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Comfort Zone Experiment: Week 1 — All the Small Things

A week ago I decided to dedicate 30 days to taming the over-protective inner monster that kept me hiding and procrastinating instead of jumping into the fray and taking my life to the next level.  I was to start small and just pay attention to things I normally wouldn’t give a second thought to.  Here’s how it’s going.

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What I did:

I set aside my bad mood for a moment of playfulness and ended up changing my entire day.

I’ve been literally wearing my “professional” shoes out and about instead of my “day job” shoes.

I’ve been going to bed on time instead of the fun and easy (and usually regrettable) “one” glass of wine.

I’ve been interacting with creative rebels and running around town on foot.

I made a bold initiation instead of waiting forever for permission.

I allowed myself to wait instead of acting out of anger and discovered that I was stronger for it.

I consciously made the effort many times a day to try a new perspective.

Bonus: I touched a gross alligator-lizard skin that I discovered outside and found that it wasn’t that scary.  (After much encouragement).

 

What I discovered:

Comfort Zones begin inside our heads.  It’s less about conquering our discomfort and more about understanding why we are hiding and repeating actions with undesirable consequences in the first place.  It all starts with awareness.

My actions often don’t mirror what I claim to be my priorities.  I am working on this.

Often the secret is thinking less.  Less worrying and “but what if”, and more focus on taking it moment by moment.  Quality thoughts over quantity.

Little things make the biggest impacts on ourselves and others.  Momentum creates momentum.

New ways of thinking are a practice. It’s never about being perfect and not backsliding.

I am fully responsible for my attitude and outlook.

When I set my priorities and mindset straight, the previously uncomfortable things are much easier and more enjoyable to do.

Things aren’t always what they seem — we just see what’s running through our heads.

 

My take thus far:

I did start off feeling apprehensive.  It felt like I was about to force myself to do things that I wouldn’t normally do, which I thought was the point.  I figured that I could just push myself out the door.  Push myself to get out there.  Push myself to produce more, act more, risk more.

What I discovered was that when I started making little changes in my mentality — just little tweaks here and there — doing the little things that I wanted to do to get out of my comfort zone came easily.  I actually felt more inclined to want to do it instead of mustering up the energy to force myself to do it.

Making a conscious decision not to surrender to my negative thinking made such a noticeable impact on my outlook that it really brightly colored the rest of my week.  I kept reminding myself, “it’s just my thoughts right now”.  It really made me realize that the biggest comfort zones are ALL in our heads.  Nothing gets done if we are mentally blocked or resistant or in a rut.  Nothing gets changed unless we begin with our minds.

And that’s the thing — when I’m actually relaxing into and even enjoying the outer zones, THAT is the momentum that will keep me going and progressing further and further.

It didn’t always feel good.  It took a lot of awareness and reminding myself that nothing has gone wrong, it’s just different.

So attitude really is everything, or more specifically the thinking  behind it.  It’s one thing to ‘get’ it mentally, and another thing to actually experience.ankh

So it’s beginning to solidify now…  It’s about using our minds creatively — to stop and notice the little details in our thoughts, our little automatic reactions and practice thinking outside the box.  New perspectives, new ideas, new ways of thinking and reacting.  It’s about honing the mind and using it to the best of our ability — to keep it fresh and up-to-date with our priorities.

It’s not all about the big goal.  It’s about the vehicle that I am approaching it all in.   My job is to get my mindset (and thus life approach) up to a place where I can then take to my endeavors with all the gusto I need so I can be that best version of myself.

I saw that my inner ‘comfort monster’ wasn’t so much an angry over-protective beast as it was a fearful and cowering creature.  It should have been obvious.  I’ve been feeding myself so much doubt and shame that I had backed myself into a corner and felt good staying there.   Now it’s about changing that method to awareness, compassion, experimentation, and patience.

 

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Putting in the Extra Effort with Comfy Relationships

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The day I met my boyfriend I felt like crap.  It was early afternoon and I was a bored bartender behind an empty bar in Hawaii.  When he showed up and ordered a beer I didn’t feel like perking up and putting on my happy service face.  I was hot, hungry, probably hungover, and preoccupied about homework for grad school.  I wanted to hide out in the liquor room and eat nachos.

