Two weeks ago, we started this discussion about stretching beyond where we're comfortable. If you missed that post, check it out for four more tips.
How are you doing, traveler? How's it going, stretching into new skills, facing your own awkwardness?
I don't know about you, but my comfort zone is fairly small--it's a dwelling place, after all, not a county, not a continent.
When I leave it behind, the world is wide.
And the survival guide should probably be a bit longer.
So, if you too are exploring the world beyond familiarity, here are a few more tips for us all to keep in mind:
FIVE: Start small.
If you take off running, just barreling out of your comfort zone into the land beyond, you might get pretty far. You really might. And maybe you're the kind of person that would do just fine out there.
For me, I need to take it at a steady calm walk. Or possibly a crawl. Sometimes I just inch forward.
I've learned that I need new ideas to marinate in my brain a little. If you just pull the rug out from under how I do things, I usually end up screeching. And not really growing.
But if I have a little time, I can warm up a bit. I have a better shot at making it stick. I take it bit by bit.
So when I'm facing the great unknown, I take a deep breath, look down at my toes, and just take a teeny step.
It's still progress. It's still forward. And I'm warming up the skills I'll need later--when I start to jog, when I begin to run.
SIX: Nurture your curiosity.
Curiosity is there to make bridges. Curious is what gets us to the other side of a question. And it's one of our best weapons when it comes to facing the unfamiliar or the uncomfortable.
But what if you don't feel curious about, say, learning a new strategy for outlining your novel? What if you don't feel curious about writing a memoir, or about posting flash fiction on your blog?
You might have to wheedle a bit. Just like you might encourage a child who very stubbornly and very certainly does not want to do something (sit on the potty chair, go to the classroom, get into the car, get out of the car).
Have you done this? Listen to the things you say: Hey, what's that over in the corner? It looks interesting, it looks fun, let's go check it out. I bet your doll would like to go over there and play. Let's go see. Let's see what it's like.
Take that same tone--patient, focusing on possibilities--with yourself.
Start prodding different parts of the project. Start saying, Hey, what's that? A new technique? It looks interesting. It looks fun.
And as the rest of you protests--lower lip out, I don't wanna!!!--insist on becoming curious.
Curious about how the new outlining strategy might look on your story--about the possibilities it might uncover. Curious about how a memoir might reframe your perspective on your present. Curious about flash fiction as a form, even if posting it terrifies you.
Tell yourself, Let's go see.
(You can fake curiosity too, in a pinch. Fake it long enough, and it might become real.)
SEVEN: Focus on gratitude.
A few months ago, I started learning some yoga moves. The resistance in my head about this was massive. And inwardly--as I started warming up--I'd make my list for all the reasons why this was a bad idea:
I'm not flexible, I'm not strong enough, it hurts to hold these poses, it probably looks really dumb, I'm bored already, this is so hokey, I could be doing something else right now, are my hands supposed to slip?, I'm going to injure something, I don't think this is how it goes...
And on and on and on.
Until one day when I remembered a woman I know. She's suffering from a progressive disease, and she can't move easily at all. She needs a cane to walk (if she's feeling well enough to walk that day).
She has more bad days than good days.
I thought of her one day as I was warming up, and it transformed my whole workout.
What wouldn't she give, to be able to do what I was doing? Even as badly as I was doing it?
I realized I was so fortunate. And I felt grateful for a body that could move at all. Glad to have the ability to do any of the moves, even though I was just a beginner.
Even the simplest stretch filled my heart with thankfulness for my working arms, my working legs.
See what I mean? Whatever it is that you are doing, whatever you are pressing into: Think of the people who would trade their teeth to be able to do that same thing. Who would welcome the challenge of it, because they would be so glad to be able to do it.
Bring some of that gratitude into this journey outside your comfort zone. Reframe the struggle. See the grace.
EIGHT: Celebrate every milestone. (And have a broad definition of milestone.)
It's a heroic thing that you're doing. Now and then, come up for air. Pause. Look around at the new view you've discovered, at the new behaviors, the new skills.
Declare it a milestone.
Pop some champagne and have a picnic. Take celebratory photos. Sing some songs.
You have come this far. And you will go farther. And that's worth a toast or two.