Why you should stay inside your comfort zone (Say whaaaaat?)

15904471987_c32a226d1b_hImage via Elim Araf Yalim Photography

It’s not a heading I thought I would ever write, but I’m starting to believe that sometimes the most important thing about getting outside your comfort zone is coming back into it. Don’t worry, I haven’t completely flip flopped on my views on comfort zone challenges (I’m not a politician after all), but I have started to recognise that as well as challenging ourselves, it is equally as important to take the time to reflect and to nurture ourselves.

The last couple of months have been pretty up and down for me both from a health and emotional perspective. No doubt you would have noticed my complete absence from blogging. At first, after yet another bout of sinusitis, I got really down on myself about not writing. I’d got into a good habit of writing each week, trying new things and staying accountable to you, my wonderful readers. So when I ‘let you down’ by not posting I berated myself for not being disciplined or consistent enough. Then I turned downright mean, calling myself hopeless and weak and pathetic – seriously, would I talk to anyone else like that? No way!

But then something happened that made me realise that I probably needed to chill the fuck out. At ten weeks pregnant I had a miscarriage. The shock and loss and pain was made worse by a complication that meant I lost a lot of blood and ended up in hospital. I’m not exactly sure that you could call the whole experience a comfort-zone challenge, but lying there with a drip in my arm and people poking around between my legs wasn’t exactly my idea of relaxing (sorry, too graphic??). It certainly was uncomfortable and challenging, on both a physical and emotional level.

After I came home from hospital I was pretty weak and also feeling pretty raw emotionally. I went through so many different emotions: a sense of loss, accompanied by confusion about exactly what it was that I had lost, then feeling grateful that my body knew the ‘right thing’ to do, then thinking about all the good things that come with not being pregnant (vino anyone?), then feeling guilty about finding the positives in losing a baby. Then there was a part of me, let’s call her ‘old Jane’ who kept telling me to get over it, saying that ‘it was only 10 weeks’, ‘it’s not a big deal’, blah blah blah.

Thankfully I am not ‘old Jane’ anymore and I have become a lot more self-aware and lot more attuned to my feelings and emotional reactions. And I think that is in no small part due to the comfort zone challenges I have put myself through over the last couple of years. Oh yeah, and I should probably also give some credit to my therapist…

As a result of this new Oprah-like consciousness I told work I wasn’t coming in for the rest of the week and I spent the entire week sleeping, reading fiction and drinking tea, oh and taking iron tablets, plenty of those. While I was reading I noticed a quote on the bookmark I’d been using, it said:

“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths”  Elly Hillesum.

I had been using the bookmark for months, and only then did it actually make sense to me.

I realised that the time when the biggest personal growth happens is not just when you are outside your comfort zone, but also once you come back in to your comfort zone to reflect. Actually, just doing the comfort zone challenge itself is a bit wasted if you don’t take the time and effort to reflect on the experience and on your own feelings, emotions and reactions to the challenge.

Reflection requires a safe space. It requires a nurturing environment and a compassionate voice. It requires asking yourself what you were you feeling, what you were fearful of and why you felt that way. Just remember to leave the judgement at the door.

After the miscarriage I gave myself some space to think and feel and to reflect on what I had lost and why I felt that way. And by doing that I feel like the grief passed through me a lot faster and I got a lot more out of the experience by allowing myself that. Sometimes the answer can seem really obvious, but it’s still important to take the time to ask and to validate those fears or emotions. Your reactions are yours and yours alone and you are entitled to them.

What about you? Are you showing yourself patience and compassion when you go through the hard times – whether they be intentionally set challenges or just the shit-storm of life?  You heard it here first, I completely endorse being inside your comfort zone. Just don’t start living there. View it as the rest between two breaths. A place to pause, reflect and nurture yourself before the next challenge begins.  hashtagselflove 😉

Love Jane xx

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Why You Should Shut Up

Albufera in Valencia, Spain
Silence is golden.

I remember as a kid my mum told me, repeatedly, that I could probably talk under water. I also distinctly remember being one of those ‘Why?’ kids, who had to know the answer to every question that passed through my brain. By the time I got to the ripe old age of 16, I was pretty sure that I had learned everything there was to know, well certainly more than my parents (durrrrh). I was probably like a lot of teenagers I suspect. My twenties were then filled with opinion after opinion – mine of course, since no one else knew what they were talking about and if they would just come around to my way of thinking the world would be a better place. Thankfully I have become a LOT more self aware since then, but my recent comfort zone challenge got me thinking about how much further I still had to go.

