I’ve just gotten back from spending some time today at a mingler with the folks putting on @TEDxVictoria. This event promises to be an inspiring one, with a number of very interesting speakers attending. I’m volunteering on the day of the event, and am looking forward to touching base and meeting a ton of new people. I’ll be working the registration desk, so please stop by and say hi if you’re attending the event.
The theme for the event is “Cultivating Evolution”. I had hoped to get my act together and submit a talk for the event, but had a number of other commitments that were more pressing and, to be fair, more important as well.
However, this theme is very near and dear to my heart. Growth is an integral component of who I am, and it’s the reason my clients seek out my coaching services. I help people find where and how they want to grow, and I enable and accelerate that growth. Evolution, to my mind, means growth with purpose.
Does growth require a purpose?
No. But, I believe that growth without any purpose is often cancerous. It doesn’t lead in any particular direction and often results in imbalance, burn-out and resources being strained or devoted to the wrong things.
When house plants grow, they do so with the purpose of maximizing their exposure to sunlight. Their purpose is to harness and utilize the available resources as efficiently as possible. You’ll note that your plants often grow towards the source of sunlight in your home. Growing in every direction without any purpose would be inefficient. The plant would need to devote more energy to supporting the parts of itself that aren’t collecting sunlight.
Humans are the same way. We need to ensure that our growth happens in a purposeful manner. Optimally, we want to design our growth so that we move and grow in directions that are consistent with what matters most to us. Growth that is in alignment with our values and our purpose will be growth that is maximally beneficial to ourselves.
Take a moment and think of someone in your network that has achieved great things, but is miserable. Most of us know at least a few people that meet this description – many of us meet the description ourselves. With the intense pressure put on young adults graduating from high school to enter university, get a degree and start working “in the real world”, there are ever greater numbers of people that have grown in ways that are simply irrelevant to their values and drive. Aside from the intrinsic value gained from education itself, what good is an engineering degree if all you have ever wanted to be was a professional actor?
Where does comfort fit into this?
Let’s get back on track – what does comfort have to do with evolution?
The answer is: Nothing. Comfort is what will kill your evolution.
The thing is, growth doesn’t occur when we’re comfortable; it occurs when we are pushing outside of our comfort zone. Comfort represents a number of things. To name just a few:
- The known
- Being at peace with our surroundings
Most of these things are good. Security and safety are important in our lives, and provide us with a sense of predictability and rationality in a world that doesn’t always behave that way. Being at peace with our surroundings allows us to let our guard down, giving us the opportunity to rest.
When I was 19, I worked at McDonalds. I made very little money, but it was enough to pay my rent, buy groceries and liquor, and go out to the bar with friends multiple times a week. It was comfortable. In fact, I could have stayed in that place for the next ten years without making any changes (and there were certainly some people that did just that).
But I demand growth from myself, and I think that you should too. Evolution along our own values is something that we, as humans, intrinsically seek. You may not even be aware of this drive, but you can feel it every time you experience a sense of discontent, or hear yourself saying “I feel like I’m better than this”.
There’s no growth in comfort
This is my key point. Really juicy growth occurs when we are pushed out of our comfort zone and forced to adapt to circumstances that we have not previously encountered.
Our minds are rational. It’s the way we’ve evolved to think. We seek out patterns, we make predictable results based on those patterns, and then we assume that the same result will flow from that pattern the next time we encounter it. When we’re exposed to new patterns or situations, the likes of which we have not before seen, we experience discomfort. How do we know what result will come from this new situation? We’ve lost our predictability; we’ve lost our rationality.
For the first ten years of my life as a dancer, I practiced my technique in front of a mirror, and it became very refined as a result. But for those long years, I never felt like I was really progressing at the rate that I wanted to. What had happened to the leaps and bounds that I’d been experiencing when I first started? Simple — I was now only operating within my comfort zone. When you allow yourself to remain in this realm, the best you can hope to do is refine what you already know.
Don’t get me wrong, refining our existing knowledge is its own form of growth and has its own value. It’s just that it isn’t the same kind of growth, and it won’t generate those big rewards that you remember getting when you first started learning something new.
