Leave Your Comfort Zone Behind

As humans, it’s wired into our brains to embrace comfort zones, to stay in our “happy places” and not do anything that would risk taking us away from where we feel most content and secure. There is nothing wrong with seeking out comfort zones, enjoying them, and even hanging out there for a while throughout the course of our lives. There is a risk, though, in becoming too enmeshed in a comfort zone, so stuck in the safe, happy place that you stifle your personal development by refusing to ever leave. There is little chance for personal growth if you do not move beyond your comfort zones.

Think back to when you were a child: taking risks was par for the course. Childhood is filled with moments of adventure, when good outcomes to trying new things are never guaranteed and yet fully embraced nonetheless. As a child, fear may be present when trying out new things, such as learning to ride a bike, but mostly children push past these fears. That’s why children can learn and absorb so much new information and experience. Unfortunately, fear of failure often becomes stronger as we age and it can keep us stagnant. Learning anything new always involves risk because you might fail, you might never get it exactly right, but at some point we have to put ourselves out there if we want to continue to grow and develop throughout our lifetime.

There are no guarantees in life whatever choice we make, but there is so much great value to be had by taking risks, there is so much potential reward that we could miss out on. The great thing about doing things you are initially fearful of and stepping out of comfort zones is that the potential exists for new people and experiences to help guide you along the way. You may even end up on an entirely different path you might not have considered, but which ends up to be better than your original plan. It’s easy to start with some manageable goal setting: if you are thinking of changing careers or learning a new skill, try taking a class in what you’re interested in. Maybe you want to be a content marketer – take a short, introductory class on social media marketing, get a feel for what it involves, what you’d be doing, and how well you adapt to it. This way, there’s a little less risk involved and you get a chance to see how it feels, to experiment. If you like the results and feel you’re on the right path, keep going! Set goals that are gradually bigger and broader, slowly stepping out of your comfort zone.

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There is so much value in leaving your comfort zone. When you take a risk, big or small, you can learn much about yourself. Even if you don’t achieve exactly what you hoped for, you had the courage to go for it, and you know now something you did not know before. By doing this, you incrementally build up your inner resilience and you begin to learn that failure is not really failure at all, not in the way society has taught us. When you “fail”, this simply means you didn’t achieve what you hoped to, but there’s so much you still learned and gained in the process. You learn how to accept mistakes and you learn different ways to do things better, you learn more about yourself and what you are capable of – in short, you grow and evolve as a person.

Leaving your comfort zone behind helps open you to new experiences, helps you become more creative and stronger as a person and, ultimately, more fulfilled. Think back on the things you regret most: these are usually the things we wanted badly to do and were too afraid to try. So take small steps, set little goals at first and then keep going. The more risks you take, the more you learn, and eventually, you will have new comfort zones within the fresh experiences you have had. There is a world of possibility out there – all you need to do is take that first step forward out of your comfort zone.

Detour Ahead

When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal, you do not change your decision to get there.” Zig Ziglar

Detours – we’ve all experienced them at one time or another. We start out on a path toward a goal, we’re moving ahead smartly, things are falling into place just as planned and then – bam! We’re faced with the unexpected – we lose the funding, the course of study we planned on is postponed indefinitely, or our spouse or loved one are faced with a serious illness. Any number of difficulties – from minor to major – can divert us from our original goal. What do we do then?

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I was having coffee the other day with a good friend and talking about the detours and diversions we can encounter in pursuit of a goal.   She shared something a mentor had once told her: “Don’t look at things as problems, look at them as circumstances, because circumstances have a way of changing all on their own.” How true this can be. If you’ve ever found yourself in the middle of dealing with a difficult “circumstance,” only to have the situation suddenly changed, and the difficult problem removed, you’ll know what I mean.

So what if you aren’t so lucky? Here are a few thoughts on managing the detours that present themselves on the way to your goal.

  • Analyze the situation. Invest the time and effort to assess where you are, your wants and needs, and your options. Think about what you can do to best utilize those options to start moving ahead again.
  • Enlist the help of a friend or coach. It’s very true that others can often see choices or opportunities that are difficult for us to spot when we’re in the middle of a difficulty. They can also often point out qualities or talents in ourselves that might be useful to use going forward.
  • Take responsibility for your part. Some things are beyond our control but that doesn’t mean we’re helpless. You may not be able to do anything about an unexpected misfortune but there is almost always something you can do about how you choose to respond to it. Making an effort to think about possible solutions instead of focusing on the problem can go a long way here.
  • A detour is just that – an alternate route to your goal. It doesn’t have to change your destination. It just changes how you go about getting there. This may be a time to get creative, to think outside the box.
  • Don’t worry so much about what you are going to do; focus on how you are going to be. This can have the effect of helping you rise above the situation, and consider it from a different perspective.
  • Ask yourself, “What is the lesson here?” Is this an opportunity to learn something about yourself or your path that may benefit you? Are you able to discover inner resources within yourself you didn’t know were there? Have you developed new relationships, or perhaps skills that you would not have developed otherwise?
  • Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. When we don’t know what to do – especially when we don’t know what to do – waiting a bit can often bring about a change or answer all on its own.

