Everyone should have someone that challenges them and encourages them to grow.
I’m grateful to say I’ve a few, including a rockstar career coach that I met during my freshman year in college. We’ll call her “DF.”
I met DF during a campaign to raise funds for cancer research (“Relay for Life”). After telling her about the campaign, she nonchalantly told me that she was undergoing cancer treatment, herself. My mind replays this moment in slow motion as I recall it, her words coming out at half-speed. I remember reeling and trying to hide my shock. She was so detached from fear in that moment that she could just as easily have said, “I’m getting coffee for lunch.” I wasn’t used to someone doing this.
Right off the bat, she challenged me.
Years later, DF would become one of my closest friends, shaping a friendship based on fun and mutual encouragement. We talked about everything, from crushes to identity confusion. We reflected together on our ongoing challenges and goals for improvement.
We stretched each other – literally and figuratively.
In the years since, as a direct result of DF’s influence in my life, I’ve blasted through layers of fear as we stretched my comfort zone out further and further. Fear of dying? White water rafting! Fear of inability to control my speed? Zip Line! Fear of commitment? First boyfriend, personally vetted!
As I’ve discussed previously, these fears didn’t vanish altogether, but the stretching forced me to confront new layers of them that were ready to disappear. And when I wasn’t ready, I pulled back and received either comfort or a little more nudging. All three of the above listed experiences required at least a little bit of encouragement.
DF will tell you I had a different type of influence in her life. In mine, she was my comfort-zone-stretcher. And I became used to it, loved it, even. I encouraged it.
When you’re stretching your physical body, you get such a different experience with a partner. With a partner – a respectful one that knows your limits and your goals – you can stretch your body in ways that are difficult to do alone.
The same is true of stretching of the comfort zone. The right partner can provide just enough love and nudging to get you to where you want to be. FYI: a good coach is great for this reason, since this is their role.
In honor of this friendship and the role it’s played in my life, I offer the below: a field guide for stretching your own comfort zone.
Prepare for stretching: Just as you would set the stage for physical stretching, get ready for stretching of your comfort zone. Assess where you are and where you want to be, and identify areas that you would like stretched. Create a list of areas you want to stretch in: relationships, finances, sight-seeing, beer-tasting. Whatever floats your boat! Whatever gets you excited and a little bit nervous – those are the ones ready for stretching! Get as specific as feels comfortable.
Jump in – Stretch! Where should you start? Wherever feels good! Wherever you feel inspired to. Or, if you want to try a routine, go for it! Keep your goals in mind while knowing and respecting your limits. Just as searing pain alerts you to loosen a physical stretch, excessive stress is an indicator that your comfort zone stretching needs a break. Work different “muscles” (areas), too, just as you would in a physical stretch. Switch it up, keep it fresh, and follow your inspiration. Also, visualize this: imagine the difference in your body as you stretch while hating the act, versus while focusing on the fun of the stretch. Comfort zone stretching? Same deal. Your attitude changes everything.
Rest and replenish (and bask in the good feelings): When you see your mind as just another muscle, it makes sense that you would need a bigger break after a more strenuous task. There is no need to introduce ideas of deserve-ability because it just makes sense – if your gas tank is empty, you fill it. You don’t tell the gas tank it “deserved” gasoline, or that it didn’t. Fill your gas tank.
Repeat and Reward: Repetition is as necessary for comfort zone stretching as it is for your muscles. Repeated feelings of success are as important, so give yourself the chance to go in easy and reward yourself for big AND small successes. Those feelings build on one another. There is no virtue in feeling like a failure. That’s related to the idea of “deserving” a break. Set yourself up for success and let yourself grow as quickly as you feel comfortable.
Last thing: don’t compare yourself to others, if it makes you feel bad. That would be an anti-reward. It would be punishing yourself for a perceived lack-of-accomplishment. You, as you are, are wonderful.
Also by Amparo: How to Find Balance in Instability
Photo: Pamela Link via Flickr