This month in my Fresh Air Friday sessions we have been talking about comfort zones and how for long term happiness and fulfilment, finding a balance between feeling safe and stretching ourselves to do new things really serves us.
It's clear that great learning, both at work and in our personal lives, comes from those times where we have stretched ourselves. It's also clear that taking some time out between 'stretches' means we can consolidate that learning and use it well.
Contemplating what Comfort and Stretch mean to me
I've been thinking a lot about what this means to me and how my comfort zone and willingness to stretch vary in different areas of my life.
I often take part in physical challenges and regularly stretch myself out of my comfort zone in this area. For example, I like to trek in mountains and am looking forward to a visit to Nepal in October when I will be going to a high altitude and walking in an area that is unfamiliar to me.
In other areas such as some of the things I would like to achieve in my business, when I think of them I feel anxious and this leaves me stuck in a cycle of procrastination.
This is often linked to not knowing where to start with something unfamiliar and the confidence to make a plan. With a physical challenge such as trekking or running I find it easier to make a plan of steps to be taken and get help from someone who has already done it.
Changing my Mindset
With something that involves an internal change such as a mindset change, knowing where to start can seem daunting and what steps to take are unclear. In this situation it is often useful to find a coach or listening partner who can guide you in thinking deeper and getting to the root cause of what is holding you back. In all my Fresh Air Fridays sessions we provide time for listening to each other about our monthly topic. This month, I've come a long way in my exploration of comfort and stretch zones through being given the space to talk and be listened to.
Public Speaking - Way out of my Comfort Zone
As a child I was extremely shy and would often hide when my aunts came to visit, I got tongue tied and embarrassed when they tried to strike up a conversation with me. Years later I remember watching my Dad give a speech at a public event and thinking I could never do that. In fact public speaking was more than a stretch for me, even the thought of it put me into panic.
My early career was spent as an analyst/programmer, I was happy talking to individual stakeholders and small groups but never had to give presentations. As my career progressed, it became clear that sooner or later I was going to have to start speaking more to groups in team meetings and workshops. I cherished an ambition of being able to speak at events like my Dad did, but it felt like a stretch too far.
At one point I was told by a manager to deliver a presentation to about one hundred people on a subject I was not familiar with. I was given very little support and expected to just do it. Well, I did it but hated it and the experience put me off presenting even more.
Deciding to Stretch
Move forward a few years and I decided I wanted to overcome my fear and become a confident public speaker. My first step towards this was to study people who I considered to be excellent public speakers. Through questioning them, observing them and using the skills I have from my work as an analyst, I got a really good understanding of how excellent presenters prepare themselves to deliver a memorable public performance.
In addition I looked at skills I already had to help me in taking steps towards my goal. I knew that I was comfortable acting out short plays and could take on roles to do this. In my study of excellent presenters I discovered that they all took on a different role or persona when presenting, it was like acting.
Moving towards Success
From this, I set myself small challenges each week using what I had learned. Gradually I became more practiced at speaking and felt comfortable speaking to small groups.
The big test came for me when I was accepted along with a colleague to speak at a conference in London. I could feel all the old anxieties coming back, but with the support of my colleague and continuing to take small steps towards my goal I did it and even enjoyed myself.
Since that day I’ve now gone on to speak at conferences in the UK, New Zealand and South Africa. I still get nervous, but now use this in a positive way to help me speak at my best.
Photograph by Chantelle Edwards
Tips I have from exploring comfort and stretch are:
How did I feel once I started to stretch?
What kept me going?
How do I feel now when I think about this?