While I was away on retreat recently one of the yoga instructors led a ‘silent walk’ before breakfast one morning. To begin we all took a vow of silence and then followed our guide trustingly into the wilderness of the Gold Coast Hinterland. After the walk I spoke to someone who had been on a silent retreat in Thailand a few years ago, where not only did she not speak to anyone, there was no communication at all. Not even eye contact was allowed. That got me thinking ‘Could I be silent, even for one day?’

Of course, I could have just ‘gone bush’ somewhere for a day and removed myself from civilisation completely, but I decided that would be too easy. So of course I suggested to my most extroverted friend that she should join me – this is the same friend who when travelling together a number of years ago I told “You know, we don’t have to talk all the time”. Luckily Sam is a bit of an adventurer and pretty much up for anything, especially personal growth related, so she agreed and we set a date to do the Coogee to Bondi walk and stop for silent brekky together.

I’ve known Sam for over 10 years now, and I consider her to be one of my best friends, but as soon as I walked into her house (unannounced of course) there was this palpable feeling of awkwardness. We kind of waved at each other, hugged and then motioned that we should leave. As we walked down the hill and into Coogee the awkwardness continued to hang around, like a bad fart. Normally at this stage we would have been chatting non-stop about all manner of topics, with varying degrees of importance. Around 10 minutes into it I was still feeling very uncomfortable and I started regretting embarking on this venture. How long can this discomfort go on? I thought. But I found that as soon as I stopped focusing on it the awkwardness faded and then disappeared completely.

I’ve done the Coogee Bondi walk a number of times but this time around I really took notice of so much more. I guess you could say that I was being more mindful – I noticed other people more. I noticed the vibrant colour of the water, the cliffs of Tamarama, birds in the sky. I heard a lot more too: people talking, waves crashing, but most I noticed how many thoughts I had going through my head and how often I felt the need to verbalise them. It really made me think about how inconsequential a lot of what I talk about is and how a lot of the time I just verbalise it to fill a silence or because I want to have my opinion heard. On reflection I feel that perhaps I still very much over-value my opinions.

Don’t get me wrong, I love people with strong convictions. However, while everyone has opinions, I am starting to think that opinions do not make you who you are. To me, who I am is also the way in which I share my opinions, how I listen to and try to understand other people’s opinions and the action I take to act upon my opinions. Also, some opinions are more important than others and some really aren’t even worth thinking, let alone verbalising.

Another benefit of not verbalising every thought and opinion that passed through my brain was that I listened to other people a lot more, and importantly allowed them time to think about what they wanted to say. I found this with my husband, but mostly with my daughter, who is only 3 years old. By me not speaking, it allowed her the time to find the words she wanted without me finishing her sentence. As those of you with toddlers will know, having a conversation with a three year old can be wonderful but frustrating, but not having the words to explain how you feel must be even more frustrating, and possibly a little distressing for them.

Holding back my opinions gives me an opportunity to get more information about a subject or situation and gives me the flexibility to change my mind. I notice on social media especially, everyone is so eager to give their opinion about something, anything, that they comment and then think. And generally speaking because no one wants to admit that they were wrong, they stay steadfast in their opinion even after receiving information to the contrary. Politicians frustratingly do this all the time.

So, while I don’t intend on being silent forever, I am going to think more about what thoughts I do and don’t share and most importantly I am going to try to hold back opinion and listen more.

Have you ever tried being silent for a day? Do you think you could do it? I’m listening, so please share your thoughts below or on the Facebook group.

Yours Silently,

Jane xx

Ps. As a result of completing this challenge I’ve also added Vipassana meditation to my comfort zone challenge list. This involves sitting in one spot and meditating for 12 hours without any interaction with anyone. Even thinking about it makes me feel uncomfortable, so I guess that means I’m on the right track 🙂

 

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Life is not a popularity contest

Run for your life – or someone else’s.

