Category Archives: Work Smart

Why the comfort zone is and isn’t your friend

comfort zoneWe’ve all seen this picture, right? “Life begins outside your comfort zone,” etc. And man, that’s totally true. But I want to present another side of things today – not staying in your comfort zone, but instead…

The intense benefit of making yourself physically comfortable during challenging situations.

So this idea that we need to push ourselves, to step outside our comfort zones and try new scary things, is absolutely correct. And that process is probably going to be, by default, exciting and intense. It might produce some anxiety, or a wash of other emotions. (Feelings soup.)

But it doesn’t have to suck.

We have this messed up idea that “leaving our comfort zones” means that we have to be miserable the whole time it’s happening, as if suffering lends virtue to the learning process. Untrue!

A few years ago, I was working at a dance studio and having a very challenging conversation with my boss. She and I were not on the same page at all, and we were both genuinely trying to make things better, but it wasn’t going very well.

After about forty minutes of frustration, we agreed to take a break and re-convene. I walked into another part of the studio, blowing into my cupped hands and searching for a sweater, because the room we had been using for our meeting was the temperature of a walk-in meat locker. I was freezing!

I ran into my partner, and he said, “How’s it going?”

“Kind of like crap,” I said. “Plus I’m a ice cube. That room sucks.”

“Why don’t you take a space heater with you when you go back in?” he asked. “I bet [your boss] is cold, too. You guys will probably get further if you’re comfy.”

So I dragged a little electric space heater in, set it up, and within about ten minutes, we were able to resolve matters and move forward with energy that was about twenty degrees warmer (in temperature and in spirit).

Thus I learned my first and most important lesson about comfort zones: Push yourself, be better, all the time. But get comfy in your own body.

How often do we run into this when we are learning something new in dance? I know that learning new movement can be hard, can feel weird, can be a little funky. But how different would that learning process be if I breathed deeply and continuously, if I relaxed my neck and shoulders, if I released the tension I was holding, and the fear about looking stupid or doing things wrong?

Answer: um, a bunch, actually. I have been working on it. It’s crazy how much of a difference the comfiness of your actual physical body makes. That sounds stupid and obvious until you realize how often during an average day we disconnect from our bodies and forget to feel good and move harmoniously and easily. Having a tough conversation? Learning something new? Doing something that causes you anxiety? Deliberately choose to relax. Put your body into a position, a configuration, that’s actually physically comfortable. Change your environment, if you can, to make yourself more comfy. Keep breathing (the good big deep breaths, not just “I am continuing human respiration on a technicality” breaths). It’s hard  – ha! so step outside your comfort zone! zing. – but worth it.

Pushing outside of your comfort zone and growing as a human is awesome, but it’s tough sometimes. So don’t make it harder than it has to be – get comfy and see how much further you get!

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There are no mistakes on the dance floor

For real. I really mean it. I see you not believing me. That's why I also wrote WORDS. Ha hah!

For real. I really mean it. I see you not believing me. That’s why I also wrote WORDS. Ha hah!

There are no mistakes on the dance floor. What we think of as a “mistake” is really an shortcoming in perception, a failure to perceive what someone else is putting out there.

Hey, here’s a crazy idea. What would happen if we started to really BELIEVE that about our dancing?

Well, instead of starting every conversation with, “here’s what went wrong,” we might get to really appreciate our own and our partner’s creativity. We might be more open to new ideas, to new ways of doing things. We might dance in and with our bodies instead of getting mad at them for betraying us at the crucial moment. (Et tu, corpus?) We might listen to the music.

The really nutball thing is, we all know how freakin’ awesome those states of being are. We’ve all experienced them, at some time or another, even if only for a few seconds. It’s why we keep dancing! 

But what if we really BELIEVED that there are no mistakes on the dance floor? I mean, it sounds good and all, and it’s a nice thought, but who really BELIEVES it?

This cat does. Stefon Harris is a slammin’ jazz musician – he plays the vibraphone. Dude, anybody who literally PLAYS VIBES knows good vibes when he lays ’em down. And he gave a really great TED talk about this very idea. There are no mistakes on the bandstand, he said, and then he goes on to prove it.

There are a lot of excuses we can all make about why that might be true for Stefon but not for us, but here’s my challenge: try it.

Seriously. What are you out? It’s free (recession friendly!), it’s totally internal (you don’t even have to TELL anybody you’re changing your perspective), and if it sucks, you can blow it off and go back to rolling along how you usually do. But try it. Go into your next lesson, your next social dance, your next comp, or just your next practice in front of a mirror and say, “hey, there are no mistakes here, just chances to be better at perception. Rock on.”

I’m here to say: I’m a believer.

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