The path to a goal – small or large – is almost never going to be in a straight line. Finding our way through can offer us glimpses of ourselves – our strengths and our resilience – we didn’t know were there. That’s a lesson worth learning.

Chasing Autumn

It’s that time of year –the last of summer vacations have been taken, a hint of fall coming, and it’s back to school and work. It’s a time that can be both challenging and energizing, with change in the air. There may not seem to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything we set out to do, and we begin to skimp on taking care of ourselves.

During exceptionally busy times, it’s easy to tell ourselves we can skip exercising today, get by on less sleep, go through a fast food drive-through – basically get by with as little attention to our basic needs as possible. What we don’t realize is how counter-productive that is, especially at these times. Running on an empty tank for any period of time will catch up with us sooner or later – leaving us depleted, frazzled and less able to cope with what we have on our plate.

Making well-being a priority at these times – getting enough sleep, exercise and good healthy food – will enable us to be at our best and step up to whatever comes our way more smoothly.

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A few ideas:

  • Stay on schedule. Have a morning routine that works for you? Now is not the time to slack off. Whether it’s going for a run, 10 minutes of meditation, or breakfast with your husband or kids, having a consistent routine helps keep us in balance.
  • Speaking of breakfast, starting the day with a healthy one can have a big impact on the rest of your day. Think of it as fueling your body for the day ahead – a breakfast that combines healthy carbs and fiber with some protein is ideal. Short on time? A bowl of whole grain cereal, with sliced bananas or berries and low-fat milk, takes almost no time to prepare, or a healthy smoothie with protein powder and fruit (my go-to) is portable.
  • Get your slumber in. Sleep is a vital component of a healthy lifestyle and you cannot hope to maintain wellness without at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. This is your body’s chance to heal and restore balance, to return you to a full charge, ready to face the next day. Sleep is also cathartic for your mind, shutting off all your thoughts from the day before and starting anew with a fresh perspective. Be sure to keep a consistent routine with your sleep; not only is the length of sleep important, but when you sleep. It can be tempting on days off to stay up later than usual and sleep in late, but you risk disrupting your sleep rhythm.
  • Take a day off. Almost all ultra-successful and productive people insist on taking one full day off a week. Many of us push ourselves to keep working hard, and you may feel like you don’t deserve that day off but time to relax is not deserved, it is necessary for your health and wellbeing. Taking a day off gives you a chance to catch up on things you may keep putting off for the sake of other obligations. Finishing that book you’re only halfway through or getting a massage at the local spa might seem frivolous, but these are soothing to your soul. You are connecting with your inner spirit and what you most value. Most of us, women especially, do a lot for others. Give back to yourself, and take the time to recharge. You’ll come away refreshed, with your spirit feeling fulfilled.
  • Make sure to connect. Staying connected to family and/or friends can feel difficult when we have lots on our plate, but making time for those close to us can help buoy us up during stressful times. If you neglect your connections it can be harder to reach out when you are having a bad time, so even just a brief phone call or quick, thoughtful text or email can do wonders when it comes to keeping your connections. When you have the time, connect in person. Time together with friends and loved ones is most valuable and nourishes the soul. (While you’re at it, lose the technology.)
  • Do your best to stay positive and grateful. When it comes to wellbeing, physical health and fitness are important to maintain, but with everything that can happen in life, a positive mental attitude is just as important.   A positive attitude helps with emotional stability and resilience, making it easier to handle whatever life throws at you. Looking at every difficult situation, obstacle, mistake, and “failure” as an opportunity to simply learn and grow makes it impossible to ever truly fail. Practice gratefulness by appreciating the things you have every day, not lamenting the things you don’t have or haven’t yet attained.

Taking care of ourselves is a popular notion these days and with good reason. By taking care of ourselves and our health – those basics – we’re much more likely to be available to take good care of those people and projects we hold dear.

