Most of the time when people come to work with me, it’s because they want to make a significant change in their lives. Whether it’s leaving a relationship that has run its course, becoming a better parent, or improving their relationship, people come see me when they need support stretching themselves.
One of the first things I share with a new client is the concept of the comfort zone. Most importantly, the idea that everything we want is outside of our comfort zone.
Comfort zones are a construct of our ego. They are our ego’s best attempt at keeping us safe—well— comfortable. From the rather limited perspective of our ego, any move we make outside our comfort zone is a threat and a “wrong” move. Often, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s only when we stretch outside our normal patterns and habits that we have any chance of improving our life.
One of the most memorable trips I took outside my comfort zone came in the wake of my divorce. As it is for many people, the dissolution of my marriage was one of the most painful events of my life. It left me feeling vulnerable and fearful— especially when it came to dating. Long before my divorce, when I was in my 20s, was the last time I had dated. Back then I was carefree, happy, and open. Now, I found myself both out of practice and still in pain. And though I longed to be more like my fearless twenty year-old self, I found myself more often feeling reluctant and guarded whenever I went on a date. Not surprisingly, the first men I dated were less than intrigued with me.
Around that same time, I attended a weekend retreat with a Native American shaman. I can’t remember much about what we did that weekend, but I will never forget what he said to me after I shared with him about the pain of my divorce and how I was carrying that into my dating. He said,
“Your safest position is your heart wide open.”
What? I could hardly get my head around the words. They were so contrary to the message my family, and my society, had taught me, especially when it comes to romantic love. The message passed down to me was “you need to protect yourself, if you don’t want to get hurt again.”
The shaman’s message was counter intuitive and in direct opposition to this. Still, he had my attention. I so wanted to find the courage to open myself up to love again. Could this really be the answer?
I started by stepping outside my comfort zone with an experiment—first in non-dating situations. In the weeks following the shaman’s workshop, I moved to a new city where I knew no one. One of my first orders of business was to sign up for a gym membership. A true introvert, it was challenging for me, but I decided to walk into the gym the first day with the energy of my heart wide open. In the parking lot I set my intention, visualized the outcome I wanted and (gulp!), and opened my heart. The root word of courage derives from the Old French word “coeur” which means “of the heart.” I started by opening my heart to the teenager working the front desk. That felt good, so I kept my heart open to the the trainer who gave me a tour, and finally the gym owner.
In the months that followed, nearly every time I entered the gym, I practiced opening my heart. This small, family-owned gym ended up being a very safe place—the ideal laboratory—for me to try my courage experiment. As result of opening my heart, I felt very connected to the whole staff in a very short time. That alone was reward enough for me. But I believe that because of my open-heart practice, many other wonderful things came my way. For starters, one of the teens became my coaching client. Other people reached out to be my friend. The biggest benefit of all was the love I felt going toward and coming back from the other employees and members.
My success at the gym gave me more courage to keep my heart open when I was dating. Happily a couple of years after that, I met my soulmate. I wonder if this could have happened if I was still afraid and trying to protect myself? I doubt it.
So where in your life could you benefit from taking courageous action? It’s only by taking actions outside our zone of comfort that we change. I suggest that you not wait for fear to subside to take action. Take inspiration from one of my favorite books and, “feel the fear and do it anyway.”
Perhaps for you the most courageous thing you can do is take no action. Sometimes courage looks like accepting things as they are or just remaining silent. But often, it looks like bold action.
It’s easy, when we want to create a particular result in our life, to get stuck in the trap of visualizing instead of taking action. Many people want their life to be different but they are unwilling to face the discomfort it takes to get there.
In the words of George R.R. Martin, the creator of A Game of Thrones, “Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’ ‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”
Whether it’s a better job, a better body, or better boyfriend that you want, don’t wait for fear subside to muster your courage and take action. What you want will be waiting for you right where everything you want exists…outside your comfort zone.
In Light and Delight,
Vickie Falcone, M.A.