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The Magic Happens outside the Comfort Zone

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Samantha Grant

Spring 2016

In the zone

Age 22, I secured a job as a holiday rep on a Spanish island. I had only ever been abroad twice, but it didn’t matter because I was bubbly, confident, hardworking and outgoing. I was excited at what lay ahead.

Out of the zone

On the night flight to the resort, staring out at the night sky, a question came to me… ‘What have I done?’ and the feeling of panic began to take over my body. They say that a new challenge should be mostly exciting and a little scary.

Upon arrival at the airport, I waited for the other reps to finish work before we could go to my new home. I watched them busily doing their job with ease; they spoke Spanish and had beautiful sun kissed skin. I was a bluish shade of white and I only really knew ‘hola’ and ‘adios’. I felt like a fish out of water and worried that I would never fit in. I was out of my comfort zone.

Being in your comfort zone is a behavioural state where you:

  • Feel in control and at ease
  • Experience low levels of anxiety and stress
  • Are able to perform at a steady level
  • Feel comfortable

When you step out of your comfort zone your:

  • Anxiety levels increase and a stress response is generated
  • Concentration and focus is enhanced due to the stress response
  • Environment feels uncomfortable, unfamiliar and unsafe

The next day I met the other girls I was to share a home with and although they smiled, they rushed off and didn’t chat. I realised making friends was much harder than I had anticipated. I shadowed a colleague to learn the ropes, but when it was my turn I made lots of mistakes. Every time I got something wrong I was taunted by the thought: ‘How will I ever remember all this?’

The first of many trips that the holiday company organised for its guests came around and although I really tried, I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. I was sure that even the holiday makers noticed the new girl, all awkward and not knowing how to join in. I felt embarrassed and useless.

This wasn’t how I imagined it would be…

At the team meeting the other reps got great feedback and seemed to glow with confidence and radiance.

In my mind it just proved everything I had been thinking since I arrived, ‘I can’t do this.’ I was seriously out of my comfort zone.’

Everything must have a meaning.

How could I have gone from feeling confident and successful to negative and a failure?

My mind was assigning a meaning to everything that had happened since I arrived. I had decided that the fact that I didn’t get it right or feel comfortable or make friends meant I couldn’t do it and I wasn’t as good as the others.

Every piece of information from the senses is sorted by our mind. It decides what information is useful to our survival or goal, and ignores everything else. The mind sorts information like a computer running algorithms and decides if our current experience is the same as, different to or because of a past experience

It does this in order to assign meaning.

Meaning gives us the ability to navigate life faster and more safely. For example, we know that a door handle is always on the opposite side to the door hinges. Knowing this saves us time as we open doors, rather than working it out every time as we did as an infant.

I’m not saying that our mind always gets the answer right. In fact, it can be vastly incorrect and an incorrect calculation can be both unhelpful and detrimental in our life.

What we do with meaning.

This new meaning was changing my reality tunnel. A reality tunnel is a place in the mind where the meanings we have given to our experiences are stored. Every interpretation of an experience is pasted like a new poster on the wall of our reality tunnel. We walk through this reality tunnel in our mind every moment of our life. This is our reality and it shapes who we are, what we think, what we do, how we act and what we say.

We love to be right, and the prover proves what the thinker thinks. This means that whatever we think, our mind tries to prove that it is correct.

My mind thought that I had failed and that I wasn’t as good as the others. It found the evidence to prove that it was correct. I had failed at making friends, work and fitting in. This meant that my mind was primed to look for evidence to prove what it thought was correct, in everything that I did. This added more negative posters to my reality tunnel.

Opening the reality tunnel.

As part of my new job I had to drive a car every day. I had only past my test a few years ago. After my first day of driving on the left hand side I was still alive. My mind ran its algorithms and found the experience of driving was similar to driving in the UK. My memories of driving in the UK had been comfortable and in control. The meaning I derived from my driving experience was that I had been in control and comfortable. This was a tiny poster for my reality tunnel that said control and comfort, rather than anxiety, and unfamiliarity. Every day I felt a little less out of my comfort zone. I still made mistakes, but I didn’t notice them as much

I was opening up my reality tunnel through new experiences; repetition and persistence. The more I did the better I got and the unfamiliar became the familiar. My anxiety levels reduced and my environment felt more comfortable. This happened slowly at first then, after a month or so, it was great I loved it and I could do it. It felt like home and I didn’t want to leave.

I had stepped outside of my comfort zone and as a result my original comfort zone stretched in size to catch up with the new me. I felt comfortable again, but with new skills, friends and experiences. It felt happy, exciting, rewarding, successful, free and inspiring.

The more often you do something the better you get at it. It’s like cycling up a hill, it’s hard with not much reward and you feel like stopping, but when you get the hang of it it’s like being at the top of that hill and you can whizz down the other side. It gives you a sense of achievement and the confidence to do more because you know you can, you proved you can.

So why bother?

They say that the magic happens outside of your comfort zone. It’s a place wherein lies the possibilities of success, accomplishment, reward and growth. Fear of the unknown and that feeling of anxious discomfort often pull us back from stepping outside our comfort zone because it feels so unfamiliar, so unsafe. It prevents us from experiencing the wonders that lay outside of the comfort zone.

Opening up your reality tunnel opens up your comfort zone and what seems possible. Changing how we think primes the prover to prove something better and more rewarding than before.

Increase the size of your comfort zone?

Expand the opportunities and experiences in your life and your reality tunnel will open up. By doing something new until it changes from unfamiliar to familiar you can achieve this feeling of success, accomplishment, reward and growth. Here are some ideas:

Expand your ability: Join a class: art, photography, plumbing…

Expand your body: Take up a new hobby: tennis, golf, yoga, karate, dancing…

Expand your social circle: Reconnect with old friends or make new ones. Expand your mind: Learn a new language, Sudoku or chess.

Maybe there is different area of your life that you could expand and get some of that magic?

Make your own magic!