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About to graduate? Dive into your discomfort zone

30th April 2014
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Life has funny way of nudging us out of our comfort zone - just as we start to become comfortable and familiar with our surroundings (for example, after three years at uni) things change.

There are certain points in our lives when the changes seem to come thick and fast. Some of these changes can revolve around pretty significant life events, like moving home, taking exams, finding first jobs or starting new relationships. In truth, there can be some fairly volatile periods. It’s not surprising then, that the pace and magnitude of change can jolt us out of our comfort zone and wash us firmly into our discomfort zone.

So, what can we do if we find ourselves slap bang in the middle of our discomfort zone? Well, there are a few options.

Option 1 – Panic! When we panic, we often try our best to retreat back into our comfort zone. Rather than embracing the challenges, it is also tempting to opt for denial and simply dive back under the duvet. Although it often provides us with temporary relief, it’s not a great solution in the long run.

Option 2 – Embrace the challenge. Appreciate it. Love it. I know, it’s easy to say, but not so easy to do. I recently wrote a book called ‘Could I Do That?’, which identifies how people take on and succeed in extreme challenges. I thought it might be useful to share some tips that I gleaned from a few people that have taken on epic challenges of their own. One of these people, in particular, did not choose his challenge. Andy Reid lost both his legs, one arm and a finger, whilst on patrol in Afghanistan when a Taliban IED exploded. Rather than opting to feel sorry for himself, Andy decided to take on the challenge.

“When I woke up I was in the UK, it was two days after the IED exploded. The doctor explained what had happened and that I’d lost my arm and my legs. To be honest, I wasn’t that surprised when he told me because I knew there was nothing where my arm and legs had been. I just thought, “well, I’m still here and there are friends of mine who aren’t.” I thought to myself, “I’m a survivor not a victim’”.

Andy went on to explain that the first stage was to accept what had happened.

“I knew I’d lost my legs, I’d accepted it. I joined the Army, I knew the risks and so I took responsibility for what happened to me. So I began thinking, ‘okay, what’s next? What do I have to do?’”.

For many people, Andy included, the challenge can seem daunting, almost over-whelming. However, having accepted it, he decided to take it on.

Sometimes our challenges do choose us. I’ve been made redundant twice so far in my life. Both occasions presented me with a challenge. In these situations there is an opportunity to engage with the challenges and take them on. Of course, we also have the choice to back away from them and to disengage. Denial can masquerade as the comfortable option at times.

Andy Reid could have chosen that path too. He could have opted to become a victim and settle for life in a wheelchair. Perhaps our perception of these opportunities dictates how we approach them. Do we see them as a challenge or as a threat? Do we focus on the potential to come out of the experience stronger, or the chance of failure? In many ways we’re presented with these opportunities, some big, some very small, every single day. Some people recognise them, others don’t. Some people embrace them, others decline. What do you tend to do?

Here are my Five Top Tips to help you stride Into Your Discomfort Zone.

  1. Don’t judge discomfort as ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’. Challenges are also opportunities.
  2. Change is the only constant. Once we accept it, we stand more chance of engaging with it.
  3. Ask sensible questions. How can I do it? How could I do it?
  4. When it all seems too daunting, simply focus on the next step. “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones”, Confucius. If you’re not sure where to start, try starting somewhere (anywhere). My Ph.D. tutor once advised me not to try writing the perfect opening sentence. Instead, he said, write something, anything, because you can always edit it later.
  5. Be happy making mistakes and learning from them. I heard a great piece of advice recently… “To succeed, simply get up more times than you fall over.”
I hope that helps.

To find out how other people take on massive challenges, and dive into their discomfort zone, read ‘Could I Do That?’.

By Simon Hartley, founder of Be World Class and author of Could I Do That? (published by Capstone, May 2014, £9.99)

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