"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone."
"Outside our comfort zone is where the magic happens."
"Everything you’ve ever wanted, is one step out of your comfort zone."
These are just a few of the one-liners we regularly hear at our school, sports club or job. In order to develop, we must step out of our comfort zone and do out-of-comfort things.
Whatever we want to learn, a new language at school, a new feint on the football field, or a new leadership style at work; as soon as we so much as start thinking about development the mantra of doing uncomfortable things pops up.
Yet I feel that we’re all completely mistaken. In order to no longer fool ourselves, future students, athletes, and colleagues, a paradigm shift in our view of out-of-comfort zones is necessary.
When I ask my students what school-related out-of-comfort is for them, I often get answers such as:
‘presenting in front of a group of people’
‘being the first to speak up in class’
‘introducing myself to new people’
‘striking up a conversation with a classmate I don’t know’
‘asking my teacher a question’
‘admitting there’s something I don’t understand’
When I ask athletes what their sports-related out-of-comfort is, I mostly get answers such as:
‘giving feedback to one of my teammates’
‘transferring to another club’
‘playing a championship game’
When I ask colleagues about their work-related out-of-comfort issues, I often hear things such as:
‘showing my true feelings’
‘expressing my true opinion’
‘asking for help’
What strikes me most is that students, athletes, and colleagues all associate out-of-comfort with an activity. Doing something that makes you nervous, doing something that you have not (often) done before or doing something (completely) new.
The perception is that out-of-comfort is something external; something outside of ourselves. The visual representation of out-of-comfort reinforces this view. The comfort zone is the centre, the learning zone (or optimal performance zone) is adjacent to this and out-of-comfort is the outermost ring.
There are also other variants, where a magic zone is drawn which is far removed from the comfort zone. Overall, these images implicate that out-of-comfort is something outside of ourselves, and that it is concerned with doing something, a deed; taking action in the outside world.
Where I want to go with this, is that we need a 180 degrees paradigm shift at schools, in sports, and at work in our approach to the out-of-comfort zone. The problem of the existing out-of-comfort paradigm is that we tend to seek outside of ourselves.
However, we will not discover the truth about ourselves by searching externally, but by becoming aware of the truth within ourselves. When you ask successful people, regardless of what we mean by success, about their road to outside success, they quite often talk about internal abilities that have helped them past a certain point.
Pressure, reluctance, and feelings of discomfort are not external, but something within us that we have to conquer. This, of course, is nothing new: the Kingdom of Heaven is not outside of us, but WITHIN us. We first have to find our own inner Kingdom, before we can establish it in the outside world.
Back to the context of school. We do not help students who are scared of presenting by teaching them techniques to improve their presentation skills. As teachers, the best way of helping them is by making them aware (and allowing them to experience) that all mental blocks, resistance and tensions that occur when presenting, come from within themselves.
After all, they know how to talk; they learned to years ago and do it daily. The problem is the resistance within themselves which prevents them from relaxing and being themselves when presenting.
An example from sports: an athlete who wants to give a teammate feedback can undoubtedly articulate what he wants to say to his teammate, but something within himself restrains him from doing so. What you see happen next is that coaches enthusiastically explain a number of fun feedback techniques, while still neglecting the reluctance and tension WITHIN the person which prevent him from speaking up.
It is like building a house without a foundation. In such cases we are building external skills without any internal foundation.
As long as we teach the next generation of students, athletes, and colleagues that out-of-comfort is something of the outside world, we continue to ignore the actual problems within ourselves.
Internally stepping out-of-comfort may well be the most difficult form of stepping out of our comfort zone. It requires a lot of patience, courage and perseverance to bring the reluctance and tension WITHIN ourselves into discussion, to allow feelings and thoughts of discomfort to appear, embrace them, look them straight into the eyes and kiss them goodbye.
However, only when we dare to go through this difficult process will we eventually feel comfortable enough internally, to also go out-of-comfort in the external world. And funnily enough, going out-of-comfort will then not feel out-of-comfort anymore, simply because you can finally relax in being who you are. As within, so without.
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Guest Post Bio: My name is Mark Postma from Holland and I'm all about sharing the simple state of 'We are ONE in action’ in schools, at work and in sports. In this true state of "being" we fully feel free, calm, alive and connected with ourselves and others.
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