Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone

by Rita Golden Gelman

Hi Again,
I'm on a crowded plane, heading to San Jose from Denver. I'll write for as long as the battery holds out.

Picking up where I left off in my last Book Passage blog, I'd like to talk about one of the recurrent themes in the e-mails I receive...the fear that so many people have of stepping into the unknown. "I dream of doing what you are doing, but I never could. You are living my fantasy."

First off, let me confess that I am missing the fear-gene. Going off into the unknown has always excited me...even as a kid. Doing what I wasn't supposed to do (according to "them") gave me a wonderfully naughty sensation that I loved. Taking risks, trusting strangers, crossing boundaries, stepping into that unknown are some of the experiences that always have and always will bring joy into my life.

I've thought a lot about why I get perverse pleasure out of taking risks. I have no idea when it started, but I do know that the more I test it, the more it reinforces itself. I always feel a little anxiety when I do something new. But experience has taught me that there's something intriguing just outside of my boundaries, so I push myself to step over whatever is in the way.

One day several years ago, I was asked to conduct a workshop entitled, "Risk-taking Over 50." My assignment was to help others to take the risks that would ease them out of their comfort zones. So I made a list of non-threatening steps that might rewire brains and help people to realize that pleasure lurks on the other side. Breaking down inhibitions, which are a key element in fear, is a slow process. But it's worth it. That wonderfully naughty feeling that comes when you break the rules is a start on the path to discovering the real you.

Here's that list. I'm sure there are plenty of you who are already "there." This is for those of you who are asking yourselves, "Is this all there is?"

Some fun things to try that will help you break down your inhibitions and rewire your life:
  • Start the day by brushing your teeth with the other hand.
  • Eat dinner food for breakfast.
  • Take a different route to work or to the supermarket, down streets you've never been on.
  • Buy a vegetable or fruit that you've never tried and figure out what to do with it.
  • Sit at a different place at the dinner table.
  • Serve dessert first; if there are kids, don't let them eat the meal until they finish dessert.
  • Talk to a stranger in line with you at a supermarket or bank.
  • Have dinner alone in a nice restaurant.
  • Spend a day without a bra and underpants; if you're a man, figure out something equivalent.
  • Go barefoot when it is totally inappropriate.
  • Go to an event without make-up; or if you never wear make-up, put it on for a day, a lot.
  • Buy a CD of songs from your teen years and sing along at the top of your voice... in the car or at home alone. Especially if you think you can't carry a tune.
  • Dance when you're home alone.
  • Walk around with a sketch book, sketching, if you think you can't draw.
  • Invite a foreign family for dinner. Ask them to teach you a song in their language ...or a dance...or how to cook an ethnic food. How about the owners of your favorite Thai restaurant? (And when the dinner invitation is reciprocated, accept.)
  • If you are in a university town, invite a couple of foreign students over for Thanksgiving.
  • Go away for a weekend alone.
  • Go for a motorcycle ride.
  • Try para-sailing.
  • Buy a hoola hoop and practice until you can do it.
  • Blow bubbles in a park somewhere.
  • If you are a non-stop doer, spend a weekend doing nothing. (Just what is nothing?)
  • Eat a quart of ice cream instead of dinner.
  • Take a walk in the pouring rain.
  • Go to Clown Camp. (Google: Mooseburger Clown Camp)

Come up with your own list of things that are outside your personal comfort zone, things that make you feel foolish or silly or naughty. Then do them! And have fun.

Some years ago I was asked to provide a quote for a Starbucks cup. It's tall cup #31:

"Risk-taking, trust, and serendipity are key ingredients of joy. Without risk, nothing new ever happens. Without trust, fear creeps in. Without serendipity, there are no surprises."

I'll be back tomorrow. rg

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