I have a very close relationship with the discomfort zone. We’re somehow friends. Over the years I slowly learned the subtle science of feeling good in my discomfort zone. What follows is a short description of my approach.
But first, let’s have a glimpse of what I understand by discomfort zone in some areas of my life.
Last week I attended to an astrology workshop. I am somehow into astrology and since I already knew the woman who held that workshop (from a mailing list, not from real life), going there seemed like a nice idea. But the atmosphere, the people and the whole workshop approach proved to be completely new and somehow disturbing. I literally felt like an alien taking notes with my iPad, the only man among 20 something middle age women (there was another man attending but he was an astrologer too, so I guess it didn’t counts). That was a very uncomfortable place for me to be.
At the same time, I am on board of a business event called Venture Connect where I meet with people from the online industry. While I do enjoy being there, the challenges this position brings are quite interesting. I have to search for new, valuable online businesses, evaluate them, meet with entrepreneurs, balance their expectations and so on and so forth. It’s the second edition of the event and I’m starting to feel a little bit more relaxed, but it still requires some serious stretching from me.
In the last two months I started a consulting project (quite a big one, it will end in March next year) where I have to spend a few hours every day in an office, evaluating progress of a team, provisioning, negotiating deals, creating and implementing strategies and so on. That’s a very interesting position for me, in a very subtle and new way. I had my own business for more than 10 years, but positioning myself somehow outside of the power and control position of a business owner, while still trying to get measurable results as a consultant, well, that’s something completely new and, of course, uncomfortable.
And during the entire day, every day, I socialize on Twitter and Facebook, interacting with dozens of people and trying to manage thousands of followers. Some of them are just having common interests, some of them are just into chit chat, while some of them are completely unknown strangers who are trying to make new friends. For a rather reserved person like me, this routine is really uncomfortable.
Although I am seasoned web programmer, lately I decided to enter the Apple ecosystem, creating and selling my own iPhone / iPad (and, lately, even Mac) apps. For that, I had to learn Objective C from scratch and implement myself all the functionality I needed. It’s true that the first prototype of my iAdd app was ready in just 30 days, but those 30 days were an incredibly wearing period for me. iAdd is not a walk in the park, it’s a solid, Core Data based app with a lot of underlying features.
And maintaining, bug fixing and improving iAdd takes a very big chunk of my time, even if I’m becoming more and more experienced. But the distance from my comfort zone of being a regular PHP programmer to becoming a skilled and effective Objective C programmer is huge. Objective C is still a very disturbing place for me, although I spend a few hours in that realm every day.
Although what you read so far can give you an idea about my general discomfort zone, nothing from it compares with what I have in my personal relationships. As some of you may know, I’m separated from the mother of my 4 year old daughter, Bianca. I also have another child, Victor, who is 13 years old.
Until recently, my personal relationship approach was a very “clean”, cutting edge one: either “100% in”, or “100% out”. Meaning that if I commit to a relationship, I’m there 100% no matter what. But when I’m out from the relationship I’m out for good. Like no messages, no phone calls, no nothing. From the other person point of view, I may be considered as well as dead. 100% out.
While I’m still committed to keep the first part the same (whenever I may decide to enter a new relationship, that is, which is something that won’t happen very soon, for sure), the second one, the one related to “100% out” is something that I decided to change. I want to start to maintain a (former romantic) relationship going on on a different vibe, not for my own benefit, but to give to my children access to their father too. Even if they’re not in a regular family, being able to get in touch and maintain permanent contact with their father is fundamental. That’s something I’m committed to do, no matter what.
But well, here comes the difficult part. All my partners were accustomed to my “100% in” approach. So each contact we have is seen through those lenses. Although I’m well out and beyond the romantic relationship we had and all I want is to create a friendship, they’re still expecting me to perform as I was “100% in”, which I’m not.
Anyway, fact is I find the process of creating and maintaining healthy boundaries in personal relationships incredibly difficult. Not because of the actual me, but because of the image I created into my partners minds by the former me.
On top of that, I have to be really careful not to create too many expectations on my new romantic relationships. I kinda managed to have a balance on this area so far, but it tends to get a little crowded lately ;-).
That’s one hell of a discomfort zone, believe me.
How To Stretch
Why am I telling you all these? Not because I’m creating public reports of my social life, work or personal relationships, that’s for sure. But because I want to show you how and why I find the discomfort zone fundamental for one’s growth.
So, here’s how to stretch:
1. Take A Leap Of Faith
Jump. Start doing what you’re afraid of. Immerse in it without too much thinking. The discomfort zone is not a rational one. If one would have to use reasoning for jumping into the discomfort zone, he would never do it. We’re wired to search and enjoy balance.
But too much balance is dangerous. Too much balance is like sitting on a chair at a party and enjoying your staying, while everybody around is dancing. The dance is where the real fun is, not sitting on the chair. Life is a dance and just because you’re invited to the party, if you don’t get up and dance it doesn’t mean you’re really having fun.
And it’s true: to start dancing you gotta summon courage, not reason.
For instance, in my social life I just dive in whenever I feel the drive to. Going to that astrology workshop was a leap of faith. I felt like an alien during it, that’s true, but the leap of faith proved really beneficial. I stretched out. I made my muscle work somehow.
2. Observe Your Reactions
Fundamental. See what everything means for you. See what muscle is strengthened. See how the new you unfolds. If you don’t observe what the discomfort zone is doing to you, the leap of faith was in vain. Was just a gratuitous, selfish and useless act. But if you’re staying aware, you start reaping off the benefits.
This is the learning stage of the process and if you’re not taking the time to follow through, you’re not using your discomfort zone. The discomfort zone uses you to create frustration.
For instance, in my social life (again) every day spent at the office is a day of learning. I position myself more and more accurately based on my own reactions to what happens. It’s like I’m building the muscle of being a consultant instead of a business owner. It’s something I never did before, so I must work this muscle pretty hard. But each day I find a new exercise for it.
Take a break every once in a while and see what exactly was changed in your life. And then start to find a way to fit that change into your new you. If you don’t integrate the change, the new muscle (along with the leap of faith that created that muscle) will be useless. If it won’t be used, it will get thinner and thinner until it will disappear.
For instance, in my personal relationships, I realized that my “100% out” approach had to be changed. So, I took the leap of faith to morph my (former romantic) relationships into friendships and started to observe my reactions, to build this new muscle, fiber by fiber.
But as things are progressing, I’m integrating it into other areas as well. Meaning I try to first become friend with a potential romantic partner and then see if there’s something more than that. If anything. I’m just using my newly strengthened friendship muscle.
That’s the part where the subtle comfort of the discomfort zone really kicks in. There is a certain time when all the first three steps are coming together, forming a fantastic realm of pressured satisfaction. Things are moving, are transforming around you, there is still a lot of pressure to be solved, you’re tired and frustrated, but, somehow, you’re thriving. And you feel it with all your being.
The simplest comparison is with a workout. It’s hard to push and push and stretch yourself out of the comfort zone. But as you progress, as you stay there doing what you wanted to do, something is starting to change into your body chemistry. You’re releasing endorphins. And although if you’re still feeling tired and frustrated, you’re enjoying the hell out of that workout. I know you know the feeling.
That’s exactly what I’m currently doing with my Objective C discomfort zone. I’m still frustrated and tired, but I’m already seeing results (customers are happy with my products, the app is regularly featured by Apple, etc). I’m starting to enjoy the endorphins of my Objective C workout, although I’m far from finishing it.
So, there is time to enjoy your comfort zone. But not for long.
Because you gotta take the next leap of faith.