There is a part of me that responds to the words of this blog title with fear and loathing. I don’t like it that, once again, I’ll have to leave my small circle of comfort to reach a significant goal. “Not again,” a part of me says, “you don’t really have to work that hard, and feel all those feelings. Let somebody else do it.”
So whose voice is that? When I ask myself if that voice is coming from my heart and resonating with my core values, I know it is not. It’s the voice of my Saboteur, the part of me whose job it is to keep me safe, small, and ultimately miserable. Parts of our old brain are designed to do just that: keep us safe, not stand out to be a target, and take care of our wants and needs, maintain the status quo—at all costs. Anytime we want to change our lives, reach for a meaningful goal, start something new, and live our values more fully (see my previous Natural Law blogs), the Saboteur will appear (that’s its job!) and try to talk us back into our comfort zone of homeostasis.
The Saboteur can be ingenious, or as blunt as shaming us into retreating from what our heart wants. The most subtle and confusing is how we can co-create a Saboteur external to ourselves, a boss, ‘friend’, parent or spouse that fills the role perfectly of giving us compelling reasons to stay just where we are. And it takes a heck of a lot of discomfort to effectively stand up to either our internal or external Saboteurs (or both!) to change what we have been doing and how we have been being to move toward something new and meaningful. If you did not have to leave your comfort zone to achieve something of real value, you would already be doing it, right?
Much of the time we are existing in our comfort zone. If not, the constant state of stimulation that would result would cause physical and high anxiety. Paradoxically, the reverse is also true: Living entirely in our comfort zone will cause physical and mental illness, like an addict hooked on a very specific state of being and feeling that gets increasingly difficult to maintain, and eventually he/she breaks down. So it is important for us to manage our discomfort, to push outside from Comfort Zone into Learning Zone on occasion. Here is where change happens in our lives. There is excitement, which is a combination of both fear and joy. Pushed beyond the Learning Zone, we enter the Panic Zone, where our physical, social or psychic safety is challenged, and the old parts of the brain light up, preventing us from learning and growing. Obviously, this state of affairs will not lead us toward any significant goal if it is maintained for long.
So here are a few tips for moving out of your comfort zone and achieving your important goals. Keep in mind that using a life coach can be a powerful ally to keep you on track for all of the points here:
- Write down your goals. Write the reasons that achieving these goals are important to you. What are the impacts on your and others’ lives that you want to make?
- Keep your goal and your reasons with you. If I want to lose 20 pounds (yes, I do!), I’ll write that as my goal. I’ll also give my reasons, for lowering my risk of heart and circulatory disease, lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, much easier to bike up hills, improved self-image, more energy, etc. I’ll post that right at my spot in the dining room where I eat and another copy on the snack cabinet.
- Identify your Saboteur. What’s the justification line your Saboteur rehearses for you to hold you to the status quo? Get to know this part so you don’t get caught unconscious and automatically do its bidding, like finishing an entire bag of potato chips, and then thinking, “I can’t believe I just did that!”
- Be a compassionate self-manager. Good managers don’t shame, blame or yell or pass harsh judgment. Don’t do that to yourself. Change is not easy. You will have failures, just like you did when you were learning to walk as an infant. Take in the learning from the failure, and try again. Start anew each day.
- Collaborate by design. What I mean by that is to enroll people around you, friends, coworkers, spouse or kids. Tell them your goal, and why it is important to you and to them. Ask for their support, and let them know what that support looks like for you. You may need to train them, but having a support system will help ensure you get the reinforcement we all need at times. You don’t have to do it alone.
- Be accountable. That’s not a shaming experience; accountable means giving an account of yourself. If you did not meet a goal, be honest about what sidetracked you. Get beyond the circumstances (the refuge of the victim) and explore what messages you are giving yourself that prevents you from progress.
- Celebrate each success. Every giant or baby step towards your goal is earned. Celebrate accordingly! You, and those around you, will want more of the part of you that grows and celebrates. Let that continue in a virtuous cycle. Yay me! I lost a pound this week! I’ll celebrate with a victory walk. Woohoo!