativity), then distracting or focusing myself elsewhere.
It’s fair to say it’s a work in progress. It doesn’t always work first time. Sometime it takes quite a few attempts. I DO KNOW HOWEVER that I must challenge the mind indulgence so that I’m rested and re-fuelled for my next day’s adventures.
Further Resources – Disrupt Your Comfort Zone 101
Check out my Disrupt Your Comfort Zone 101 page – filled with my blog posts relating to all things comfort zones.
- Disruption, Fear, Uncertainty and some laughs. Lots of tips and insights too.