Nothing Grows in Comfort Zones

It’s good to do uncomfortable things. It’s weight training for life.
— Anne Lamott

When was the last time you did something for the first time? I had a new experience recently, taking a writing class with Jennifer Louden, a best selling author. Reading about this in the Paris Review, I stepped out of my comfort zone and plunged in, head first. The setting: 1440 Multiversity in Scotts Valley, CA. Named for the 1440 minutes in a day, 1440 is founded on the belief that each minute is a chance to connect with what truly matters—both within and around us. Developed by Joanie and Scott Kriens, this is a 75-acre campus nestled in the ancient redwoods, with efficient accommodations, a variety of courses and activities to learn and rediscover yourself along with extraordinary farm-to-table cuisine emanating from 35 sustainable farms across the valley. 

I have talked about the profound effect writing in my Gratitude Journal has on my life. There is so much to be grateful for and I find that expressing this daily transforms how I think and feel. Thoughts become things, so choose the good ones! I don’t consider myself a writer and struggle to compose these blogs and chapters for a book I have been encouraged to write. The positive feedback I receive from these pieces inspires me to do something I have never done before.

There were no prerequisites for the class, called Writing Brave. I knew little about the agenda other than a timetable for each day and I went alone, not knowing anyone. Eliminating any preconceived ideas allowed for few disappointments; burying my insecurities was the key to success for this weekend. Stepping out of our comfort zone – how does that make you feel and how often does this happen? This is required for us to become a better person, know ourselves and others better, and to experience life to it’s fullest. 

Charles Duhigg – “Smarter, Faster, Better” is one of my favorite authors and attending one of his lectures turned me into an enthusiastic devotee. He quotes Ed Catmull in his book:

People who are most creative are the ones who have learned that feeling scared is a good sign.  We just have to learn how to trust ourselves enough to let the creativity out.

Often, easier said than done!

I was definitely exposing myself with nine women I had never met, all at different levels of writing expertise, projects and goals. Our teacher, Jennifer, was dynamic, expressive, creative, and transparent with a great sense of humor. She made us feel safe and created an environment for learning and exploring. Anything I shared, a question asked or participation in an exercise did not make me feel foolish, inferior or less capable of completing the task. I savored the wisdom of the other women; their stories, tips, experiences (good and bad) and every question asked was a sublime jewel with Jennifer polishing our words and thoughts to help make each story noteworthy. 

I learned so much about writing and was pleasantly surprised with the ease that came in some of the exercises – not all! Believe in yourself everyday and guess what, we don’t have to stay within the lines!

Did you know, the Reticular Activator (RAS) is a part of the brain that stays on alert. It's job is to make you notice some things and ignore other things (if you noticed everything, you'd be too distracted to function). When you buy a new VW, it seems like the whole world has bought VWs, because you notice them everywhere. That's the reticular activator at work.

What do I notice? Writing blogs and chapters for my book has evoked a particular interest in words that didn’t exist before. I have continually admired someone whose speech is measured, articulate, resonant, coupled with dramatic, captivating details but now I have a different relationship with words. Reading has always been a favorite activity of mine and now that my RAS is heightened, words jump off the page!

An excerpt from an article in the New York Times by Sendhil Mullainathan “Why Trying New Things Is So Hard to Do” says:

Experimentation can produce massive rewards. A study estimated that 47% of human behaviors are of a habitual variety. Habits are powerful. We persist with many of them because we tend to give undue emphasis to the present. Trying something new can be painful: I might not like what I get and most forgo something I already enjoy. The cost is immediate, while the benefits – even if they are large – will be enjoyed in a future that feels abstract and distant. Overconfidence also holds us back.  Experimentation is an act of humility, an acknowledgment that there is simply no way of knowing without trying something different. Understanding that truth is a first step, but it is important to act on it.

Writing about ourselves can be transformative and extremely satisfying – your story is yours – not someone else’s idea or in another ones hand. It is dependent on you, your experiences and not an outcome. How powerful is that?!

Pulitzer-prize winning American journalist and author, Charles Duhigg writes, “More productive thinking emerges when people tell stories about what is going on around them. Constant narration helps people figure out how to focus their attention where it is needed. Every choice we make in life is an experiment. To truly be productive, it’s best to create your own narrative.”

I came out of the class asking myself about my writing and this experience:

  • How is this journey transforming me? 
  • How will it (my writing) impact others? How can I help? What is the nugget that will make a difference?
  • What and how will I change looking at words versus expressing myself in a different way?

Think about what you are doing to step outside your comfort zone. If you want something you have never had, you have to do something you have never done. When I deliver my speeches, I follow my butterflies.

I sent to this my writing teacher after the weekend:

Dear Jennifer,

You are gifted, kind, giving, creative, intelligent, resourceful, personable and fun! And, as a teacher, all of this and more. Your ability to reach out to each and every participant, as if they were the only one in the room, making them feel whole, heard and elevated to a place where it/all is possible…is well, a true gift! Thank you!

Enrolling in your class was definitely out of my comfort zone and it was the best experience - I loved it all. I would love to know about September.

 Hope I can share in the many gifts you have to offer - many thanks!

Among the insights that the late Anthony Bourdain shared was the value of moving “as far as you can.” He urged fans to get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. 

I will close where I started, when was the last time you did something for the first time?