I am guessing that somewhere in our genetic makeup there is an innate need to be liked by other people. Maybe many millennia ago when we were cavemen living in tribes it was useful to have as many people like us – and therefore protect us – as possible. I don’t know about you, but the teenage dream of being popular always eluded me. I remember back in Year Nine getting so close to being admitted into the ‘Trendy Group” but never quite making the cut.  If only Mum had bought me those Levi 501’s… so close!  That was the first time I really remember being ‘judged’, and it felt horrible. You would have thought that by the time I got to 37 I would have stopped worrying about stuff like that, and while I’m no longer applying for membership to the cool group, I still sometimes get that nervousness about what people think of me. I wonder if they think I’m smart, or pretty, or interesting, and ultimately whether they like me, and if not what’s wrong with me. Strangely, it was only after signing up for the Mother’s Day Classic recently I got to thinking – so bloody what if ‘they’ like me?

Fun runs, marathons, and other endurance races are your classic comfort zone challenges. And when I signed up for the run I was seriously wondering whether I had bitten off more than I could chew having hyperventilated my way through only 2km a couple of days before. Another reason I signed up was because I’d met a bunch of great new people who I wanted to get to know better – but neither of those factors were the lesson that I had to learn from this experience. You see the catch with signing up was that my team were also trying to raise money for charity – which is where I really started to feel outside of my comfort zone. I know this might sound strange to you, but remember that comfort zone challenges really are a personal thing, so what seems routine to one person can be someone else’s hell.

The thing that I really struggled with was the idea of asking people for money. Granted, the money wasn’t even for me, in fact it was for an amazing charity called One Girl, that funds education for girls in Africa*, a cause that I wholeheartedly support. But before I even asked anyone to sponsor me I felt the searing pain of rejection, the fear of finding out that no one likes me enough to sponsor me. My fear of not being ‘popular enough’ was about to be proven right…. Sort of like having a party and no one turning up (it’s a real fear people!).

So I did the comfortable thing and I procrastinated. I kept training of course, running further each week, and also kept in touch with the other girls to see how they were going. But whenever there was a mention of the sponsorship and how everyone’s fundraising was going I went suspiciously quiet. Then I made excuses, convincing myself that I couldn’t work out how to set up the sponsorship page, or that it wasn’t linked to my registration so it wouldn’t count. It was the adult equivalent of ‘The dog ate my homework.”

As the race drew closer, I admitted to the other girls that the idea of putting myself out there and asking for sponsorship really scared me. As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one. After that I decided that I needed to face up to this fear and just push through it. So less than a week before the race I started my sponsorship page and posted it to Facebook. And guess what? The world did NOT end. Some people sponsored me, some people didn’t. But that was ok. It got me thinking about all this ‘judgement’ that I was afraid of. The thing about judgement is that you can’t actually feel it. It can’t hurt you. The only thing that can hurt you is your own feelings of inadequacy making up stories about what you think other people are thinking or saying about you.

I suspect that when I posted my call for sponsorship no one made their decision to sponsor me based on whether they actually like me. I am guessing the thought processes were probably less ‘me’ focused and more ‘them’ focused, i.e. Can I afford to? Is this a cause I agree with? What am I going to make for dinner? You get the point. The fact is that as a result of this ridiculous insecurity I was putting myself at the centre of everything. And the problem with that is that it closes you off from what is truly important – like the fact that 66 million girls around the world are not in school either because they don’t have access to schools, their families can’t afford it or they are not allowed to attend simply because they are female.   And when you start focusing outwards you realise that you have the power to make a difference. Personally, by putting myself out there I raised nearly $400 (and collectively our team paid for 12 girls to be educated), gave me a sense of purpose and gave me a chance to connect with people in a new way. I started to get really excited that I was part of something – something bigger and more important than my insecurities and first world problems.

I realise now that worrying about being judged doesn’t make people like us more. As far as I can tell, the only thing it does is stops us from doing things that could potentially make our lives better, more meaningful and possibly even change other people’s lives for the better. I wonder how many world-changing ideas or projects have been left to die because of a (misguided) fear of being judged. As long as you are living according to your highest values, forget about what other people think about you, because in the end ‘The people that matter don’t mind, and the people that mind don’t matter”.

Love (your friend) Jane xx

*If you’re interested in checking out this amazing charity, visit www.onegirl.org.au

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