But there was no way I was going to be a downer for my sole customer so I forced some energy into my bones and made some light and cheery generic conversation.  That moment eventually turned into a friendship, which eventually turned into a great relationship.  If I had not tried to break out of my rut the at the bar that day, my life may have gone a completely different path with someone else.

A few days ago I was about to run some errands.  I was lazy and unmotivated and the sludge of mundane concerns was beginning to cascade down my brain.  On more days than I’d like to admit, that I’ve let that sludge take over.  I would frump around, complain, and give a grumpy goodbye before trudging out.  But expressing my bad mood in that way never relieved my rut.  I would immediately regret my behavior and feel even worse, and then the sludge would turn into an avalanche.

So I decided there was no way I was going to be a downer for someone else today.  I consciously put aside my thoughts for a moment and discovered that it was quite easy to muster up a playful goodbye to my boyfriend before stepping out.  I had suddenly realized that I gathered enough momentum to boost me up out of my rut. It was the catalyst that changed my outlook on my day without having to change anything except making a small effort. This was so significant to me.

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Something that I’ve always found interesting is that when we become really comfortable with someone, we can put down all the masks we usually put up as our public persona.  There is much freedom, relief and intimacy in this yet I believe we should never become so comfortable with someone that we no longer try to be considerate of their mood.

Just as we expect restaurant hostesses and flight attendants to put in the extra effort to smile at us and be welcoming; and just as how we automatically put on our best faces to answer the door or speak to a client, we should do for the ones we love the most.

It may feel difficult because when we are really comfortable, we are so used to just expressing ourselves unabashedly and letting it all hang out, that “faking it” may feel like just another annoying social requirement.  We feel like we are being frauds, or that we are lying to ourselves.  But if we turn it on for complete strangers, why can’t we do it for people we care about?  And ultimately for ourselves?

It really is just being considerate towards another person who ultimately has no responsibility for the way our life is going or what side of the bed we woke up on.  (And even though it may seem like someone else is responsible, it really never is — but that’s for another post!)  It’s about putting aside our bad moods, stresses, preoccupations and annoyance for a few seconds while we make a decision to be sweet and upbeat for our loved ones.  We can tell them that we are feeling a little down today and why, but we don’t have to smear our own mental sludge onto them and bring them down with us.

We all have a choice to either perpetuate our bad moods by spreading them around and informing everyone that we are a victim of our lives, or we can attempt to cut the rut and find a moment of joy amidst the grind.

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Taming the Comfy Monster: A 30-day Experiment

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I’m currently facing daily habits that are difficult to change because they feel quite nice.  Nothing obviously destructive is happening and so there really is no urgent call for change other than noting that nothing obviously progressive is happening either — which I’m not happy about.  So I’m comfortably uncomfortable.

It’s my comfort zone, which is a cuddly albeit particularly persuasive sort of monster.  It really is a very well-intended part of myself that cares about my well-being, but can easily get out of hand and grow over-protective and lazy if left unsupervised.

I know I’m just doing what feels easy and nice because I’ve been doing it for a long time.  Like any habit, it is so ingrained that it goes by every day unquestioned.  And questioning is the first step.  Why am I choosing to stay comfy when I know I need to get out of that zone to make progress?

Because it’s easy.  It’s nice.  It’s not stressful.

My comfort rut is over-protective: hiding safely at home instead of putting myself out into the world.  My comfort rut is procrastination: thinking that I need to learn more, grow more, be more…before I can proceed.  My comfort rut is all about embracing things that feel nice and familiar and fearing anything uncomfortable.  It’s about hiding from what I know I need to do in order to advance towards my goals.  It’s about staying at a place that feels good while making seemingly logical excuses, and living vicariously through thinking about getting out there in the “near future” (which always seems to be the same distance away each month).

