Posts Tagged ‘challenge’

Braving the Discomfort Zone

April 10, 2012 7 comments

Waiting to singOne person’s fear is another person’s fun, right? A friend of mine is totally unfazed by donning 50 pounds of scuba diving gear and breathing apparatus to plunge into 75 or 100 feet of water, but when she is faced with the prospect of walking into a room full of strangers her heart races, her breath gets shallow, her palms sweat.

For me, singing in front of an audience can drive my anxiety up to acute levels. What sets off your fight or flight alarms? Regardless of what your particular challenge looks like, the fact that it feels risky is a solid clue to tell you that there might be something of substance for you to learn from it.

Oh, sure, we might wish to hang out endlessly in our comfort zones, those cozy, familiar, not too challenging places where we feel safe and self-assured.

Or we might crave more time in the flow zone that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has identified as the state in which people experience their greatest capacity for happiness and creativity. When you are absorbed in a “flow experience” he says, “…your sense of time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger. And once the conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.”

These two inner-directed zones are absolutely vital to a balanced, joyful, healthy life, representing a spectrum of unconscious feeling that ranges from serenity to ecstasy. But even if we could choose to spend all of our time there, we’d be cheating ourselves out of something critical, wouldn’t we?

Just as important is that discomfort zone in which we get conscious about what scares us and what matters to us most. It’s there that we identify the gaps in our life and define our opportunities for growth and understanding. In short, it’s there that we learn.

It’s only in the discomfort zone that you can gather valuable data by asking, “What makes this experience so difficult for me? What would it take to convert these feelings of vulnerability, inadequacy, stupidity, frustration, or uncertainty into feelings of comfort and flow?” Your discomfort zone is a practice field where you can acknowledge and challenge your biggest fears and declare your intention to disarm them in pursuit of what you really care about.

When you choose to enter the discomfort zone with intention and curiosity—walking into that room full of strangers, standing up there to sing—you build your muscles for navigating this challenging zone the next time you find yourself there unexpectedly. Will you give it a try?

Nowhere to Put It

February 2, 2011 3 comments

Light through snowy branchesGreg Heavener, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, New Jersey, might have been speaking for all of us when he reported a couple of days ago, “There’s nowhere to put it.”

He was talking about the snow, of course, but he may as well have been referring to the sense of beleaguered exhaustion that this relentless winter is visiting upon us here in the Northeast and elsewhere across the country.

Now, I know, I’m the one who’s always cheering us on to adopt new perspectives when circumstances have us feeling defeated. And I stand by that! But part of exploring new perspectives is getting perfectly clear about the one you’re in.

Robert Fritz, an important voice in the realm of personal growth, identified the creative potential inherent in the “structural tension” between what we have (our current reality) and what we want (our vision). His formula calls for a frank assessment of the now. And sometimes, let’s face it, a frank assessment makes us want to scream or cry.

I think of John McEnroe exploding into a fit of rage on the court after a line judge didn’t see it his way: “You CANNOT be serious!” He probably reaches his breaking point quicker than most, but it’s a sentiment we can relate to as we absorb one more layoff, one more foreclosure, one more rejection letter, or 21 more inches of snow.

So, yes, I’m all about getting from here to the vision. But I also know that tears and tantrums are built into the system for a reason. Don’t be afraid to let them do their work. They help you know when you’ve reached your limit. When “there’s nowhere to put it,” there’s nowhere to go but up.

In It Together

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

StarIn his warts-and-all autobiography, Open, Andre Agassi displays remarkable sensitivity in assessing his relationship to the sport that brought him into the public eye. He hates tennis, he asserts repeatedly, because it is the loneliest sport on the planet. At the same time, he recognizes tennis as a metaphor for life, and he fully accepts the gifts and lessons the game has offered him.

His challenges are extraordinary: A terrorizing father, prodigious talent, competitive pressures of the highest order, and invasive celebrity. He makes some poor choices along the way. But he consistently makes one good choice, a choice that ensures his success, and this is to follow his instinct for meaningful connection with others.

Performing better in situations like Davis Cup and the Olympics—when he’s representing something greater than himself—Andre knows that for him, the antidote to tennis’s loneliness is being part of a team. He tends to his closest relationships with generosity and gratitude. In his singles career, he achieves his best results when he’s most aligned with a team of friends, family, coaches, and trainers.

Nobody embodies the spirit of coach/friend better than Gil Reyes, the strength trainer who has been with Agassi since early in his career. And as Andre recalls how Gil first expressed his commitment, I can’t help but think about the kind of teammates I want to have and the kind of teammate I want to be.

Gil said, “Andre, I won’t ever try to change you, because I’ve never tried to change anybody. If I could change somebody, I’d change myself. But I know I can give you structure and a blueprint to achieve what you want. There’s a difference between a plow horse and a racehorse. You don’t treat them the same. You hear all this talk about treating people equally, and I’m not sure equal means the same. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a racehorse, and I’ll always treat you accordingly. I’ll be firm, but fair. I’ll lead, never push. I’m not one of those people who expresses or articulates feelings very well, but from now on, just know this: It’s on, man. It is on. You know what I’m saying? We’re in a fight, and you can count on me until the last man is standing. Somewhere up there is a star with your name on it. I might not be able to help you find it, but I’ve got pretty strong shoulders, and you can stand on my shoulders while you’re looking for that star. You hear? For as long as you want. Stand on my shoulders and reach, man. Reach.”

Whose team are you on? Who are the teammates who help you shine?


Cool in the shadeWhen it’s 105 degrees Fahrenheit, nothing spells gratitude like the pool of cool shade at the foot of a tree.

But it’s easy to be grateful for things that make us feel better. What about being thankful for things that push us around a little? Like the heat that forced us into the shade in the first place.

In her funny, life affirming blog, ThxThxThx, Leah Dieterich has written more thank-you notes to Pain than she has to Chocolate, Laughs, Money, and Possessions combined.

Maybe no one wants to hear old chestnuts like “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or “pain builds character.” Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny that important benefits accrue to us from challenge:

Patience from poison ivy. Learning from embarrassing mistakes. Clarity from scarcity. Compassion from suffering.

Thornton Wilder said, “We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” What happens to our aliveness when our definition of treasures includes the tough stuff?

Alive in the hot sun. Alive in the cool shade.

What are you grateful for right now?