How to take yourself out of your comfort zone - comfortably.
Taking on difficult challenges is something we naturally feel inclined to avoid. We don't want to make a fool of ourselves, we aren't sure what the outcome might be, we know it may make us feel uneasy.
Our natural primordial reaction to uncertain circumstances is the fight, flight or freeze response. We want to stand up to the threat, run away from danger or put our response on hold and just stay still, preparing to make our next move.
Perceived threats are different for each person. We may be uneasy about the thought of going back into the office regularly, being in enclosed spaces with lots of people or managing our work/life balance.
My recent threat was rather unexpected! Last week I took my two children to a theme park with numerous high adrenalin rides. I discovered that riding rollercoasters, something that I loved to do in my teenage years, now filled me with panic.
As my children dragged me towards the first high speed, white knuckle ride, I could feel my body going into the fight, flight and freeze response. My heart rate started to increase, my lungs felt tighter, the sounds of passenger screams became deafening in my ears and I froze.
Why was I putting myself through this state of unease?!
I realised that I was totally out of my comfort zone, however, I felt the urge to carry on and push on through my fears.
I summoned up many teachings from my Sophrology training to find instant calm to enable me to jump on this fast and furious ride. I can't say I was brimming with excitement at the thought of being thrown upside down ten times, but I was able to calm my body's natural stress response, look confident and enjoy the experience!
Here are three things I used to prepare myself for this challenge:
BREATHING FOR CALM
I started to focus on my breathing which had become shallow and quick. I used a simple paced breathing technique which wasn't going to draw any attention to me from the people behind in the ride queue!
I took a deep inhalation for four seconds, breathing through my nose and feeling my lungs and stomach expand. I then exhaled slowly through my mouth for six seconds and repeated this several times.
I could instantly feel my parasympathetic nervous system calming down my body's stress response. This is a practical and useful exercise whenever you're feeling anxious.
I remembered a TED talk I had seen by Amy Cuddy about power poses.
Our body's natural response when we feel threatened is to curl up and make ourselves small. However, if you watch an animal displaying signs of power and confidence, they open up their bodies and stand tall.
So, without looking like Superwoman, as I approached the front of the ride queue, I put my shoulders back, opened up my chest and looked up. This pose sends a signal to the brain of feeling confident and in control.
If you are facing a difficult meeting or nerve wracking presentation, try doing a power pose somewhere private for a couple of minutes beforehand to increase self-assurance.
REMEMBER: THE FUTURE IS EMPTY
As I sat in the ride car preparing to take off, I realised that all the fear I was experiencing was caused by my own mind creating a threat that hadn't even occurred yet!
My brain was racing through stories of roller coaster disasters or passengers stuck upside down for hours on end. These memories were informing my future - which was empty.
So I sat back, became present in my body and took myself off on this journey of fast twists and turns. As I stepped off the ride, I felt overwhelmed with a sense of personal achievement.
Try to recognise when your mind's negative bias towards memories of fear and hurt is predicting future events. This can be useful in times of real danger, but can also prevent us from trying new, often unfamiliar, things.
They say life is a roller coaster, with many ups and down, unexpected turns and uncomfortable challenges.
Something I discovered on this outing with my children was that the more I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, the less my body went into panic mode, the more rational I became and the more I enjoyed myself. By the end of the day, it was me suggesting yet another ride on the adrenaline fuelled roller coasters!
Learn more about the life-changing practice of Sophrology here.