10 Lessons learned from '40 Days of Facing Fears'
For 40 days (between March 1 2017 and April 9 2017) I set myself a personal challenge of doing something each day that either (1) I was afraid of, (2) was outside of my normal 'comfort zone' or (3) that I had never done before. The motivation for this challenge came from 2 1/2 years of working in the field of leadership development and hearing in most workshops and programmes that "the greatest learning happens outside of the comfort zone". And, who hasn't heard the quote, directed at selling a life of travelling to people, that 'life begins outside your comfort zone'? This flash of inspiration came to me at work at 10 minutes before home time where I'd come to the realisation that sitting behind a computer each and every day did not feel like 'living' to me. So, before leaving that day, I noted the idea down and made the decision to challenge myself to bring more new experiences into my life.
It is now October 2 2017 and it's safe to say that I could never have anticipated how starting and completing that 40 day personal challenge would have changed my life. In the following 6 months I've had more-than-a-few adventures, life-changing experiences and plenty of time to reflect on the importance of doing those daily challenges. Updates on the life-changing 6 months (including a 3 month 'Teach, Eat, Love' adventure travelling overseas) will come later. For now, I'd like to share some of the lessons that I learned from completing the 40 day challenge:
1. It's true, the greatest learning happens outside of the comfort zone!
I have been incredibly privileged to go on a number of amazing and well-run youth leadership development programmes (the Spirit of Adventure/New Zealand, Outward Bound, Rotary Youth Leadership Awards Programme) where I've heard and experienced first-hand the sage wisdom of the importance of going outside one's comfort zone in order to grow. While I fully endorse all of these programmes as amazing experiential leadership development opportunities, I always wondered how to keep the momentum and motivation going outside of these amazing experiences. Now, I have a belief that it is important, no vital, for one to take self-ownership and to keep pushing oneself outside one's comfort zone once these programmes are over. From my research into 'how do adults learn best?' I consistently found that experiences (learning through doing/taking action) is one of the most effective ways to learn and to achieve something. Consistently doing things every day that pushed me outside of my normal comfort zone has been one the most (if not the most) effective ways I've learned this lesson. This experiential challenge reinforced this learning not only into my brain, but into my body.
2. Increased self-awareness from trying new things
I became aware of the series of emotions and sensations I'd feel when trying something new: the sense of unease or nerves not knowing what I would be going in to, the trepidation of learning how to do the new thing, the 'letting go' of self-consciousness and trying the new thing, the discomfort with not getting it right the first or fifth or sometimes tenth time, the confidence and sense of pride with learning something new, the relief and excitement of realising I could do the new thing and that it was not as bad or scary as my mind had insisted it would be.
3. My relationship with fear changed
Things that had previously made me nervous as I had not tried them became experiences that 'I had not tried yet'. Rather than placing a pre-judgment on how the experience would be, I could now go into an experience with a more open mind. I also learned to be more present with the fear and nerves that I was experiencing, being curious and asking 'is this serving me?' and 'is this fear or are there other emotions mixed in there?' Often times I had incorrectly mislabelled an emotion as solely being fear. In reality, there was often a mixture of anticipation, excitement, apprehension and uncertainty. This increased self-awareness made numerous experiences more enjoyable as I could show up to them with an open mind rather than having got caught up in my mind and emotions beforehand.
4. Trying new things requires self-compassion and a beginner's mindset: not trying to be perfect the first time
More consistently, I could notice the nerves creeping up when approaching a new situation and I started feeling compassion for these very human emotions. After all, everyone feels some nerves when trying something new. For me, it was important to go into things with a 'Beginner's Mind', knowing I would not be an expert immediately (despite the recovering-perfectionist inside of me wishing to be perfect immediately). Trying something new and learning something is, by its nature, uncomfortable. My expectations of myself therefore became more realistic (and, what a relief!). Coming in as a beginner and just enjoying myself, rather than trying to be perfect at something, made everything more enjoyable.
5. Awareness of the power of the mind: sabotage-machine or #1 cheerleader
For years I've wanted to try different forms of physical activities, but my mind in some situations had held me back saying, among other things, "you're not strong/fit/skinny enough to do that" and/or "you'll look stupid trying that" (yes, my mind has been cruel to me unnecessarily). Trying different activities made me aware of these horrible stories that my mind had told myself. It was time to choose a new narrative! This challenge instilled in me the confidence to go and try things I'd wanted to try: aerial silks, different gym classes that my mind had previously told me 'only skinny/fit people do'... Later on, this led to trying anti-gravity fitness classes after I re-established for myself how much fun it was to hang upside down from silks and to contort my body into different positions - just like playing on a playground or climbing pen when I was a child. The challenge brought back into memory so many things that I had loved to do as a child but had forgotten because I was now aware of how my mind had sabotaged me in the past!
