You don’t grow in your comfort zone.
Think about that for a sec.
Have you ever accomplished something by staying in your comfortable little box?
It’s easy to talk yourself out of taking action on something because of fear. Maybe it comes in the form of excuses or telling yourself you don’t have the time or the resources you need. But if you quiet down the inner chatter and let the truth percolate, you may realize it’s really FEAR that’s holding you back.
This idea that you have to get out of your comfort zone to grow became all too apparent recently as my teenage daughter swam in her first swim meet. She wasn’t the only one on her team that was there to swim in their first meet ever, and I’m sure there were other children on other teams in the same boat.
As we waited for their swim events, her friend started getting really anxious about it all. She had tears in her eyes and she started getting upset at her mom for signing her up for the meet. My daughter was nervous, too, the closer her first event got. She leaned against me on the bleachers and whispered, “I’m nervous, too”.
Fear set in.
Fear about coming in last.
Fear of being the slowest swimmer out there.
Fear of belly flopping off the starter block.
Fear of looking bad.
Fear of not doing it right.
Fear of the unknown.
I know our words didn’t really do much to squelch their fears. Reassurance that no matter what their performance was we’d be proud of them. Encouragement that they have to start somewhere and until they try it they’ll never know how they do. Perspective that all the people watching aren’t remembering how all the swimmers do or who’s who.
The only thing that helped them get over the fear was TO DO IT!
To get up on those blocks and dive in; to take action!
You know what? They all did well. We were proud of their bravery. For diving in, literally. For giving it their best. For trying something new. For cheering each other on.
And now that it’s over, they’re changed. The next meet won’t be so scary. They know what to work on during practice. They grew a little that day. They faced their fears and they came out on the other side. It wasn’t as bad as they imagined.
What are you facing right now that you want to run from? That you’re avoiding or putting off or making excuses over, instead of just facing your fear and taking action?
Here are some tips to get you started. Let’s move you into a position of power so you, too, can give yourself the gift of personal growth.
- Feel the fear. Instead of numbing it out or ignoring it, stop and feel it. Feel it in your body and let it come up. Maybe your heart starts pounding and you feel a little flushed and your breathing picks up. Feel the stress response. Maybe your mind starts racing with scenarios of what could happen. Ask yourself: “What’s the worst that can happen?” and “What’s the best that can happen?” Focus on a positive outcome and you may be surprised at what you’re able to create in your life. Often times we imagine the worst and it never comes to fruition, so why not just go ahead and focus on the positive outcome?
- Journal. Getting your fears and thoughts and feelings out on paper may shift your perspective and allow you to work through things. Notice again where you’re feeling things in your body and feel what comes up. Awareness is a powerful thing, and writing about it can bring things to your consciousness that were hidden and out of reach. Set a timer for five minutes and just free write about anything and everything that comes up.
- Talk Things over with Someone You Trust. Talking with a trusted friend who will listen can help you put things into perspective and may give you the boost of confidence that you need to move through your fear. If you don’t have a friend you can talk to or if you feel you may need more professional guidance, seek out a mental health provider. Having someone to guide you through things can be very beneficial, and it’s okay to ask for help.
- Take Action. Write down the steps you need to move through your fear. Depending on what you’re facing, there may be many small steps or one big step: DO IT. Take action, even if you’re afraid. I learned the mantra “Do it Afraid” years ago and it has gotten me through a lot of scary things that I’m glad I have faced instead of cowering away in fear. Visualization can help as well; if you can picture things going well, it helps you establish action steps but also gets your brain prepped to deliver the positive outcome you desire.
- Review your Progress. After you take action, reflect on how things turned out. Did your worst fear come true? If so, can you accept it and learn something from it? Commend yourself on taking action, despite the outcome, and the fact that you were brave enough to try. Then move forward. Keep taking action again and again, learning what you need to from each failure and each success. Look at your “failures” as learning opportunities and rejoice in your successes. Taking note of your courage and your progress helps when you’re faced with the next scary thing in life!
In the case of my daughter and her first swim meet, she took action steps leading up to that day. She attended practice to learn the techniques of each swim stroke, the turns, diving off the blocks and the rules like what would get her dis-qualified. During the meet we encouraged her to talk to her coaches and ask them questions. Her coaches reassured her that it’s normal to be nervous and that all they wanted her to do was try her best and have fun in the process. We sat and watched the other swimmers so she could see how things were run and what was expected of her. She was able to get familiar with the whistles and the starting commands and the sound of the starting buzzer so she knew what to do when it was her turn. She watched the boys and girls who went before her and took note of the turns and techniques. She talked to us and her friends about being nervous, and I think all the swimmers were supported in finding out that they weren’t the only ones who were nervous. Her dad and I reassured her that no matter how she performed we would love her and be there for her.
Finally, she just walked to the starting line and swam. After her first event we talked about things and she was noticeably more at ease. We talked about that, too, and the fact that she survived. Maybe survival wasn’t what she was worried about, but with the stress response it’s really the Fight, Flight or Freeze Response that she was experiencing, which can feel like survival mode. We gave her hugs and let her process the post-swim feelings. She came in last in her heat, which was her biggest fear, but she found out it wasn’t the end of the world. No one ridiculed her for coming in last and she realized she wasn’t the only one. She tried her best and that’s what mattered.
Now she’s looking forward to returning to practice to work on the fundamentals she needs to prepare for the next meet. The same rules with apply: her performance has nothing to do with how much she is loved and accepted. At the end of the day I think that’s the most important thing she needed to learn for her own personal growth. And in my opinion, that’s a very valuable lesson that will serve her well in life, in and out of the pool.
What fear can you look in the face and say “Not today, Fear….Today I’m Growing”?