One week from now I will compete in my first T’ai Chi tournament. Am I nervous? Yes. Am I afraid of forgetting my form? Yes. Am I worried about the possibility of disappointment if I don’t do as well as I’d like? Yes. Then why am I doing this, you ask?
There are a lot of reasons but the most compelling might be related to a quote by Neale Donald Walsch that I keep in my journal. Simply stated, it reads:
On the surface this seems simple enough: step outside of your comfort zone and the life you dream of becomes reality. Wouldn’t life be grand if it were really that simple? Imagine if all it took was the ability to wake up one day and do the very thing we’re afraid of doing and like magic all becomes right with the world. Think of the things we could accomplish in light speed. There would be no more false starts to our diet and exercise plans. There would be no more fear or apprehension in asking for a well-deserved raise. Our walls would be covered with plaques and trophies of our never-ending accomplishments and our lives would be overflowing with confidence.
But as human beings, and moreover as adults, our lives are just not that simple. The older we become the more experience we have with being hurt, disappointed and dismayed. Comfort zones are the places where we feel safe and assured. They are places full of what I call ‘muscle memory’ where there is no pain involved because the tension is gone and the predictable patterns are set. In the workplace our comfort zone may be the position that we’re in and the hours that we’re used to working, even when those hours are long and excessive and the position offers no challenge or reward. In our intimate relationships, comfort zones are the amount of time that we’re accustomed to spending with our partner, even if that time is spent gazing into the computer or scrolling through Facebook on our smartphones. In our personal lives, comfort zones may be the exercise routine that makes us feel relaxed and peaceful, even if it lacks the heart-racing cardio that our bodies need for muscle toning and new cellular growth.
Something to Think About
As much of a fan as I am of all things related to ‘feeling good,’ the problem I’ve found is that comfort zones don’t test the very things we need in order to grow.
Comfort zones don’t test our willpower.
Comfort zones don’t test our patience.
Comfort zones don’t test our strength.
When we’re in a comfort zone, we’re unlikely to take on new challenges and seek out new experiences. We’re unlikely to ask the kinds of questions that lead to deep self-inquiry and self-exploration; questions that can’t be answered by anyone other than ourselves.
- Am I doing work that leaves me fulfilled at the end of the day?
- Is my relationship growing in new directions?
- Have I accomplished the life goals I set for myself ten years ago?
Only through self-inquiry can we begin the process of moving in the direction of growth; directions that offer the opportunity to cultivate confidence. As we encounter the challenges inherent in new decisions, we learn to exercise patience through the process and we strengthen our willpower through faith. Confidence does not mean that everything will turn out exactly as we hope or that the road will be easy. Confidence does not guarantee that we will be liked, celebrated, or even outwardly rewarded. In fact, we may find ourselves to be the recipients of even greater criticism. Confidence however, is trusting that whichever way things turn out we will have the tools to adapt. Confidence is having the courage to leap even when the landing is uncertain. Confidence is the willingness to explore our imperfections through the lens of our mistakes. Confidence is knowing, embracing and even celebrating what we’re made of—even our weaknesses. Confidence is the knowing that every experience serves a greater purpose and is a vehicle for greater authenticity in our lives; a vehicle of joy in experiencing more of ourselves as we deserve to be seen.
Whether it’s stepping up to the challenge of a T’ai Chi tournament, changing lifelong poor eating habits to lose weight, or taking the leap to leave a job and start a business—it all comes down to courage, starting where you are and seeing yourself for yourself. Courage is defined as ‘the ability to do something that frightens one’ or ‘strength in the face of pain or grief.’ Until recently the thought of competing in a tournament at something I’m still a beginner at frightened me. Shouldn’t I wait until I’ve got 5, 10 years under my belt…until I’ve gained mastery? Well the answer is simple: mastery is gained through challenge, not through fear.
Just for Practice
We become what we think about every day and small acts of courage practiced daily hold the potential for greater confidence in times we need it most.
For the next seven days, write down one thing that you can do differently each day.
- taking a different direction to your workplace or back home after work
- eating lunch in a different location
- taking a lunch break with a different person or eating alone
- choosing one meal per day that consists of a food you’ve never tried before
- calling into your favorite radio show to express an idea or opinion
- ending each day with an activity that is different than your normal routine
If you’re really up for a challenge, try choosing something that has always made you nervous or slightly afraid.
Each day, take 30 minutes to reflect on the experience of doing something differently. Write freely about the experience using all five of your senses (sight, taste, touch, feel, smell). In each experience, take note of how you feel internally. If you are able to connect a reason to your emotion (fear, doubt) include that also. At the end of the week, write down any reflections on the theme of “courage, confidence, and joy” that have come to mind.
Drop me a line and let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear your experience.
Yours in good health,