But then when I reach the end of another day…week…month…without significant progress towards my goals, it doesn’t feel very nice or easy.  It eventually becomes the stress I’m trying to avoid because I feel like I’m powerless against myself.

But I know it’s in my power.  Because I’m human and I have a fully functional brain.

So now I’m looking at this in the face — this stubborn part of me that likes the ease of the moment– and making a firm decision:

It’s training time.

The first step is recognizing that discomfort does not mean something is bad or has gone wrong.  We are smart enough to differentiate between what is truly dangerous and what is simply new and different.  It may feel scary, but we’re not going to suffer any physical harm.  Often it’s just the slightest of discomfort that happens entirely in our interpretation of the event.

The reason why comfort is so difficult to tackle is because we were naturally programed to seek safety while surviving amongst lions and opposing tribes.  However while living in a relatively safe modernized first-world, ease and safety often turn into stagnation and the digging of a deep and seemingly unscalable rut.

So for the next 30 days I will be practicing discomfort.  Not  just practicing the feeling of it, but practicing thoughts of growth instead of thinking that something has gone wrong.  

I’ve been starting small this month.  Doing little things here and there that push me a just bit.  Writing this blog entry definitely counts.  Pushing just enough to see that I won’t die from a little inner squirming.  In fact, I feel myself gaining confidence.

And from there, take on slightly bigger pushes outside.  Lovingly.  With care.  Like slowly gaining the trust of a nervous animal.
And keep going from there.

Venturing outside my zone every day for a 30 days.  It can be tiny little things.  Just questioning why I do certain things; just being aware and curious instead of blindly doing or not-doing.

The thing is, it’s so easy to do this for a few days and then slip back into the comfort rut and decide that that was enough for now.  So like any training, I want to build momentum with momentum and keep track of what I go through, both good and bad.

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I don’t believe in getting rid of our inner monsters.  I believe that they are here to teach us, that they are inherently good-intentioned, and thus are worth taming — firmly yet with care and understanding– like we would while training our pets.   Our “monsters” are a part of who we are, and have simply become unruly over time.  Nothing needs to be gotten rid of or punished.  Everything can be changed and made into positive forces instead of debilitating ones when we treat them with curiosity, compassion, and a firm but loving guidance.

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We were born creative and crazy

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Who is crazy?  Who is creative?

You is crazy. You is creative.

Everyone is.  There are varying levels and styles, but we must be because it’s a major part of what makes us human.

We were all crazy creatives when we were little kidlets running around finding joy in turning things into others things and loving new perspectives, and we couldn’t understand why adults didn’t get it.  Why NOT wear fairy wings to school?  Why not wear underwear hats?  Why not see that being stuck in traffic is pretty much the best time to be astronauts?

Now that we’re the adults we think we’ve lost that spontaneous spark of childish genius that we’ve quietly suspected could fuel more fun and ingenuity into our lives.  Yet underneath the expectations, regulations, rules, formalities and shoulds, our crazy creative selves are still there — we just tend to keep it under (sometimes very tight) wraps.

Creativity is looking at what’s in front of you and imaging something different and how you can possibly get closer to that new idea of reality.  It’s taking what you’ve already got and using it in new ways to get a different result.  It’s looking beyond the current reality and seeing the possibilities of having a new perspective, making new meanings, repurposing, revamping, reshaping.

It’s more than artistic endeavors — in fact, being tangibly creative isn’t even required.  Any creativity starts within the mind, and then it is up to us how we end up using it.  Being open to exploring different ways of thinking and new ways of looking at the world is the creativity that powers all we experience in life.  Because we are all able to conjure up ideas and new thoughts, we all possess creativity.

Just like how an artist envisions a final project and then begins to gather reference, techniques, and materials to begin to create something new; so can we with our lives.  Creatives don’t sit around waiting for parts of the project to just show up, we are able to begin to make it real from what they already have.

You don’t need more money or education or things to start this.  The only requirement is an open and curious mind.