6. Stretching the comfort zone
Every day that I tried something new, scary or challenging made me become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. For me, it was like being in a yoga class: the first few poses can be really uncomfortable (especially if I haven't been on the mat for a while) but after those first few poses my mind becomes more present and my body opens up. What may have been initially uncomfortable ends up having massive mental and physical rewards from the completion of the class (or, in this case, the challenge).
7. I learned how to keep myself accountable
Posting about the challenge [almost] everyday on Facebook kept me accountable not only to myself but to all my friends. When all my friends knew I was doing this challenge it made me feel responsible for completing it (as numerous friends were surprised that I kept going after a few weeks as they said they would have given up by then). Numerous friends had ideas of things they wished they could try or wished they had tried when they were younger. My response was often: 'why not do it now?' and 'would you like to try that together?' A beautiful side effect of being open about my challenge was that people were really supportive: some friends who I hadn't heard from in ages even got in touch with me to send words of encouragement and to suggest ideas!
8. The unexpected flow-on effects: the challenge inspired other people
A touching and unexpected bonus were the friends that were inspired by my idea and who joined me. It was inspiring to see their own personal journey and evolution along the way. At the end of the 40 days we caught up to share our experiences of the 40 days and what we learned. During my own personal challenge they were also wonderful forms of support, ideas and encouragement. Some friends even asked if I could mentor them through particular challenges that they had. This was when I realised that I was on to something and that providing support to others who wished to grow and develop as individuals and leaders became very real to me.
9. More courage and self-awareness to ask for what I wanted and to be who I wanted to be
By asking for things that I would not have normally asked for I became more comfortable asking for things that I actually wanted. The challenge gave me greater self-awareness of what I wanted, how I wanted to feel and it re-instilled in me the courage to ask for what I wanted. I am still this way today!! Without doing this challenge, I seriously doubt I would have had the same experiences while being overseas and then returning to NZ and re-starting my own business.
10. The power of consistent action
By taking consistent action - day by day trying something new or 'outside my comfort zone' - my comfort zone got bigger, as did my confidence in my belief that I could handle it. This one is especially relevant after reading a much-recommended book 'Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway' by Susan Jeffers where one of the key takeaways from it is: say to your fear "whatever happens, I'll handle it". This in itself was a powerful belief to learn. I believe one of the keys of doing a challenge for 30 - 40 days is the momentum that is created by the consistent action. There are many well-known sayings and theories about how long it takes to build a habit - most say approx. 30 days. For me, the 40 days went beyond the habit stage. It imprinted in my mind and body a deep-seated belief in my abilities to handle challenges as they were to arise.
An extra bonus: 11. From unconscious self-sabotage to self-love
By the end of the 40 days the challenge transformed into an act of self-love and, as cheesy as it sounds, I found real love, love and friendship within myself. This served me well when I was travelling overseas in the following few months and came across many situations outside my comfort zone where I felt genuinely afraid, stressed, under pressure or lost. Even when I was not travelling with a friend, loved one or a family member, I always knew I could count on myself to get through a situation.
Reflecting on this challenge feels like a nice way to gain closure on something that has transformed my life. That old comfort zone? It's a thing of the past now and I've moved on to bigger and better things! Goals and wishes that I had a few years ago are now becoming a reality and making them happen... that's now what is pushing me outside my comfort zone yet again. From student to teacher (in Italy teaching English and now in New Zealand teaching mindfulness), from theory to practical, from wanting to own my own business to making it a reality and attending Aotearoa's first Pop-Up Business School - none of this may have happened if I hadn't taken that first step to truly LAUNCH myself out of my comfort zone.
From one small idea to.... consistent action to.... life-changing experiences and gaining the confidence to make my dreams a reality: this is what the '40 Days of Facing Fear' was to me.
Now, I'd love to hear from you!
Who else has had experiences where you've consistently experienced or pushed themselves out of their comfort zone? Did you experience similar things? How are you currently pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and developing yourself as an individual and as a leader (whether you know it or not)?