Swimming Lessons for Moving Out of Your Comfort Zone

August 12th, 2009

wip bodyscape
work-in-progress where i'm practicing taking some risks!

The painting above is a work-in-progress, where I'm painting over part of a very old mixed-media piece. I do not know where it's going yet and it's in the stage where every step is a bit of a risk.

As I said at the start of August's move theme for the Creative Every Day Challenge, I also interpret "move" to mean taking risks. To me, risk taking means moving out of your comfort zone into the land of the scary, the exhilarating, the dangerous, and the empowering. I immediately thought of my pal Jessie's Be Brave Challenge and our recent discussion about how sometimes every movement we make as we create can be an act of bravery.

Earlier this week, I went into town to put up some flyers for the Creative Play Workshop I'm leading with my friend Jenn in September. I'm super excited about the workshop and have been happily talking about it online, but putting up flyers in person scares the crap out of me. Don't laugh. Heh. It sounds totally ridiculous when I write it out. I mean, what's so scary about hanging up flyers anyways?

The things is, it doesn't matter how ridiculous your fears seem to you (or to anyone else for that matter), they're your fears and you don't need to be ashamed of them. But once you've noticed them and acknowledged their existance, perhaps you'll want to nudge at those boundaries a bit.

Swimming Lessons

When I was little, I took swimming lessons at a local pond. I wasn't the greatest swimmer and as much as I loved splashing around in the water, sometimes the depths of it scared me. One day, the teachers told us we were going to learn how to dive. We were instructed to tuck our head, point our hands out in front of us, curl our back, and then kind of roll and drop into the water. The pond we swam in was a muddy one with teeny fish swimming around in it. When we stood at the far end of the dock, toes over the edge, all shivering in our little swimsuits, you couldn't see the sandy bottom. All you could see was dark, dark water.

One by one, kids dove off the dock. Some rolled in with grace, natural swimmers. Others belly-flopped. I stood frozen, with my toes curled tight over the wooden edge, staring at the sun reflecting off the water, breathing fast, and not wanting to dive. I didn't want to go into that dark water head first. Time passed. The teachers waited. I just couldn't get myself to step off the edge.

One teacher coaxed me. She then tried counting down, "1,2,3,...go!" I didn't dive. Eventually she pushed me in. That wench. I can laugh about it now, but how many times have you been rudely pushed through your fears? Some people would prefer the push. If that's you, then find someone to push you! You might like that bootcamp exercise class that I tried and despised this year. Heh.

But if you don't like being pushed, there's another more gentle approach.

Stick Your Toes In: You know how when the water's cold, some people will wade in bit by bit and others will just dive in to get the cold over with? Neither way is wrong. Try out both styles and see what works best for you. If the baby step approach works best for you, go with that. Slow steps forward is more than ok. Honor your style of approaching the scary stuff. What teeny-tiny step could you take with something that you're avoiding?

Splash Playfully: Before the swimming lessons, I used to play around in a neighbor's pool. I would never go underwater without plugging my nose because of a few times when I breathed in water and it stung like crazy. But one day, I was playing games with my friends and I ran straight into the water without plugging my nose first. I breathed out and came up for air with no troubles. And just like that I could swim underwater without plugging my nose. What playful or sideways approach could you take with something that's difficult for you?

Treat Yourself: At the pond where I went to swim lessons, there was always a visit from the ice cream truck. I love picking out a treat after a hard day of swimming. When I went to put up flyers this week, I stopped to get my favorite iced tea from Peet's. Sometimes knowing there's a treat at the end of your action, helps you get started. What are some ways you reward yourself?

Spread out Your Towel and Rest: A day of swim and sun would always leave me tuckered out. But I also realized recently that any kind of risk-taking, especially when done in bunches could leave me feeling exhausted. If that's the case for you, put in a little buffer time around activities that stretch your boundaries. Give yourself some space to rest and get rejuvenated. After hanging flyers, I gave myself some time to sit in the air conditioned bedroom and watch Project Runway Canada on youtube (don't tell me who won. I haven't seen the end yet!) Do you give yourself time to relax after you've moved forward on something big?

How's the Water?: After you've completed something that moved you out of your comfort zone, notice how you feel. I often feel super empowered after conquering a fear and it often energizes me to take it one step further or conquer a fear in another area. Other times, I just feel drained. How do you feel after you've taken a risk?

Dive at Your Own Pace: I did eventually learn how to dive gracefully, but not at the pond. I learned in a more comfortable environment (back at the neighbor's pool), without any pressure or pushing. Don't worry so much if you're not moving along with your art, business, or whatever as quickly as you think others around you are. Respect your pace, keep moving forward playfully, and have fun with it. You'll enjoy the journey much more.

