On the quest for improvement this year, remember, getting into fear (although scary) requires little effort or time and has a huge (and permanent) return on investment in terms of your growth and development.
This is in contrast to the option that most of us choose to improve ourselves, suffering. Unsustainable or punishing exercise regimes, diets and challenges require lots of effort and time, for marginal gains on who we were before, that’s assuming we haven’t reverted to type a few months later. Even successful completion of the ‘suffering’ means the only path to further improvement is to up the suffering (time and effort), while returns diminish continuously.
The appeal of suffering is that for the most part it’s not scary and prolonged pointless suffering is a badge of honour in our society. However, the downside is more and more energy, that could be spent elsewhere, is required to feel like we’ve progressed. Furthermore, because suffering hasn’t required us to overcome fear, the brain hasn’t been reshaped in any meaningful way, meaning your still the same long-suffering person.
Trust me, I realise there are many benefits to voluntary suffering but that’s not the point of this blog and entertaining it here would only distract us from getting into the FEAR. I’ve done long distance swims, runs and triathlons and suffered enormously to receive the adulation of people who’ve never done anything like that before. The adulation often comes from the fact that they would find it scary (so they should defo do it!) but for me I am 100% uncomfortably in my comfort zone during those events. I’m never scared. At some point a long this path, I realised I wouldn’t grow any further via these means and so I started getting into FEAR.
Why it matters
The American psychological guru, Tony Robbins, has a saying ‘happiness = progress’. In an achievement-oriented society, we all want to feel like we are making progress. If we take on a physical or mental challenge that most people have not, it allows us to feel that separation. That ‘out-of-the-pack-ness’. But, once we become accustomed to such things, I believe there is a danger of using them to represent an illusion of progress. Without fear, we have stopped growing and settled into the comfort zone, which in this example means knowing we are physically or mentally a bit better than the pack or our former selves.
To give a different example. If I wrote 10-blogs this year, I might tell someone that I am going to get out of my comfort zone and write 15-blogs next year. What I would really being saying is that I am going to work a bit harder or suffer a bit more, but I would remain uncomfortably in my comfort zone.
How to move beyond the comfort zone in everyday life
The irony of getting out of the comfort zone is that it requires a lot less effort than incremental feats of suffering. The slight (or not so slight) caveat is that it requires you to overcome a primitive urge older than humans themselves, FEAR. Getting out of your comfort zone could be as simple as approaching a stranger in public and starting conversation, attending a public event alone, saying I love you, asking for something you need, having a difficult conversation, public speaking, starting a new hobby, travelling alone, changing jobs etc. As long as it frightens you, it counts. If you do it, the highs can be higher than any post suffering state you have ever been in. The best part is, the changes that occur in your person-hood when you tackle fear are permanent in nature (i.e. you’ve grown or changed) unlike suffering which requires you to repeat the feat or increase the suffering for marginal returns.
What will you do?
Well, I suppose I best lead by example. I’ve got more into travelling alone, talking to strangers, and trying new hobbies over the past couple of years. More recently, I’ve started looking for things that I fancy doing but I’m a bit frightened of. This reminds me of a key point I haven’t mentioned till now. It is better if you would like to do it and are scared versus are just plain scared and have little interest in doing it.
Two of my 2022 goals were to read some poetry I have written in a public forum and to try Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. My opportunity came sooner than expected for the poetry reading, in fact it was still in 2021. I was in a pub in west Clare the week after Christmas when during a singsong one of the locals who had welcomed me in said ‘hey Waterford man, you must have a song’, after a brief pause for thought, the thought being – here is your chance, I said ‘I don’t but I’ll give you a poem’. Below is the poem I read. It is an ode to west Clare, and it’s called ‘Freedom is a place in the west’. Before you read it, I would put it to you that freedom is on the other side of FEAR, what will you do this year? No pressure (only fear)!