Once this process starts developing, we begin acting different.  We begin to break habits and form new ones.  We start to explore new ways of doing things.  We start to experiment.  We go up and down.  We start to step out of the box we were comfortable, but not really happy, in.  When we act different, people will see this as crazy.  We may feel a little crazy, but a more authentic kind of crazy instead of the usual anxious mindlessness.  This is a really good thing.

The best kind of crazy is the kind that you do for yourself — the stuff you would still do even if no one was there to know about it.

Being human means we are highly adaptable, which is proof of our unique and innate creativity.

We’re no longer children and that’s great.  We are now armed with our comparatively powerful adult wiles we have the ability to balance our smarts with our creativity and use that brilliant mixture to begin to live a slightly more crazy and much more awesome life.

Allow me to show you how.
This is a guide to better living through creativity — living the crazy creative life.

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The Truth and So What

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I didn’t intend for this to get scary.  In fact I began all of this over a decade and a half ago because I wanted it to stop being scary.

I felt pathetic.  I was a teenager who grew up without any movies rated over PG, and was raised by down-to-earth folks, libraries, and PBS.  Nobody “got” me.  Not even the nerds or the awkward military brats.  Everyone was cooler than me and knew something about something.  I dressed purposely unfashionable.  I was a major band geek.  I drew pictures and wrote stories during lunch.

Planning for The Future felt like a big façade.  I had no aspirations.  I wasn’t depressed, just uninspired and afraid.  I worried about how I would ever learn to do big things…like drive a car.

I blamed my upbringing and myself for a while, but then I got angry.

So what.  So what if that’s how it is.  I can start from here.

I felt it in me that there was something more, something I was afraid to even acknowledge.
I got out of a dramatically odd relationship and took a hard look at myself and why I so disliked who I’d become.  My fears had made me controlling and over-emotional.  I was alienating not only the world, but myself.

I very slowly and shakily worked on getting my shit together.  I admitted my responsibility for myself and who I was from here on out.  I practiced getting out of my comfort zone.  I practiced socializing.  I got my driver’s license.

These days I alternate between feeling like a completely different person, and being 15 again with my braces and rat-tail and wanting to hide in a bookstore.  There are days where I struggle to express myself and doubt the very essence of my being.  I see all my weaknesses and shame and the barriers that I will need to cross.

But then it’s the same thing:
So what?  I can start from here.

I am on the brink of transitioning towards the only profession I felt truly passionate about, and it’s scary.  I shift from elated excitement to nail-picking doubt.  But I realize that if I expect my clients to be open and candid and vulnerable with me, I will have to practice the same.  I want people to know that I haven’t conquered all my fears; that I am imperfect and messy and am fighting my own battles to overcoming what I know I need to face.  I still have anxiety getting out of my comfort zone; I get anxious making phone calls.  But that is what makes me so passionate about others doing the same — we are jumping into the fray together.

It doesn’t matter where you are starting from.  Even if it feels like you’ve started long ago and are deep in the trenches, you are still responsible.  Because you know you’re capable of something bigger.  And where you are now, and whatever happened on the way here: so what?

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Hello. Why are you so interesting?

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Why am I so curious?  Is that bad?

I have a short attention span for small talk but an odd curiosity for the vulnerable stuff we don’t tell relative strangers.  Are we really strangers though?  Wouldn’t it be so intriguing if we would just say the more personal parts of ourselves outright?  Then we wouldn’t be such strangers and it would be much more interesting to have a conversation.

I really really want to know who people really really are.

The stuff that scares me scares you and everyone else, although we try to hide it.  Why do we hide it from each other if we all have such similar fears?

I want to talk about how imperfections are beautiful and unique. Wabi sabi.

I’m cognitively turned on by close divulgences.  It is the naughty inner bits.  Our society doesn’t like it, it wants us all to cover it up and make it over with cool nonchalance and disconnect.  We usually only reveal these secret thoughts and dreams to those we really trust, but why?  I want to know.

It’s awkward and rude to ask these things outright, so I get to sneak it in as a profession.  It’s not nosiness, it’s curiosity and care. I have no interest in gossip, juicy secrets, dramatic tales or wallowing in problems.  I just want to ask because no one is really asking.