A Home Office That Works

Being a small business owner has its advantages. One of my favorite things is having a home office. I’ve had a home office for many years now and have learned a few things along the way about how to stay organized, and use it best for my benefit. Being organized will keep your business running smoothly, and your attention where it needs to be – on creating a dynamic and profitable business.

Here are a few of my most important guidelines when it comes to setting up your own space.

  • Systems, systems, systems! (Did I mention systems?) The more orderly your way of doing things, the freer you will be to take care of what’s most important. For example, client intake: what do you do when a potential client contacts you? Do you make an appointment and just see where it goes? Or do you have an orderly way of responding that you can rely on each time to present you and your business in the best light? How you show up for this initial contact can be the difference between getting hired or being passed over. A professional scheduling system, a confirmation email, and a follow up thank you is one example of a standard you (or an assistant) can easily implement on an ongoing basis that eliminates just “winging it.”
  • Save a tree. Use technology to your advantage and store files and documents on your computer or online whenever possible. Scan receipts and information into an online file. It’s easier on the environment and will save you filing time and space. Speaking of filing time, stay on top of what paperwork you do have – have a regular time to sort through and discard papers and such, so that you don’t end up with piles everywhere. Nothing’s more distracting.
  • Use a timer. Having an office at home can come with built-in distractions – phone calls, laundry, pets, you name it. One of the most valuable things I’ve learned is using a timer to focus on projects for a set period of time. I usually set it for 30-45 minutes when I’m working on a project and I don’t get up until it goes off. It helps me to not only stay focused but also to track my time. A simple kitchen timer is all you need.
  • Discard what you no longer need. One of the best ways to stay organized is to get rid of what’s no longer relevant. The more you have (files, outdated articles and resources, knickknacks) the more you have to keep in order, and the more cluttered your space is likely to become. Make it a habit to go through your office regularly and dispose of whatever you no longer use or need. This will also free up space for more up-to-date resources or – even! – free, uncluttered space.
  • Create a pleasing environment. This is a really important one for me. I spend a lot of time in my office and so I like to surround myself with pictures of family and friends, inspiring words, and meaningful remembrances. I also like to keep a diffuser going with a calming essential oil such as lavender or another fragrant blend, creating a soothing and pleasing environment.
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Your Modern Home Office

Like most things in life, getting and keeping my home office in order is a work in progress. I’m constantly revising and trying to find better ways of keeping things in order. If you work from home and have systems that you’ve put in place that work for you, I would love to hear about them.

Book Review – The War of Art

Every so often someone will recommend to me a good book, a must-read. When the same book keeps getting mentioned to me repeatedly, that usually gets my attention. I had this experience recently with The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. At first, I wasn’t quite sure why it was being recommended to me. I’ve never considered myself particularly artistic, much as I admire those who are. (I fall into the category of maybe I can draw a half-decent stick figure on a good day.) I read a few reviews here and there, all of which mentioned either procrastination or resistance. I’m not one to procrastinate typically and I didn’t really get what was meant by resistance, but still…….the fact that I kept hearing about it intrigued me.

Having just finished it, what I realize now is that it wasn’t really a book about being an artist, at least not in the way I was thinking of it. What it really was about, at least for me, was the 1001 ways we find to avoid the scary place of really putting ourselves out there, of discovering what it is that is inside us and somehow bringing that forth, however clumsily. This doesn’t necessarily mean the creation of a beautiful painting, or a great piece of literature. It can just as easily mean taking the risk to begin a new career or business, or explore the cultures and rainforests of the Amazon, if that’s something we’ve always wanted to do. What Pressfield’s mission really is with The War of Art is pushing us to live up to our potential, and not settle for less.

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The resistance Pressfield writes about is really about how we hold ourselves back, consciously or unconsciously, from becoming all we are meant to be, from finding our purpose, and operating from that. Research confirms that those of us who live with a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives and work benefit in a multitude of ways. They’re healthier overall, live longer, have better relationships, and enjoy more life satisfaction in general. Why would anyone in their right mind resist that?

One of Pressfield’s main points in the book is that there is something each one of is here to do, is meant to do – that we each have a calling. Resistance is the myriad number of ways we find to avoid doing it: I don’t have the time, the right circumstances, the money, I’ll start tomorrow, when the kids are grown, and on and on. We are the ones who hold ourselves back, and only we can remove the obstacles that we have put in our path. Whatever keeps us from starting – or finishing – that which calls to us – that is our resistance and the only way around it is to get honest with ourselves. By acknowledging our blocks and letting go of excuses, we can get on with our real work in the world – expressing the creativity that resides in all of us, whether it lies in creating a sculpture, a second career, or our own version of a successful business.

