I had a question pop up on Instagram yesterday that I thought would be a great one to chatter about, simply because it’s something that will be really familiar to many of us. It came in response to the latest podcast episode on comfort zones, where I talk about some of the common pitfalls that come up and the resistance that we experience whenever we look to extend the outer edges of our own.
Here’s a snippet from the question to get us started:
“It was good to hear you talk about this so I don’t feel like such a failure! I find I’m continually butting up against and going over my comfort zone, and sometimes it’s hard to know how long to stay there because usually I immediately go ‘oh, I need to finish now before something bad happens and I have to force myself to continue just a little bit more so I’m not continually stopping the minute that feeling comes up. Is that the right thing to do?”
So, when to stay and when to wrap it up?
In my experience, this not so much a logical or analytical decision as it is a somatic and intuitive one. The base understanding is that any movement outside our comfort zone is going to result in feelings of unease. In order to establish a new normal where extension of our knowledge and self is part of the course, we need to be intentionally seeking out areas of low skill and ineptitude and actively drawing that into the training process, if only for bite-sized chunks of time.
The movement to the zone just beyond your comfort zone is often referred to as the Sweet Spot. The sweet spot is where 50 % of the time, you feel like you can easily complete the task at hand, and 50 % of the time, it feels like it’s just out of your reach. The metaphor that I use is trying to remember a word and not being able to think of it in the moment. You’re searching for it, it can feel frustrating and just beyond your grasp, but it’s not anything that’s going to send you into a full-blown panic (that’s the survival zone, the next step over, and one that I don’t encourage hanging out in!).
The differential between understanding whether we are acting on an old pattern of behavior or responding in a way that is true for the moment is one that we need to feel our way through, and for those of us who have become reliant on the overthinking mind, this can feel like an untrustworthy process.
How do we tell the difference? Old patterns and behaviors are familiar. It’s the feeling of “here we go again”. When we are in that place, we can recognize the experience as an upward cycle of progress and open ourselves up to the possibility of creating a new pattern. If a well-practiced exit strategy arises when you are expanding your comfort zone (and provided it is safe to do so), then stay for a minute beyond what you would like to. If you are able, detach from the story and instead, zero in on the feeling until you notice a shift in its quality.
This is a practice of stepping out of a pattern and staying in your direct experience.
Naturally, there are times also when choosing to opt-out is the intelligent thing to do and I believe that we know in our gut whether or not this is the case. These are the situations where you feel you are unequipped to deal with what might present, in which case, you have valuable information about how to equip yourself in order to successfully negotiate a similar situation in the future.
It comes back again to the question:
Is what I am feeling true for the moment?
And acting in alignment with that.
If you’re keen to check out the podcast I mentioned, click here to listen in!