Swimming Lessons for Moving Out of Your Comfort Zone
August 12th, 2009
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.
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!