The author doesn’t pull any punches; he calls it the way he sees it. As a result, it might not be for everyone. For myself, I’m going to read it again.

The Zen of Less Stuff

I must admit I’ve always been intrigued by a minimalist approach. Not intrigued enough, apparently, to necessarily practice it but intrigued nonetheless.

The trend towards minimalism has been growing. New articles, blogs, websites and books are popping up all the time. Interestingly, millenials seem to be leading the pack towards having less stuff. That silver service (that belonged to her mother) Granny wants to offload on your son or daughter when they get married? Not happening. Why? They simply don’t want it. Millenials are way less into “stuff” than the generations before them. And that may actually be a good thing.

Research in positive psychology by Dr. Martin Seligman, author of several books on the subject, describes happiness or well-being (his preferred term) as measured by the following: Positive emotion, engagement, meaning, relationships and accomplishment. Positive emotion is described as happiness and life satisfaction. Engagement refers to using one’s abilities and interests in service to an absorbing interest or calling , while meaning refers to using our strengths to contribute to a larger purpose. Accomplishment and relationships round out the five, which Seligman identifies by the acronym “PERMA.”

Millenials, having come through the recession, concerns about the environment and sustainable lifestyles, not to mention the prospect of student loan debt, seem to be more focused on living a scaled-back lifestyle, on having experiences rather than acquiring stuff. If that’s the case, according to Seligman’s ideas, they may be on to something. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review (May 2010), millennials “place a strong emphasis on finding work that’s personally fulfilling,” and “are the most socially conscious generation since the 1960’s.”

The beauty of less.

The beauty of less.

The idea of paring down isn’t just limited to millennials. Although better living through consumerism isn’t going away anytime soon, there is a noticeable trend towards the idea of less being more. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo, was a number one New York Times bestseller, and currently ranks as #1 in Religion and Spirituality on Amazon. (Yes, religion and spirituality.) Examples of minimalist living are everywhere. Steve Jobs, a noted minimalist, favored simplicity both in his designs and his personal life, and was well-known for his signature look of black turtleneck, blue jeans and sneakers.  The clothing store and website, Cuyana.com, celebrates a life “filled with fewer, better things,” and features simple shapes in neutral colors. It even encourages the reader to join their “Lean Closet Movement,” simplifying personal wardrobes and donating items no longer worn to those who can use them.

It’s not difficult to see why a movement towards simplicity appeals. In a world that seems increasingly complicated, a simpler lifestyle translates to less pressure, reduced expenses, and more freedom. As many of us transition to different lifestyles, such as being solopreneurs with home offices (my case), more clutter – more stuff – equals more distraction and expenditure of mental and physical energy that could be focused elsewhere.

Here are a few ideas on how adopting a more minimalist lifestyle can impact you.

  • More time. The more stuff we have the more time we need to take care of our stuff. Our things have to be organized, maintained and stored.  Sifting through a packed closet looking for our favorite blue blouse can be time consuming and frustrating. So can sorting through a crowded cabinet of office supplies trying to locate the stapler. Picture, if you will, a closet with several well-chosen items hanging and actual space in between the hangers and you can almost feel the difference.
  • More money. We’ve got to pay for all that stuff and the more we have, the more money goes out to do that. Moreover, we may even pay someone else to help us take care of it – maintenance, cleaning and the like. Choosing to buy less means being able to save money for other things – a dream vacation, retirement, education, and reducing the weight of debt.
  • More life satisfaction. Our consumer culture has for decades hyped the “When I get the (new car, new dress, new kitchen, latest whatever,) then I’ll be happy,” mentality. Advertisers depend on our buying into these notions. If you accept Seligman’s theory of PERMA, however, the life satisfaction doesn’t hold weight for the long-term. Some thoughtful folks are realizing that the happiness and satisfaction they seek is better found elsewhere – spending time with loved ones, in service to a cause they believe in, or challenging themselves to accomplishment or learning a new skill.
  • Less stuff means less stress on the environment. As recent generations have become more aware of how consumer consumption impacts the natural world, trying to minimize our footprint has become of increasing concern. More awareness has led us to recycle, re-use, and reduce non-essentials, positively impacting our natural surroundings.

What about you? I’m curious to know if you have considered simplifying, downsizing, or streamlining your life? I know I have. Right now I’m working on clearing out my overstuffed bookcases of books I no longer need. I’m donating them, along with some other items, to a shop in my community that supports a cause important to me. Not only am I reducing clutter and distractions at home, I also get to feel a sense of satisfaction and contribution. That’s something money can’t buy.

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