Updated: Mar 26, 2019
Expand your comfort-zone from inches, to miles.
First day on a road.
Sheer frustration! I could feel anger well up Inside me, but there was nothing and no one I could take it out on. I calmed myself. Then I realised there were other problems. My toes hurt inside my heavy boots from blisters. The sun beat down in the 40 degrees centigrade summer heat and I had to be running up-hill, still a long way from the crest. Bag of woes, that was me! I was cursing myself for having walked up-hill earlier. Gasping for breath, I pushed myself on. I couldn’t slow down, if I didn’t finish in time, I would be doing this all over again, next Sunday. The more I thought about it, deeper I sank into feeling sorry for myself, frustrated, angry at everything. I trudged on, with the back-packs and side pouches full of gear weighing down. The experience tested my resolve and made me swing from childlike remorse, to manly anger, but I had completed the two rounds of the five kilometre, long, hot, dry and desolate path.
At that time, I had been four months into my training in the officers training academy, running the punishment route for the first time. It was long ago, I don’t recall the reason in detail. I just know the punishment was a for a trivial misdemeanour, a boyish prank perhaps. But I remember three things about it.
❶ First, that I had felt compelled to say ‘yes’ to some boyish mischief and followed the “herd”. Four ‘men’ actually, all of us just-under the age of eighteen.
❷ Second, that two got away, and two got caught and punished. I had got into the enterprise half-heartedly, because I didn’t want to seem ‘un-cool’ and feel awkward. Half-hearted is never successful.
❸ Third, that the retribution was certain and emotionless, no excuses asked, no second chance given, – this was the military. It was so different from my boyish experiences of being caught for pranks thus far, I couldn’t understand why, was I being made to suffer heartlessly. I learnt about consequences for actions that day !
These memories make me smile now whenever I feel awkward. Awkwardness and physical discomfort are mischievous friends. I will tell you about them, just after this next anecdote.
Another day, same road.
It was another run, in another context, nearly three years after my first contact with that hot desolate road. We had been running since early morning, guided by a map over hills and fields, burdened with our gear, following strict ‘water discipline’ and by afternoon, we had reached that same road on the periphery of the Academy. This was the last training exercise we would do, before passing out of the Academy. Each one of us was dog tired and aching, but our hearts were hopeful and confident of a good finishing position. The effort had been longer and more strenuous than my first run on this road, by far. My toes hurt inside my heavy boots from blisters. The sun beat down in the 40 degrees centigrade summer heat, and I had to be running up-hill, still a long way from the crest. This time on that hot and desolate road, physically, I was exactly in the same place again, but not at the same spot with my attitude and emotions. I felt, tired but happy, hopeful, confident . . . and Able !
I smile when I think of that day too. I smile because I learnt the truth about my comfort-zone.
Comfort-zones are familiar conditions and situations where we are comfortable, physically and emotionally. But, how does one measure them? Do you measure in inches or should you measure in miles? I do not know the answer. However, from remembering and understanding my experiences from days like those I just recounted, I did learn to recognise when I have reached the edge of my comfort zone.
At the edge of your comfort-zone you come across – discomfort and awkwardness!
Awkwardness, Discomfort and their friends.
As soon as you meet them, the two friends awkwardness and discomfort pull you into their games.
Awkwardness sings and whispers and entices the mind. It makes you say “yes” to things you shouldn’t do and “no” to things you should. Then you find yourself protecting your awkwardness. You blame – people, habits, circumstances. But never yourself, never the true reason, because...? . . . It gets . . .er …. awkward!
Discomfort is more physical. It touches you here, pokes you there, keeps you awake and puts you to sleep. It does all this at your most inopportune moments. Discomfort makes you, . . . uncomfortable and you retreat to make things more convenient, easy.
Every time you try to break out and do something different, there they are, the two friends, awkwardness and discomfort. So you give in to them. Do what you know you shouldn’t, back away from discomfort and make friends with the awkward. Boom! You have joined their party! You meet their friends – laziness, shame, guilt, anger, pain and others – you realise their party is actually your “pity party”. You leave to seek comfort and solace but find your comfort-zone has Shrunk. You are disturbed.
I nod in recognition, when I come across awkwardness and discomfort, they stand at the edge of my comfort. Getting past them would be liberation. At this edge of my comfort zone, my choices are – embrace them and see your comfort-zone shrink or, take courage, disregard and walk past them. Then keep going on, and measure my comfort in miles.
Bigger is better – so making it bigger.
Take a little trouble - TRY MORE, LEARN MORE, DO MORE. Make the comfort-zone larger.
Start when you feel the compulsion to go against good sense, good advice and even our wishes to do things, -- just to not feel awkward. “How do I not feel awkward?” I have learnt that the real answer is to emotionally feel able and competent, in the situations I find myself in. That happens when I seek out and gather experiences of what upsets me and try opportunities at the edge of my comfort-zone to meet and disregard ‘awkwardness’.
“What is discomfort?” Sometimes it seem like we cannot bear the physical challenges of a situation. Taking a good look , that threshold may even be a reduced luxury. So what do we do? It turns out that the adage - “What doesn't kill you, will make you stronger” actually works. The human mind, body and spirit is resilient and adjusts to even extreme conditions. It just requires us to have the will to do it. And that can be grown. When I get uncomfortable, I hold on and know that once I see it through, I would have greater play room and be more comfortable.
How? Pay attention to ourselves. Discover parts of us which are so obvious that we have habits we don’t know of. Open ourselves to knowledge. We need not be hypocritically polite, or be offensive to be honest – to others or to ourselves. We need not pretend to know all answers, but must strive to learn them. Take every opportunity to do worthwhile things we haven’t tried collect memories of happenings. Take Small steps of simple experiences like – Laughing with children, speaking with scholars, experiencing solitude, jostle in crowds, build and break habits. Big steps like - Commit ourselves to ideas that are bigger than us. There are ways to train the mind against awkwardness and to grow the will to stand up to discomfort. Gather experiences and competences to grow confident – till we feel abundantly able and infinitely comfortable.
Cdr Indrajit Pakrasi (retd) The author is a Lead-Coach and co-founder of Explode Programmes. Visit: www.explodexperience.com