The Pleasure of Perception

By On May 16, 2017 · Leave a Comment

Is your newsfeed full of memes telling you to “take the leap” because everything worth having is right outside your “comfort zone”? I wonder how often these messages discourage rather than uplift. I have to ask: What’s so wrong with wanting a little bit of comfort? Creating a sense of comfort around challenges has long been my personal strategy for weight loss and personal development. Is maligning the “comfort zone” the 2017 equivalent of the “No pain, no gain!” and “Just do it!” slogans of the ’80s and ’90s?

I wonder what it would feel like to take a deep, diaphragmatic breath into the gnarliest, most stubborn parts of ourselves, the parts that long for the “comfort zone” and would do anything in their power to NOT “just do it”? What if, instead of dismissing them as personality flaws, symptoms of illness and injury, or enemies to keep at bay, we invited them into the center of our being, holding space for them with unhurried tenderness and loving curiosity, like a parent comforting a cranky child after a long, hard day? We may find that when they trust us enough to open up and join in our process, they have hidden powers that allow the leaps we take together to feel effortless instead of agonizing.

In his recent book Reach: A New Strategy to Help You Step Outside Your Comfort Zone, Rise to the Challenge, and Build Confidence, Andy Molinksy, Ph.D., author and professor of psychology, outlines five key thoughts that keep us trapped in a state of avoidance:

“This isn’t me.” (authenticity)
“People can tell I’m not good at this.” (competency)
“People won’t like this version of me.” (likeability)
“Why do I have to do this in the first place?” (resentment)
“I’m not sure I should be doing this.” (morality)

To integrate these challenges and transmute them into allies, Molinksy proposes we utilize the strategies of conviction, clarity, and customization.

Conviction is feeling a deep sense of purpose that informs us that our task is one that is both meaningful and worth our efforts. From a sense of conviction, we find the strength to do the hard things that need to be done because we truly know their value. Conviction allows an experienced doctor to reset a broken bone with fewer qualms than a medical student would have. His experience of seeing the long-term healing potential outweighs any sense of unease about causing the patient short-term pain. Similarly, the more I see my chronic pain reduced from the exercises I do, the less likely I am to avoid the next one that challenges me.

Also through conviction, we find the strength to be totally honest with ourselves and others. This is the heart of clarity, which makes it possible for us to view our past and future with detachment that, paradoxically, helps us to be kinder to ourselves. Through the lens of detachment, we are capable of seeing the successes within our “failures” without glossing over the places wherein we still have room for improvement. In the physical realm, clarity often comes from taking note of bodily sensation before a movement and after. For example, the more I practice noticing the increased sensation of aliveness in my lumbar spine after doing bridges, the less I hesitate to get started with them next time. On those days I feel too tired to begin, the clear memory of pleasant, energizing movement motivates me.

The last strategy, customization, is feeling empowered to do a task in your own way. This is the way in which we can extend our comfort zone to encompass new territory. Too often, when overwhelmed with fear, we forget to find the ways in which we can negotiate aspects of an experience to make it more palatable. For a night owl, this might include scheduling important meetings for the afternoon when you’re at your best. If you love to dance but like extra space to move, customization may involve finding out which class times attract smaller groups.

In the end, the comfort zone was never the problem. The real problem is being trapped into rigid and outdated beliefs that keep us thinking that change can’t be comfortable and challenging at the same time. When we let go of these old beliefs, a natural fluidity arises to take their place. Instead of a zone, we find ourselves in place of playful buoyancy, expansive enough for all there is.

-Contributed by Jamie Michelle Skinner

Jamie Michelle SkinnerJamie Michelle Skinner is an extroverted introvert, occasional hermit, writer, dancer, and somatic educator. After losing over 100 pounds through her passion for dance, her mission is to inspire dancers from all walks of life to find freedom, joy, and health through “writing” their own story on the dance floor, using a vocabulary of mellifluous movement creativity that is both universal and unique, and grounded in the body’s own natural intelligence.
Jamie is a graduate of the University of Maryland’s prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism, where she studied news reporting and literary journalism under greats like Judith Hillman Paterson, author of Sweet Mystery: A Book of Remembering. Jamie also studied art history and literature at the University of Ireland’s Dublin campus.
Recently, Jamie has become an avid practitioner of Nia, a movement form encompassing dance arts, martial arts, and healing arts, that is adaptable to many levels and abilities. Since completing her white belt in October 2014, she has undergone three specialized Nia trainings, and is now certified to teach Moving to Heal Nia, Nia FreeDance, and Nia 5 Stages, a developmental movement practice for self-healing. In addition, she is a Pilates Sports Center teacher-in-training. Jamie lives in Santa Barbara, California.

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