“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
When was the last time you stretched yourself? I mean literally, physically stretched yourself?
It wasn’t that long ago that I had trouble touching my toes. I started doing yoga, and in one of the classes I attended we were asked to bend our bodies in a somewhat unusual way. The instructor effortlessly folded herself in half while I leaned slightly forward and came to an abrupt halt. It wasn’t really pain that I experienced as much as plain old discomfort. I wanted this part of the class to be over.
We were told to relax and breathe. Everything inside of me resisted even the idea of this crazy position that was the furthest thing from what I thought I or any other reasonable human being would consider restful. My muscles were tense and my body felt like it was in a knot. But I did my best to follow the directions – relax and breathe into it.
And as I did, a funny thing happened. After a short time, my muscles seemed to soften in spite of themselves, and I found myself gradually dropping more deeply into the stretch. The longer I held it, the (dare I say?) better it felt, until I was actually kind of enjoying this strange new sensation.
And then the thought occurred to me that this whole process is analogous to doing something – anything – that takes us out of our comfort zone.
We see something that beckons, perhaps something that we know will be good for us, and yet we resist. Often we move tentatively into it and then hit a wall of discomfort. In this discomfort a myriad of unsettling thoughts and fears barrage us – “I’m no good at this…,” “this was a bad idea…” “I’m wasting my time…” and on and on. And the resistance itself seems to intensify the discomfort. We tighten up, literally and figuratively, and block ourselves from moving into the experience.
But if we can remain patient and open – if we can allow ourselves this initial period of discomfort and stay present with it, relaxing into it and breathing through it, we might be surprised at the results we experience. Think of the last time you tried something really different – something new and exciting and kind of terrifying all at the same time. If you stayed with it despite your initial resistance, chances are that over time the discomfort gave way to exhilaration and over more time, perhaps deep gratification. And the longer you kept at it, the easier and more satisfying it became.
We are all capable of so much more than we realize, and I believe now more than ever we are beginning to see that that it is time for us to stand taller, to reach higher, and to be willing to open ourselves up to allow our greatest work to emerge. Do not be fooled into thinking that going outside of your comfort zone is merely a self serving exercise that can wait until you have more confidence or time. In fact, there is no better way to increase your confidence than by taking this kind of action in spite of your fear and discomfort. This kind of courageous exploration enriches not only ourselves, but everyone around us who will surely benefit from the gifts we uncover and give form to. When we shrink, we cheat more than just ourselves. And when we expand, we allow ourselves to truly lead – in whatever form that leadership will take.
As leaders, we cannot expect others to stretch themselves if we are not willing to do it first. We must allow ourselves to be humbled and vulnerable so that we can identify with and understand the experiences we ask others to participate in. And we need to be patient and supportive with them as they encounter and work through their own forms of resistance.
What can you do today to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone? And how can you apply what you learn to make you a stronger, more influential and transformational leader?
The above article contains excerpts from my book, The Pinocchio Principle: Becoming the Leader You Were Born to Be, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Photo by Ambro.