The single most important principle I’ve learnt that has changed my life more than anything else is the principle of stretching:
Stretching is the act of doing something that you know is good for you and/or good for others and it scares you.
Imagine yourself at the centre of a circle. The edge of the circle is the edge of your comfort zone. It is everything that you know and are comfortable dealing with. Once in a while you might encounter an anomaly that hits the edge of your comfort zone, if it’s a little thing you expand to include it.
Now, if it’s a big thing, guess what? You’re going to be very uncomfortable. And what you decide to do about it is going to effect you in a major way. If you decide to avoid dealing with it, your comfort zone stays where it is. Not too bad, you get to be comfortable…you also get to not grow.
If you choose to deal with it, your comfort zone will expand to include it, and viola! You now have an even bigger comfort zone. The growth is not always guaranteed to be easy or painless though, in fact it usually isn’t.
We’ve all encountered situations like this when we’ve had to face difficult obstacles thrown our way.
Why choose to expand though when it’s more comfortable to stay the way you are? The key is to realize, your comfort zone is also your zone of power.
The more things in your life you get under your ability to handle, the wider your zone, the richer and greater your life becomes. A bigger comfort zone usually comes with a bigger sense of self-confidence, self-trust, more life experience, and a snowballing effect as you grow to want to grow even more.
What does a small comfort zone get you? Well, put it this way; how much can you squeeze into a tiny little box?
Expanding the edges of your comfort zone is always going to be uncomfortable. This can be a good thing. How else will you know that you’re on the edge of another level-up?
I can remember the first few times I started applying this principle. At first, whenever I made myself face up to new and challenging situations, I would get all tense, and cold numbing fear would crawl from the pit of my stomach all the way across my body…I would even shiver sometimes! Did I always manage to act inspite of my fear and break through my comfort barrier to grow?
But even half of the time is better than none of the time.
And as I continued to do it more and more, I got better at it. It doesn’t mean that the discomfort (fear, anxiety, stress, self-doubt) got any less. In fact, it sometimes got worse as the level of challenges I took on got higher. But then, so did my ability to handle them, and the things that used to scare me stopped scaring me after a while (while I use the example of fear, uncomfortable feelings at the edge of the comfort zone can take many forms).
The more I confronted my fear, the better I got at recognizing it. The more I stretched, the more I realized that whenever I felt the fear, instead of letting it stop me, I would recognize it as a sign that I had come up against my comfort zone and had a unique and valuable opportunity to expand and grow.
So instead of feeling afraid and going, ‘Oh no, I can’t do this’ like I used to, I’d go, ‘Aha, fear! I’ve come up against my limits again…time to face another challenge.’
I can guarantee you that if you keep stretching yourself, you’ll become so addicted to growth that fear will no longer become an obstacle but a trigger to act inspite of it.
A useful belief that I’ve come to adopt is this:
The level of challenges I’m facing in my life now are there only because I can now deal with them.
In other words, whatever level of challenge I’m facing right now is approriate to where I am now in my personal growth for my ability to tackle and surmount, no more, no less.
‘But Alvin, what if I go mountain climbing tomorrow and I have no experience or training. I mean, it scares me and it’d grow me…are you telling me to go?’
I’ve heard this type of question so many times in coaching that I’m going to bold my reply:
I said stretch, not be stupid!
Why so many people think stretching doesn’t work with intelligence is beyond me, but I’m here to tell you the happy truth: you can stretch and stretch intelligently.
Being intelligent people, you’ll know that there are some fears that are valid and rational. I will definitely feel afraid if I had to go climb a mountain the next day when I have zero experience in it, and that’s good fear because it’s stopping me from doing something that’s a stretch but not an intelligent one, and definitely not good for me at this point in time.
Keeping that in mind, I can guarantee you, that if you don’t take anything away from this blog, or if this is the only entry you ever read (I hope not! Bookmark us, subscribe to our RSS feed or emailing list and keep in touch!), but you take this principle of stretching with you and apply it throughout your life, you will grow above and beyond anything you could expect.
So the next time you encounter a chance to grow, but feel fear or discomfort and know that it’s not a rational or useful feeling, recognize it as only a trigger for you to break open your comfort zone and grow to the next level.