When I went to Vancouver and was put in a position where I had to dance in the middle of a circle of my friends, I was thrust right back in to that awkward, uncomfortable place. And you know what? My growth was incredible! It felt discomforting and a little bit terrifying. But those things are healthy. They let us know that we’re doing something new. We’re being exposed to something that is currently outside of our existing knowledge base.
If you want to grow, you need to be willing to expose yourself to something new
And so here’s the call of action to you, my readers. Determine some areas in your life where you would like to see some growth. Perhaps it’s meeting some new people. Perhaps it’s quitting a habit that you’ve been carrying with you for quite some time. Perhaps it’s pursuing a dream that you’ve let sit on the back burner for far too long.
Figure out where your first point of discomfort is with respect to this change you would like to make. If you’re aim is to meet new people and become better at talking to strangers, perhaps that first point of discomfort comes merely from the thought of taking that action.
“What will I say after I say hello to them?”
“What if they just look at me strangely?”
“What if they don’t like me?”
These are all questions that represent that first point of discomfort. See that point of discomfort for what it truly is: a milestone indicating an opportunity to grow. Recognize that it doesn’t represent a failing on your part that you feel uncomfortable about it, and treat as a challenge, rather than a barrier.
Then, attack that point of discomfort. Commit yourself to feeling uncomfortable for a period of four weeks, and then…
Dive head first.
Just do it. It’s that simple. The real meat of true growth is rarely about long planning sessions, strategy and identifying points of possible failure. It ultimately comes down to your willingness to experience the discomfort associated with being in an unfamiliar situation.
Remind yourself, it gets easier every time, and that’s because you’re growing. The first time you say “Hi” to a stranger will feel awkward and silly. It’s outside of your comfort zone. It’s not who you currently are. But you’re doing it because you want to get better at it, right? The second time you do it, it won’t feel quite as uncomfortable. You’ve already done it once before, and you have an inkling of what to expect. And so the cycle continues.
So what’s standing in your way?
We’ve all got complaints that go like this: “If only for X, I would be able to do Y”.
And make no mistake, X is entirely real to each of us, regardless of what it happens to be. Maybe it’s money. Maybe it’s the fact that you aren’t supported by your spouse. Maybe it’s that you didn’t do something when you were younger, and so you don’t think you can achieve Y now.
But it doesn’t matter how real X is to you, because I have the real answer.
What’s predominantly standing in the way of your own growth isn’t X (or A, B or C either). It’s fear.
Fear is what stops most of us from growing. What do those fears look like? Here are some:
- Fear that we won’t be supported by our partner
This is something worth delving into a little more deeply, but if Y is something you truly want to achieve, why would your partner want to stand in the way of that?
(Probably because of their own fears).
- Fear that you won’t be able to afford to do Y
There are always creative ways to achieve what you want. Maybe you can’t do Y full-time until you’ve established yourself, but that’s not to say that you can’t start do a little bit of Y until you’ve made more of a name for yourself.
- Fear that you don’t have the time to do Y
Is Y important to you? Where are you spending your time? Is everything that currently occupies your time more important than Y, or are there some things that could be dropped off to make more time for Y?
Again, most of these really amount to assuming that our current context, that is to say, what we are currently comfortable with, is the only possibility that there ever could be. But there’s no validity to this assumption. Although you’re probably quite comfortable with the way you’re spending time, if it’s stopping you from growing toward something that is truly important to you, maybe it’s time to experience some discomfort.
Here’s your take-away point for today. Take note of when you are experiencing discomfort, and rather than simply reacting to it, ask yourself why you are feeling that way. What’s causing that sensation? What is it that you are uncomfortable with?
Then, embrace it. Recognize it as an opportunity for growth and let yourself sit with that uncomfortable feeling.
Let’s close it out
Here’s your summary for today:
- Evolution is ultimately, in the personal sense, purposeful growth
- While it is good to feel comfortable at times, true growth does not lie in feeling comfortable
- In order to grow, you need to experience discomfort. In fact, discomfort and growth are often mutually inclusive
- Identify some areas in your life where you want to see some real growth, then find the first point of discomfort. Once you’ve done that, attack that point head-on. Dive in to the discomfort and let yourself sit with it.
- Don’t simply react to discomfort. Understand that it represents a challenge and an opportunity to grow, and treat it as such.