a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Get Uncomfortable

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Get Uncomfortable

SUMMARY: Thoughts on moving out of your comfort zone.

The last couple of weeks, I've been pondering my comfort zones--what they are, why they're comfortable, how to move out of them, and what it will get me. Started from a couple of workshops I'm taking that have nothing to do with agility.

The point is that moving out of comfort zones is the only way to improve. That's how you learn. That's how your body builds itself. That's how your income grows. For example, you didn't learn to walk by doing what was comfortable--crawling. You struggled to stand on both feet. You struggled to take a step. You fell. And fell. And fell again. And again and again. And then, a whole new world opened up to you...OK, maybe in the short term where you could pull fragile china from tabletops, reach hot pans on the stove, and other fascinating opportunities such as those, enabling you to learn even more. But where would you be today if you were still crawling? Front crosses are hard enough to do on two legs; managing one on all fours would be a trick.

When you want to build muscle, you don't keep doing things that you can do easily; you do exercises that break down the muscle fibers, make you tired and achey, and allow the muscles to rebuild themselves into something better.

Sometimes it's hard to identify one's comfort zones. OK, I do well at work, I get pretty good performance reviews most of the time. But I'm already pretty good at what I do, and it hasn't made me rich yet, for example. I'd have to step into something that I know much less about, and risk my investment of time (at the very least), and possibly ego, and possibly status, and possibly money, to do something very different.

It's hard to do, and we don't LIKE moving out of our comfort zone. In fact, our brains fight against doing it, because in some ways it goes against the "rules" that we've built up for ourselves that say "this is how the world works, this is what's right, this is who you are." Like, "only really tall, long-legged people win the USDAA nationals" or "I am just not championship material."

Here are some everyday examples of what happens when I start to move out of my rule-based comfort zones:

  • Seatbelts. I always wear seatbelts in the car. Always. After agility class late in the evening, the last person out is supposed to close the gate to the driveway. It's a long driveway, maybe 500 feet? I have to remember ALLLLL the way down that I'm supposed to stop and close the gate, not just breeze on through like I usually do. So I leave my seatbelt off because it's a good reminder, and there is absolutely no safety or legal reason why I need it on during that time. But--it just about makes my body crawl out of my skin to leave the seatbelt off. Even as I'm sitting in my car thinking "Leave the seatbelt off," my hand is reaching for the seatbelt. Even after I've started moving and my hands are on the wheel, the back of my mind is yelling "Danger! Danger! Danger! Something's really wrong here! Wrong wrong wrong!" all the way down the driveway.
  • Sleeping. I can't sleep unless I have covers over me. I don't know why, but it makes me feel extraordinarily vulnerable. I become hyperconscious of the fact that there is nothing covering me. On very hot, sweaty nights, this is a bit of a problem. Through years of occasional hot, sweaty nights, I have gradually learned to sleep with a corner of the sheet draped over my hips. Then I am still secure and safe and can drift off. But if I roll over and the sheet falls off, boom, I'm wide awake, my mind yelling "Danger! Danger! Something's wrong here!"
  • Shaving in the shower. OK, not to gross anyone out, but through many decades of showering, I have inadvertently fallen into a pattern of what gets washed in what order, with a little shaving of the armpits and legs thrown in. If I switch anything for any reason, I suddenly can't figure out how, fer crying out loud, to finish cleaning myself! Maybe I want to check if the razor is still sharp enough, so I do a little shaving first. Now my habits say that I'm already done with what's normally done before the shaving, and I continue cleaning from that point. Making a conscious effort to back up and start at an earlier point of cleaning makes my brain scream "Wrong wrong wrong!"

I'm not talking about phobias or obsessions here. Just patterns that my mind has established as "normal" and that I feel uncomfortable about when I dare to breach the pattern. It's OK. I deal with it. I figure it out. I leave the seatbelt off. I get to sleep at night. I come out of the shower clean.

And in none of these cases is what I'm doing ACTUALLY wrong or dangerous or risky; it's just DIFFERENT, but it enables me to (a) remember to close the gate, (b) allows me to sleep on a hot night, and (c) lets me deal with things like an injured hand that has to be kept dry.

There are other things in life that are even less comfortable, and might indeed have some kind of increased risk, but have the potential for greater reward that are also not inherently wrong or actually dangerous. The trick is being able to identify when your mind is giving you incorrect information because it is out of its comfort zone and it doesn't know what to do next.

I mention all this here because I've also been thinking about it in terms of my agility training and competition. I'm not quite sure what it all means yet. Maybe you have similar minor experiences like mine in your own life, or have made great leaps forward in agility by finally doing something that you hadn't dared to do before. Stepping out of your comfort zone.

I'm just thinkin', it's time to get uncomfortable.


  1. I so totally understand what you're getting at (especially the need to sleep with covers).

    Being open to change means to be vunerable. Being vunerable is very, very scarey.

    But, the more you practice at being uncomfortable/open to change, the easier it gets.

  2. Good point, and that's what I'm hoping. I like to think that I'm always pretty flexible, but really there are a lot of places where I could be much more so.

  3. One thing immediately springs to mind: how hard it is to let go of fixing things you miss on course when you know it demotivates your dog. You know you should just keep running but you can't resist going back for that missed jump even though it's not going to help and probably going to hurt.
    Or when you know that allowing your dog to run after he breaks his start line (or self-releases from a contact)is making the problem worse but you allow it anyway.
    It takes a lot of effort to override what you feel is right in favor of what you know is right.

  4. For me, it's a couple of things: Looking for handling options that I think I can't do and figuring out how to do them differently from my past 13 years (aggressive serps come to mind). And considering not doing agility, or very little agility, and moving on with my life.

  5. The nice thing that happened to me when I stopped trialing for awhile was that I rediscovered many things that I hadn't had time to do when trialing. It was a little uncomfortable at first but I was amazed at how quickly I adjusted.
    Now that I'm back to doing one or two AKC trials a month (very little USDAA anymore), I find I really look forward to them and I'm also doing a much better job of handling. I could probably be happy going to more trials--at least for awhile--but I think I'll stay at this level for awhile so I don't risk burn out again.

  6. I've been very aware for several years now at how much I don't do any more that I used to love doing because I gave it all up for dog agility. And I'm pretty sure that dog agility isn't the only thing I want to do for the rest of my life. We'll see where these thoughts take me.