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?
This month in my Fresh Air Fridays sessions we have been talking about our relationships with others and focusing on those interactions which irritate us.
How often do you find yourself saying something like?
‘she made me angry’,
‘they were so frustrating’ or perhaps
‘he wound me up so much I couldn’t enjoy myself’
All of these are our reactions to behaviours which we have seen in someone else and have chosen ourselves how we will react to them.
When we started thinking about occasions when someone had irritated us recently, it did not take long for all of us to come up with recent examples.
One person talked about their manager who always wanted more from her, and the team member who was forever doing different tasks to the ones she had been asked to do. Then there was the lodger who was irritating one of us because he hadn’t done something that had been asked of him several times and seemed to be taking no notice of several the rules he had been asked to sign up to when signing his lease.
For all of us, these were small things that were annoying us but we all noticed that they were gradually distracting us more and more because we were avoiding having a difficult conversation.
Thinking differently about the relationship
After identifying interactions that were irritating us we then went on to consider the interaction from a different perspective and to see if we could reframe it into something more positive.
We also thought about what positive intention the other person may have had in the way they behaved. By looking for a positive intention and reframing the behaviour of others into something more positive we can start to change how we react to their behaviour.
It doesn’t matter whether the positive intention is what the other person is actually thinking because it is a story we are running for ourselves, in the same way as our reaction to their behaviour is a story we are running.
The team member who was doing different tasks was new to the team and was perhaps looking to go over and above what had been asked to make a good start and feel that she belonged to the team. The lodger was having a difficult time at work and perhaps he had overlooked some of the house rules due to being overwhelmed and feeling unwell.
When looking at the relationships from these new perspectives, we all found that we could consider things more objectively and came up with plans on how to have the conversations we wanted to have in a respectful way.
Next time you notice that you are starting to feel annoyed or irritated by someone else’s behaviour, acknowledge this and see if you can find the positive intention in what they are doing.
If you find you are really stuck with this and can’t feel better about the relationship, then go for a walk and give yourself permission to feel whatever negative emotion there is without any judgement. This is often the first step in dissipating the negative feelings.
To join my Fresh Air Fridays groups or for one to one coaching - contact me
Fresh Air Fridays in January - Reflections on Filling Yourself Up First
For many, last week was the first full week back at work since the Christmas break and it may have been a challenge, leaving you feeling stressed, and made even more difficult by doing your best to keep new year’s resolutions. On Friday morning the weather was murky and misty, not an ideal start for Fresh Air Fridays in 2018 and welcoming two visitors, yet I knew that as soon as I got outdoors I would connect with my surroundings and feel much more relaxed.
This month during my Fresh Air Friday sessions we have been talking about filling ourselves first. Many of us are brought up to believe that we need to put the wants and desires of others before our own. This may be fine for a while, but long term is unsustainable and works for nobody. When we spend time re-charging our own batteries and doing the things we need for our own wellbeing, then we can support and give to others. It is a bit like the safety briefing on a plane where they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.
I've run two session this month and discussed this theme with my members and visitors, here are some of my thoughts and reflections from what we experienced.
As soon as I stopped and took time to do some deep breathing, I noticed my surroundings and the number of birds that were singing, I had not noticed this until I stopped being busy doing and spent some time just being. This was made even better by taking time to be present to my surroundings; this meant I could forget about my ever growing to do list, worrying about what might happen in the future or dwelling on something which had bothered me previously and just enjoy being in the current moment.
For the first of my two sessions this month, we went to the roman wall at Silchester. It was fabulous to stop and look at the structure of the roman wall, wonder where the stone had come from and marvel at how long it has been there.
I soon noticed people on the session who had arrived saying they felt stressed and looking a bit distracted, had calmed down, forgotten about their mobile phones and were taking time to enjoy talking about the things they love to do. We talked about what we love doing, things that help us fill ourselves with energy. There were many varied things and just talking about them made us all smile.
What stops us doing those things that fill us up? Lots of I should, or I must statements, our feelings of obligations to others and putting needs of others above our own. One person commented that it is often her husband who notices when she is doing too much and needs to do something for herself.
On Saturday I walked on the Basingstoke canal with a member, we have both experienced the session on filling yourself first previously, yet we noticed that each time we revisit the subject we gain new insights and have new ideas. Today we spoke about some simple things like taking a few minutes out to read a book or going to bed earlier to give ourselves time to relax, enjoy reading and get to sleep early enough to have a good nights’ sleep.
Just being on the session was giving all of us time and space to recharge our batteries. In every Fresh Air Fridays session, we start with a deep breathing exercise, this is an immediate and easy way of calming the body. It was very noticeable the difference in everyone after taking a couple of minutes to just breathe deeply.
Another idea that came up was that filling yourself first doesn’t have to be an individual activity, it could involve doing something as a family or a couple. Things that we thought about were visiting a museum, going to an art gallery and visiting a spa. One of the most relaxing days out I had recently was going to the British library with one of my daughters to see the Harry Potter History of Magic exhibition. It was fascinating getting insights into the history of magic and feeling you were stepping into the shoes of JK Rowling as she sat with a cup of tea and created the stories and characters in the Harry Potter series.
Back to our Fresh Air Fridays session, following a refreshment stop with a hot drink and snack we did a short meditation and then talked about what actions we would take this month to make sure we are taking care of ourselves.
Finally, we took a few minutes to consider what we are grateful for. By focusing on the positive things in our lives we are training our brains to look for positives and have a positive mindset. This can be difficult when life is challenging but just being grateful for the small pleasures in life is enough to change our mindset longer term. This weekend I am grateful for the fact that I found Fresh Air Fridays and I have rediscovered some of the things I love to do that I've been neglecting.
Next month in Fresh Air Fridays we will be talking about and practicing being present. This underpins all our other themes and is something we visit every month and February will be a time to explore it in more depth and really immerse ourselves in staying present.
If you would like to come and try Fresh Air Fridays, get in touch with me today.