Play with moving out of your comfort zone with your art, your writing, your movement this month and let me know how it goes for you!

17 Responses

What a fantastic blog post and blog you have here! :)

Ahh…the dreaded comfort zone. They should call it the “dead” zone because although it feels safe, we simply begin to rot away there. Your points on how to escape it are excellent, good job! I love…”Sticking Your Toes In”. :)


Oh man does this post bring up memories of swimming in dark and muddy ponds. My little imagination would run wild envisioning what might be lurking below the surface.


I love how you’ve taken the diving lesson experience and applied it to the kinds of risk we are taking as adults.

Pretty amazing how much of it maps over to our grown-up risks!

timely post (as usual!) a friend asked me to talk on doing image transfers to metal to the local metal artists group. what do i know about this? not much! i collaborated with said friend on some pieces a few months ago. but i’m going to jump in, be brave & give it a shot…… this is a big move for me!

Yes a timely post indeed…and BTW I have a weird phobia of putting up fliers as well.:o)
I have peen pondering what scares me and I have moved passed the fear of applying to things (well not all the fear but atleast I can do it now) so what to freak myself out with now??? Having a gallery show my work…that gremlin is saying “yeah right”…well I have one in mind so I wrote it down along with the first step, which would be to fully examine the space so when I make my proposal to the powers that be (step 2 find out who that is) I can tell them exactly what I have in mind!

time to relax after finishing a big thing….never do that. Good reminder.

So I LOVE this piece you are working on and it’s my favorite artwork of yours that I’ve seen since subscribing to your blog. I love how it feels like a departure but still references your blue palette and still feels figurative– we get the layers and the landscape but your woman image is still there…fantastic. Also so neat how this series of blog posts has been about moves and risks and then you show us a risk you’re taking that has such an exciting, positive outcome. And while we all know that won’t happen every time we take a risk, it’s still inspiring to know that when we do still our necks out of our comfort zone, we open up the chance for reaping a great reward like this collage/painting! Thanks for the great example!!

i love this piece! your watery works are always so lovely x

You know where I’m seeing the theme of Move, lately? In my head. I feel like I’m ready to move out of my quiet space and rejoin the world a bit. I have definitely been a hermit for the last year or two. It’s all been mental, creative and internet journeys for me. And I think I’d like to get real.

Some tricks I use to break out and do things I’m afraid of are…

Plan, outline, breakdown, brainstorm. Sometimes if I can see on paper that these big huge things are really just small things, not quite as scary, I can start taking those step.

Hold someone’s hand. Don’t do it alone. Find a friend and go with her/him.

Give myself a metophorical slap. Like in Moonstruck. “Snap out of it!” Knock it off. Stop wussing out. Stop whining. It sounds harsh, but sometimes those fears are really just the little part of us doing a whole lot of whining very loudly. The big, strong, beautiful part of us is perfectly capable of telling the little whiny part to zip it. Because really, we’d all rather be the big beautiful part of ourselves, not the whiny wimpy part. Sometimes it’s what I need.

THis post is so delightfully full of compassion for the part of us that gets so scared, curls our toes on the edge and wants to not-do the Thing that we really do want to do. Like put up flyers. Or whatever new and adventurous and risky game we are up to now. Thank you for reminding us it is ok to be nice to ourselves about it, gentle and encouraging and even reward ourselves when we manage to pull it off. Because it really IS hard. Thank you for writing it out this way.

Leah, you are a marvel. You seem to have a gift for putting ideas into metaphors to which we can relate as risk takers. Thank you once again for a inspiring piece of writing.

Yes, yes, yes. Your analogy is so appropriate and useful in thinking about creative endeavors. You are a gifted writer, as well as visual artist. Thanks for sharing.

Leah, you give such wonderful advice, you’re wise beyond your years!

Unfortunately, we all have our little phobias. I’ve been working on mine diligently for the last year. I’ve removed some and others are harder to budge.

It’s still nice to know we are not alone with things like this. Thanks for sharing.

ps Your WIP is looking interesting! Can’t wait to see it finished.


Thank you for saying that there is no wrong way between diving right in and testing the water with tippy toes. I like to test the water and inch in, and it’s so annoying when the divers are already in and yelling at you to hurry up and splashing.

In my own time!

Great post :)

I love this post! So well written and inspiring.

Oh Leah! I just got flashbacks from my brother and I learning to swim. I could see my petrified baby brother not wanting to get wet in June but by August wading up to his waiste. *sigh*

For the record…I always fear putting up posters in public places.

I am facing some big fears right now and this was a well times article. Many thanks.


Good for you for reworking the “swimming” piece. I recently re-worked a floral painting that I hated when I first did it. The second go at it was so satisfying and gave me a sense of having “overcome” a creative obstacle!

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