There are doctors that we go to to pry into places on ourselves that we usually only reserve for select individuals, but we show ourselves to these white-garbed strangers because we want to make sure we’re ok.  Why is there not something similar for our thoughts and feelings?

Because I know just as well as you do that there are times where we don’t feel ok, and it’s nothing that a doctor can look at.  We know there’s no need for a therapist.  It’s just life and we should be able to handle.

But we don’t.  Because life is difficult.  We guilt ourselves for feeling discontent while we have clean water and a roof over our heads — and sometimes that realization is all we need to get ourselves in check.  But some things really are legit first world problems.  We are humans in a complex world.

Things like contradictory pressures from everyone and everything, too many choices, too many extreme measures as an answer to our problems.  Expectations for us to handle it all.  Expectations for us to never malfunction unless we were traumatized as a child or faced terrible conditions — and even then it’s iffy.  The common fully-functioning human is expected to inherently know how to run itself perfectly in a crazy society with paradoxical expectations.

We’re expected to be normal in a very abnormal situation.

The answer isn’t living in a bus in the woods, or blaming politics or Miley or Fox, or acquiring more crystals, doing more yoga, or escaping mentally or physically.  The answer is to connect more.

It’s scary to share our inner ongoings.  It’s vulnerable and honest.  I’m just as scared of that as anyone else.  But when we aren’t being heard, open, honest, and understood, that is where all of our biggest problems begin.

There’s so many of us, yet loneliness is huge.  So many of us, yet people are still killing themselves or others because they feel like no one understands.

We’re naturally highly adaptive and creative creatures living in a world that proclaims to encourage individuality yet only helps and supports those who fit in with the major ideals, and we are all coping with this in our own completely unique ways.  It’s so exciting how we all have our own take on things, how no one has the exact same perceptions and thoughts and viewpoints yet we all stem from the same human conditions.

This is why you’re so interesting, and this is why I’m so curious.

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Self improvement is the sexiest thing you can ever do for yourself

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SEXY: having attractive, exciting, interesting or appealing qualities

Just like any other embellishments to the human form, self improvement takes time and effort and maintenance.  It is so special most people think they cannot afford it.  It looks great at any age and transcends all demographics.   It is sustainably sexy, the kind of sexy that can grow with you and enhance everything you do in life.

What happens is…

You become more interesting and exciting.  The more you understand who you really are and what you really want, you begin to make braver, bolder, and more creative choices.  You experience more, want more, and do more.

You become more confident and adaptable. As you begin to know what you stand for and why, you become neither a doormat nor a dictator.  You remain loving and honest towards others while still being fully loving and honest with yourself.  You have a skill of knowing how to set boundaries without burning bridges.

You become more self sufficient.   As you take more responsibility for yourself  you stop blaming other people and things for how you feel.   You complain less.  You have discovered how to be who you really are without anyone’s help, and ironically that has made you more able to give and receive more love than ever before.

You are a more intimate friend.  As you learn to let go you will ironically learn to keep better friendships and know how to love without needing things to be perfect.  There’s less bickering. Less neediness.  Less drama.

You spread more happiness.  As you are more happy and loving with yourself, you are more enjoyable to be around for everyone you encounter.  This world needs more happy and loving people, so you not only are improving yourself, but also improving the world around you.

You make the most of everything.  The less you are burdened by drama and untended inner feelings, you know how to have more fun. You can let go and enjoy life and can be the person who knows how to have a good time despite whatever may be going on in the background.

I’ve always been intrigued by people who just have “it”.  They could appear very commonplace until they react to you, smile at you, say something to you…then you just feel it.  There’s something about them.   Something special and exciting and untouchable.

“It” can be cultivated, created, honed.

There’s something utterly endearing yet stimulating about someone who has self-love yet are vulnerable in a way that takes courage and inner strength.  It’s that balance that catches the attention and makes an immediate connection.

When you’re turned on to the love and knowledge of who you really are, you live in a more turned on way.

That is rare.  That is special.  That is sexy.