Embracing the Unfamiliar

How tempting it is to play it safe and keep ourselves from venturing outside of our comfort zone. Most of us tend to be creatures of comfort and we feel safe and protected when things are familiar and predictable.

There may be times in which we welcome the new and different, though when we feel anxious and afraid, we tend to cling tightly to the feelings of control we get when we stay within our comfort zone. At those times we feel most reluctant to take the risk to move into unknown and uncertain terrain.

This has been a key issue for many, many others over the years prior to attending the Getting Over Stage Fright workshop. Once they take that big step into the unknown, the uncertain, and the unpredictable, the shift in their mindset begins. Showing up is a victory in itself and motivates them to achieve larger triumphs.

It is said that the best learning happens just beyond our comfort zone. If we can start moving toward, rather than avoiding, things that are beyond our comfort zone, we have the potential to experience much positive learning and growth. If, instead, we resist taking this risk and pull back from these challenges, we compromise the potential for much success and the possibility of achieving greater levels of confidence and feelings of personal power.

Having an aversion to moving into the unknown and the uncertain is often a sign of having control issues.

How do you perceive control?

We generally feel more in control when things are predictable and familiar, though it is more of an illusion than reality to think that staying within your comfort zone fully protects you from all of the unexpected twists and turns of life. When we feel anxious and unsure of ourselves, we often want to hold tight to our well-known and habitual experiences to give us a higher degree of feeling in control, though at the same time we limit our growth and underestimate what we are capable of.

It does seem true that there is a risk-taker’s advantage when we are willing to move beyond our comfort zone and discover more of our true potential in life rather than limiting our lives by always playing it safe. This often occurs during the workshop when the strong avoidance behaviors lead the participants to believe they are not capable of handling the challenge of speaking in front of a group.

Once they take part in a range of speaking exercises during the workshop, they discover that they are much more competent than they had come to believe. The group members could all relate to this, as could Janet and I, as we have all done our fair share of avoidance and playing it safe rather than taking the risk to move beyond our comfort zone.

In order to step outside of our comfort zone, we have to be willing to feel uncomfortable (and at times greatly uncomfortable) for some period of time and know we can bear these feelings, and to know they will pass. We have to be willing to let go of the need to always feel in control (or believing in the illusion that we are fully in control) and have trust in ourselves as we venture into an area that feels uncertain and unpredictable.

Of course, it is recommended that we do this in a realistic way and come up with a game plan to support ourselves as we move towards the unknown. This way, we have a firmer foundation to take gradual steps, as we do in the workshop exercises. It would likely be detrimental to set an impractical goal from the start (such as joining Toastmasters and acing a formal speech the following week), setting standards much too high, resulting in complete overwhelm and a negative outcome.

On my journey, I have taken many gradual steps to accept and work with my fear to move ahead with a more rational mindset after each occasion, learning and building upon each experience. While I felt initial apprehension, I consciously worked on letting go of my resistance to change and welcomed my discomfort as an invitation to learn and grow rather than trying to stay comfortable and set in my ways. Despite experiencing much anxiety as I made those changes, they moved me forward in ways that could never have happened if I continued to play it safe. As I persisted with my goals, I began to trust in myself and the universe that everything would work out. And it did. And it continues to.

Sometimes it is necessary to abandon the feeling of being in control temporarily to gain the risk taker’s advantage. I can tell you without a doubt, it paid off more than I could have imagined and the anxiety and discomfort was temporary and transitory. This is also true of some of the smaller ways I have stepped out of my comfort zone. The rewards far outweigh the brief periods of distress.

I invite you to consider ways you might want to challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and say YES to things that you would normally shrink away from. Remember the risk-taker’s advantage – those who are willing to venture out of their comfort zone (and take reasonable steps to support themselves in the process of doing so) stand to gain far more than lose in the process of evolving towards their potential.

Playing it safe just doesn’t have the same potential upside in terms of gaining higher levels of confidence and feelings of personal power. Rather, taking a leap of faith and moving into the unknown gives you the potential to help you learn and grow.

It has been said that opportunity lies on the other side of fear. We must be willing to move through the fear of the unknown to find the opportunity that awaits us!