Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Overcoming Fear of Discomfort

Ever been in "the zone?" I'm told that for athletes it is an almost transcendental state in which athletic performance exceeds any prior experience. My 13 year old son was in the zone a couple of weeks ago at the University of Tennessee basketball camp, where he sank 21 of 24 jump shots in a drill and even gained the notice and appreciation of Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl. (Dad's hoping for a scholarship!)

The "zone" most of us are more familiar with is the "comfort zone." This is the state in which we are most comfortable, most at peace and free of fear of the unknown. This doesn't have to be a state of bliss. Even misery can have a sense of comfort if it is all a person has known. In fact, I've known many people over the years that wouldn't know what to do with themselves if they didn't have problems to complain about!

Unfortunately our comfort zones are a major barrier to transformational change. Just what is it that makes living inside our comfort zones so destructive to positive change? Well, the larger our comfort zones, the less personal and organizational learning takes place. You can picture it this way:

To the left we see a large comfort zone, a small learning zone, and a very large fear zone. This model is of a person that is very comfortable in their current circumstances, and any chance to those circumstances drives them almost immediately into fear of the unknown. They quickly retreat back into the shell of protection that comfort offers.

By contrast the model to the right is of a person that embraces change, and as a result never allows a comfort zone to calcify and harden. Their comfort zone is more of a yoke than a shell, and they have enough confidence in themselves and the future to have a small fear zone. They are grounded enough to know that even the trials and difficulties of life offer life lessons (they in fact offer the most profound life lessons). They live their lives in the zone between comfort and fear, what we will call the "learning zone."

So how do we overcome our fear of discomfort and expand the zone between comfort and fear-the learning zone? I don't have all the answers here, and believe the approach may vary by individual, but I am certain that this doesn't happen without focused effort. Here are a few suggestions:

- Try something new and different. Sometimes I struggle even trying a new restaurant when I know and like the familiar!
- Turn off the TV and pick up a good book. In light of the statistics this will make you a unique individual and greatly expand your learning zone. A few unbelievable statistics:
1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years. (View Source)

- Organize and de-clutter your life. Much of our fear and desire for comfort comes from living a life surrounded by clutter and chaos. In some ways less really is more!
- Take time occasionally to write or journal. Many times I sit to write about all the things that are wrong in the world and find myself just being thankful for the good in my life (or realizing that much of the "bad" is self-induced!).
- Take some calculated risks and resolve to live a life that is "not safe but good."

If you were to ask those who know you best to write your epitaph, what would it say? Truly the greatest failure would to have an epitaph that reads "No hits, no runs, no errors..."

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