Our beautiful comfortable cages
Everyone has dreams, ambitions and goals that they want to achieve in life. Some are fantastically large dreams that would reshape the world. Some are more modest goals around changing oneself. However, we’re not always equipped to start chasing these dreams down. 92% of people who make a new years resolution fail to achieve it. In this article, I’ll cover the four walls that keep us in our gilded cages.
What keeps is in our gilded cages?
1. My comfortable life
The first wall of our cage is the comfortable life we’ve built for ourselves. The culmination of all our successes and achievements. Being known for the successes you’ve made can keep you paralysed in your comfort zone. After all, what would it mean to try and fail now (but more on that later)? We can gain some insight into this using Karl Rohnke’s comfort, stretch, panic model.
Comfort zone - as we can see there is a lovely warm comfort zone in the middle which is where our everyday activities are held. It includes everything that has become the norm. It is cosy, comfortable and safe which can mean it’s a very inviting place to reside. It is, however, a place of stagnation. If you want to learn, adapt and change, you need to push yourself into the stretch zone.
Stretch zone - this place is far less comfortable as you are breaking new ground. Trying things that you are not sure will work, it’s an area of adventure and exploration. This is a place of growth and stimulation which can lead to mental, physical and emotional change.
We’ve all been in this zone. The first time you drove a car, went to school, rode a bike, went swimming. You leapt into the stretch zone. There was a chance for glory and growth but equally for failure and learning. The thing with the stretch zone is that once you become accustomed to a change it becomes part of your comfort zone. For example driving, riding and swimming are all just normal things for me.
Panic/red zone - it is possible to push yourself too far and reach the panic zone. This zone is where you reach your ability to cope. Anxiety and fear take over and it’s common to fall into a fight or flight mentality. Luckily there are several signs that you are in this zone, such as increased heart rate and breathing, and feelings of being overwhelmed.
So as we can see our comfort zone may be holding us back from achieving our goals. Maybe we just don’t want our goal as much as we want to reside in our comfort zone. And that’s ok. As long as we’re aware and accepting of that choice. In my experience trouble surfaces when that choice is buried and we’re unaware of our inner conflict. Whatever you choose to do, do it with purpose.
Great minds have purposes, others have wishes
- Washington Irving.
2. Fear of failure
The next wall of our cage is fear of failure. It’s not the pull of comfort that is keeping your from moving towards your dreams it’s fear of failing. If every journey starts with a first step, that journey can’t fail if you never move. Failure seems to hold even more power if we’ve been flush with success.
Let’s say we’ve had a meteoric rise through a company and now we’ve got some options. We can take the next step up the corporate ladder or skip that and apply for our dream position at the top, both have become available. If we apply for the top job we might achieve the culmination of our goals, however, we may just as easily fail and that could call our previous successes into question. If we apply for the rung up we might not get a chance to move for another five years. Would you risk it or play it safe?
We tend to fall into a loss aversion trap, where the pain of losing is twice as powerful as a pleasure of gain. We would rather stick with our small potential gain than take a risk on a large one. If we apply for the top job and fail we’ve just gained vital experience into that interview process and additional insight into the boards view of that role. If we play it safe we’ve missed out not only on the opportunity but also on the learning.
A good test for fear of failure is based around the advice you would give a stranger. Taking that fear response away from you individually. Would you tell a stranger that felt they could lead a company to go for the role? I know I would encourage them to. Would we do it ourselves? If not then, fear of failure is taking its toll. It’s calling in its old friend imposter syndrome and doing a merry dance inside your head.
Again the first step here is being aware of the impact fear is having. Once you have that awareness you have the opportunity to halt and act differently. An 'aha' (awareness, halt, action) moment.
The only thing to fear is fear itself.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt.
3. Committing at the wrong level.
This wall is perhaps a little more obvious. As we covered early most new years resolutions fail. The cause of this failure is often committing at the wrong level.
Let’s say for example that I want to run 10k daily. I get up on the first of January and I pound out a solid 10k before falling in a heap of dehydration and muscle spasm. I then spend the next two days recovering. Finally being able to sit down and stand-up without groaning, we’re now three days into the new year and I’ve failed on more days that I succeeded. Why would I go through that pain again? I might as well go back to watching Netflix. I committed at the wrong level. I wasn’t running 5k every day beforehand so why did I feel I could magically to 10k without any preparation?
Alternately, let’s say I want to eat less and lose some weight. I get up on new years day and I can’t eat less because there is a bit of a family feast going on in the afternoon. At this gathering, I maybe drink too much and so come the second I’m hitting the comfort food to aid my recovery. Come the third I’ve failed pretty much every day so that one chocolate bar that I have leftover from Christmas might as well get eaten. Once it’s gone it’s gone, right? So we go on, gain we’ve committed at the wrong level.
We tend to underestimate or overestimate how easy and attainable things are. We don’t tend to sit down with someone and discover what is reasonable. What’s going to get us out of our comfort zone without pushing us into our panic zone.
Work out what is big enough to keep you moving towards your goal but not so big it can become your reason to stop.
The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment.
- Antony Robbins.
4. Don’t know how
Lastly, we can be blocked by not knowing how to start or how to make progress. You know you want to stretch yourself, you are committed to your goal at the right level, you are at peace with the fear of failure but you simply don’t know how to start.
This problem is if anything made more complex by the modern world. There are a million on one people out there who are willing to tell you conflicting advice on the best way to do anything. How do you know which one is correct? How do you find the physician in the crowd of snake oil salesmen?
Not knowing where to start or how to make progress can be the biggest blocker but it’s one we’ve all overcome through-out our lives. We’ve all learnt to walk, talk and exist in the modern world. How did we learn these things? A mixture of trial and error backed up with support and mentorship. If you are stuck because you don’t know how you have lots of choices for action, don’t let the choices drive you to in-action. Be purposeful in your approach and dedicated to learning from your mistakes. Don’t discount your ability to overcome and create solutions, given the right reflection and questions.
A great coach can lead you to a place where you don’t them any more.
- Andre Agassi.
How can coaching help?
We’ve explored what could be keeping you from your goals. In my experience, all can be overcome with insightful questions, reflective practices and positive challenges. I’ve touched on this through-out, if you truly want something then do it with purpose. Visualise it and then use that as a lens through which to view your current activity.
Coaching allows you to gain these perspectives as well as motivating you towards action. Allowing you the opportunity to choose by making your decisions, beliefs and values more transparent. By understanding ourselves we can become free to achieve what we truly desire. Sometimes that understanding requires perspectives you maybe don’t have while being in the thick of it so get a little help
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