It was an awkward date.
Just a few days prior, a guy asked me to go out with him and spend a Saturday in the city. I wasn’t sure if I was interested; I told him that I already have plans to go rollerblading. He asked if he could join me. I didn’t have convincing reasons to say “no” – he was a nice guy after all, so we made a date.
He showed up in the park in full gear: helmet, knee pads, elbow guards, and … a 300 page double-sided manual on rollerblading, printed off the internet.
Turns out, it was his first time on rollerblades. I’ve never been on a date before with a guy who had to bring along a manual, so it was a bit shocking, intriguing, and somewhat flattering – after all, a guy was willing to go through this much trouble to get a date with me! So, I kept an open mind.
He had to look up breaking techniques before going down the hill. (Yes, seriously.) I followed, rolling my eyes, moving cautiously. Even though that was my third summer rollerblading, my skills were closer to “not falling” rather than “going pro”. He, on the other hand, kept reading and improving, right in front of my eyes.
Ultimately, was he wasting his time? Was I wasting mine?
What started out as an awkward date ended up being a life lesson: when a guy is willing to expand his comfort zone to try something that might turn out to be amazing, be it a girl or rollerblading, he’s really going places.
Fast-forward to this week.
I got a call from a potential client: “I don’t generally believe in this kind of stuff, but my friend said that you’re an excellent coach, so I want to give coaching a try.”
He just said one of my favorite lines, ever. It tells me three things about this guy:
1) he is a skeptic,
2) he’s most likely a left-brainer, and
3) he’s at the point where he’s ready to expand his comfort zone.
Being a skeptic and a left-brainer myself, I know how difficult it can be to get out of one’s comfort zone.
First, there’s an issue of wasting time and money. Why spend time and money on something unproven, and moreover, something you don’t believe in?
Second, there’s an issue of knowing yourself: by a certain age, you think you know what you like, you know what you dislike, and unless you’re really convinced that the new thing will be great in every way, it seems reasonable to just stick with the familiar.
Then, why would a skeptic ever go out of his comfort zone?
Going out of your comfort zone holds great promises:
– You could see sights you’ve never seen before, and be deeply moved as a result
– Try new tastes, and be deeply moved as a result
– Discover things you’ve never imagined you might like, and be deeply moved as a result
– You could create new, beautiful things in the world because you are deeply moved
– You could finally leave the safe harbor of familiar activities, to which you have probably become habituated. (I know, I know, I wouldn’t give up our family sushi and movie nights on Fridays either, but there’s always a Saturday for trying something different)
There is a great deal of advice suggesting that to make something good happen in life, you must go out of your comfort zone.
The problem: going out of your comfort zone is unpleasant and uncomfortable, as I outlined in my last post, What To Do When You Need A Change.
So, forget going out of your comfort zone. I believe that securely expanding your comfort zone is the answer. Especially for skeptics.
Here are seven ideas for expanding your comfort zone if you are a skeptic:
1. Allocate acceptable amount of time and money “to lose”.
You are busy, and you may not have extra cash to waste. Yet, you know that the payoffs for expanding your comfort zone could be monumental, so here’s what you can do: create an account where you “save” time and money specifically for expanding your comfort zone.
Do this much like you save money for retirement, or allocate time to watch a sports game even when you are in the middle of a major project. Then, use the funds to go see an opera, attend a speed-dating event, try acupuncture, babysit your nephew for a day, or book tickets to fly to … (what’s the name of that place, the one that makes your friends ask whenever you bring it up: “Why in the world would you ever want to go there?!”)
2. Make trying something new feel comfortable.
If you are learning to ice-skate, get a good instructor or go with a few friends who can lend a hand – you don’t have to just put on the skates and tough it out on the ice by yourself.
If you are moving to a new city, make connections in the new city before you move, and schedule regular Skype dates with your friends and family back home.
If you are breaking up with a live-in partner, don’t picture your life as a completely solitary existence post-break-up. Instead, make a list of ideas that you want to fill your life with: things to do, places to go, people to learn from, and people to see. Mark specific dates on the calendar. Give yourself something to look forward to.
3. Try to take yourself less seriously.
Allow a possibility of laughing things off if they don’t work out. You probably don’t remember when you were learning to walk, but I’m certain that you didn’t take yourself too seriously then. Otherwise, you would never try to walk again after the first few tries.
You didn’t expect yourself to be a pro the first time you touched a musical instrument or tried to lift weights, right? So, cut yourself some slack and don’t take your early attempts to expand your comfort zone too seriously.
4. Leave yourself a way out.
If you absolutely must take yourself seriously as you are expanding your comfort zone, and you are not the kind of person to laugh off failures (or perceived failures), then have a plan in advance for saving face. Saving face is not about covering up mistakes. It’s more about owning your mistakes and changing course. For example, if you blame a failed project on someone else, it doesn’t help you look good. Yet, if you admit where you went wrong, figure out where you want to go, make a plan, and execute on it, it makes you feel good, and look smart, especially in your own eyes.
5. Remember that you can’t go wrong when expanding your comfort zone.
If the new thing you are trying turns out well, you can always say to yourself: “See?! I knew I should try this!”
If your experiment goes badly, you can comment: “See?! I knew that I should have stuck to what already works!”
6. Ask yourself honestly: what is the worst thing that can happen if you expand your comfort zone?
Honestly assess the situation. What are really the chances that your greatest fear will materialize? For example, if you take a new job and it falls through, would you *really* end up living under a bridge? If you decide not to attend a certain family function in favor of a volunteer project in Zimbabwe, would your family *really* disown you?
7. Have great expectations.
There is a common saying about expectations that goes something like this: “The secret to happiness is low expectations”. As wise as it may sound, it’s wrong. A brilliant researcher and author Dan Ariely discusses the effect of expectations in his book, “Predictably Irrational”. Based on his research, Ariely suggests that when we expect something, we are priming ourselves for it, and we are more likely to see and experience what we expect.
Expectations make us see things through a certain lens. Expectations are the reason why two fans rooting for rival sports teams could watch the same game and completely disagree whether a player was “in” or “out”.
Once in a while, when experience doesn’t meet your expectations, you may still get disappointed. Yet, you might as well give yourself the best chance for a positive outcome by setting positive expectations.
By the way, are you curious what happened to the guy from the rollerblading story?
By the end of that summer, his skating was impeccable. It’s more than 10 years later, and I’m still not nearly as good at rollerblading as he became that summer.
We parted ways shortly after that summer, and lost track of each other. I heard recently that he is a senior-level leader, highly respected in his company and in his industry.
COACHING + INTUITION FOR SKEPTICS AND LEFT-BRAINERS:
Until recently, I’ve been keeping my two practices separately: Executive Coaching and Intuition For Skeptics & Left-Brainers.
In the past, I made it a point to keep them as far away from each other as possible, due to the fear of being perceived less competent in my field of organizational effectiveness and leadership development. Then, I decided that there’s nothing wrong with bringing some magic to the leaders, especially when it’s tested and proven.
So, in addition to coaching & OD tools, I’ll be starting to blend in intuition tools into my practice. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. And if you want to take intuition for a test-drive, I’m offering four 15-minute laser focus intuition sessions available on May 8th at pay-what-it-is-worth rate here.
EMERGENCY COACHING RESPONSE:
I have developed a 40-hour course on Emergency Coaching Response, a system of responding to a person in crisis in a focused, clear and compassionate way, using coaching tools and skills. I recently presented some of the material at the People’s Recovery Summit in NYC, and if you would like me to share this material with leaders at various levels of your organization, please contact me at Alina@MindTerrainCoaching.com