Have you heard of the Stretch Zone? I don’t mean the matted area in the gym, where you can contort your body into various positions while others lift, push and pull weights around you! No. The Stretch Zone I’m referring to is that space you enter when you push yourself to do something that’s a bit challenging, that makes your stomach knot a bit and your heart race with an exhilarating mix of fear and excitement!
I would never call myself an adrenalin junkie, however I do love the thrill of doing something new and that pushes me out of my comfort zone; something that slightly scares me but which my gut says I’m going to love, enough to make me take that leap of faith ‘over the edge’!
Some of those edges have included an open plane door to do a tandem skydive for my 40th birthday (which I loved and wanted to repeat as soon as my feet touched the ground!); up-rooting and moving nearly 12,000 miles away to New Zealand; and leaving my corporate job to start my own business – in the midst of the global economic crash!
However, it can seem a tad daunting to stretch yourself and go for those goals that are just a little out of reach right now and so, all too often, we stick with the devil we know…as it’s just easier!
Whilst it can feel nice and safe staying within the confines of our comfort zone, it’s a bit like that favourite old jumper and jogging bottoms get-up you throw on when you’ve come home from a tough day at the office or are feeling a bit ‘bleugh’ at certain times of the month – it’s familiar and snuggly but you wouldn’t be seen dead in it at a meeting with a prospective client or when asking your boss for a pay rise! Instead, you want to be wearing that jazzy number you feel great in, which makes you stand taller and shows off your best parts!
And, even though you may feel nervous/sick/scared-witless (delete as appropriate!) at even the thought of doing something ‘out there’ for you, each time you take the bull by the horns and stretch out of your comfort zone to try something new or different, you’ll be arming yourself with lots of new neural pathways in the brain which make doing so again much easier…not to mention the surge of endorphins and other natural feel-good chemicals coursing through your body!
And it doesn’t have to be a massive, seat of the pants jobbie either! In fact, it’s often when we attempt to make too big a leap in one go that the overwhelming, mind-numbing fear grabs us and stops us from taking another step. Taking smaller, bite-sized steps out of our comfort zones and into our stretch zones are proven to be much more effective. And there’s not a one-size-fits-all, either. We all have different experiences, not to mention aspirations, from each other so the skill is in stretching in a way that suits you…as opposed to trying to get your leg up to your nose on your first attempt to keep up with the yoga-guru next to you in the gym!
Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable!
When prospective clients enquire about my coaching services, very often it’s because they’ve hit a bit of a stale-mate. It may be that they’re fed up with their 9-5 job, which they don’t feel valued for anymore. Sometimes it’s because they’ve realised they’re just not feeling fulfilled in life or that their business is causing them to feel overwhelmed by everything that needs doing – yet they don’t know what to do about it or where to even start.
Part of my work is to help them get unstuck, deal with overwhelm, explore their core values and understand what’s really important to them. However, very often there’s an element of fear that has prevented them from moving forward in the past – and it will keep doing so until they get comfortable with being uncomfortable! Doing something different can feel really challenging, not least because our brains are designed to like the familiar and not stray into new territory that could cause a risk to our wellbeing.
All too easily we can get caught up in the day to day routines of life and work, just doing the same things we did the day before, without pausing to think about whether these habits are truly serving us anymore. Until we take time out to reflect on how we feel about things, we can’t expect them to keep working for us the way they used to.
As Einstein famously said:
“The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again yet expecting a different outcome”.
This is where the deep work, and real stretch zone, starts! I provide a safe space for my clients, with non-judgemental support, to enable them to explore what’s really going on for them underneath the surface. I won’t lie, it’s not the nicest thing for anyone to really look at their ‘weaknesses’ or the ‘dark sides’ of their personalities (I know, because really we’re all works in progress as we continue to develop and evolve!). However, until we can get comfy with addressing who we are, what we are good at and, as importantly if not more so, what we find challenging, and therefore what has the potential to prevent us from achieving what we’re really capable and worthy of, we’ll just be stuck in the mundane, comfy jumper & joggers of life!
If any of this is resonating with you right now, here are some top tips to build your resilience and confidence to start making changes. Try them out now and who knows what you may find yourself doing in the next few weeks/months!
- Face your fears with small stepsFacing your fears may initially feel overwhelming, like standing at the foot of Mount Everest with only your trainers and a bottle of water for the climb. Taking small steps can help you to pluck up enough courage to move closer to what you want to achieve. For example, you may be new to networking and feel self-conscious or anxious when attending your first event. To overcome this you could start by preparing how you want to introduce yourself to people and first trying it out with the host of the event when you arrive. Your next step could be asking them to introduce you to a particular contact you were looking to make, rather than having to go over by yourself and strike up a conversation. When you convert your fear into smaller action steps you’ll naturally start to feel more confident.
- Try Something NewA great way to entice yourself out of your comfort zone and into your stretch zone is to try something new. This could be anything from trying a new exercise class to taking a different route/mode of transport to work. When you are brave enough to try something different it helps you to build up your courage and be more adventurous with your choices.
3. ‘Try Before You Buy’
Something I often hear from people who have faced their fears and tried something new/daunting is that it wasn’t as scary as they initially assumed it would be and they wished they’d given it a go sooner! If there’s something you’re currently worried about attempting, ask yourself this:
What if it isn’t as scary as you imagine? What if you could ‘try it out’ first to see how it feels before fully committing? What small step could you take and if you really don’t like it, or it really does feel too overwhelming, you don’t have to pursue it…but if it feels manageable, you could take another small step…?
Another option is speaking with others who have already done what you aspire to do. This can help you to feel more confident in taking action and you might gain some valuable insights or advice that could eliminate your worries altogether.
4. Positive Charge
Very often we can get caught up in past experiences where perhaps things didn’t quite go to plan, and repeat them over and over in our minds until they prevent us from trying anything else for fear of the same thing happening. A great way to counteract this negative cycle and give yourself a positive boost is to reflect on positive or fun experiences that you’ve had in the past when you have broken out of your comfort zone, perhaps despite what your thoughts or feelings told you at the time. Maybe it was when you decided to go on holiday to a new destination or tried a new cuisine? Reminding ourselves of times we’ve taken the plunge and tried something new/challenging which went well helps boost our armoury for trying more new things, so it gets easier each time.
- Prime yourself for taking action!
Another great way to motivate yourself into facing your fears and taking action is to create a safe, inspiring environment to encourage you out of your comfort zone. Athletes and top sports people have used these techniques for decades, so why don’t you take advantage of them too:
- Music – what lifts you or gets you dancing around the kitchen when you’re washing up? Make up a playlist of your favourite tunes and stick them on when you need to face a challenging task – you may just amaze yourself by the energy and vigour you start attacking it with!
- Mental preparation – image yourself having completed the task ahead and how great you’ll feel. Our brains can’t tell the difference between imagining doing something and actually doing it, so visualising it and bringing in all the associated positive emotions can help train your mind into thinking you’ve already achieved it, making it so much easier when you actually try it out!
- Dress for the part – wear something that makes you feel more confident, because if you feel good you’ll act in a more confident way too.
So, if you’re ready to don your gladrags and really grab life by the horns, but would prefer a helping hand, get in touch to see whether I could be your stretch partner! You can find me at: www.TheCatalystforLife.com or email me at: [email protected]