Photo on Top by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
‘Why Your Comfort Zone Is A Deadly Enemy Of Purposeful Living – And What You Can Do About It’- is another guest post by
Dr.Mani. Heart surgeon. Author. Fund raiser. And social entrepreneur.
His non-profit has sponsored life-saving treatment for 147 ‘Heart Kids’, with many more to come.
He juggles many roles in pursuit of his dream – to make heart healthcare accessible to every Indian child.
Some 3 years ago, I sent an email to my list of subscribers. It was about a book I had started writing long ago – but never finished.
From time to time, I’d add a section to it. And then ignore it for months. Progress was really slow. It came as a shock when I suddenly realized the book had remained in ‘draft’ mode for almost 8 years!
So in my email, I asked for pre-orders… at 10 times the price at which the book would eventually sell.
Why make such a crazy offer?
I wanted to see if there were any readers who would be willing to buy my book – regardless of what it cost.
If there were, I would finish writing the book. If not, well…
To cut a long story short, there were two pre-orders. One of them was from my dear friend Dileepa Lawrence-Hewa. He believed in my writing – enough to pay for a book that hadn’t yet been written.
All it takes is for one person to believe in you!
You’re probably sick of that line. Lady Gaga has been parroting it everywhere in preparation for the release of her first movie. In fact, I watched a parody video – in which she says it one hundred times!
Still, tired as the cliche might be, it’s true.
And it sure helped me beat procrastination and get ‘The Icedrop’ finished.
Once the book was published, it took off like a rocket. Pretty quickly, it was in ‘Top 10’ lists in the genre on Amazon’s Kindle book store. Hundreds of people enjoyed reading about the travels and travails of a little ice drop named Adrian – and journeyed along with him from the top of mountains to the bottom of seas… learning some powerful life lessons along the way.
But this is not about writing a book, or selling it.
This post is about procrastination – and beating it.
It’s about being consistent – and getting out of comfort zones.
It’s about purposeful living – and the ‘success’ that comes from it.
And to introduce the concept, let me share a little story. It’s what came about on an evening walk with my daughter recently.
What I Learn While Chatting With My Little Girl
Every evening (well, almost every evening!), I go for a walk. For exercise. For refreshment. And to spend time with my daughter.
We walk around five to six kilometers in an hour. No, this isn’t a relaxing stroll, but a brisk workout. And all along the route, we talk. About different things.
Some discussions are mundane and deal with what happened in our days. Others are esoteric and cover philosophic or spiritual topics. And we explore ethical, moral, and political themes – along with other, more controversial ones as well.
One evening, I wanted to highlight an important message.
“Shall we talk about ‘discipline’ and ‘humility’?” I asked.
She looked puzzled. Naturally. So I explained.
“To learn something new, especially a complex skill – like driving a car, or performing heart surgery – takes both discipline and humility.”
“How do you mean?” she enquired.
I’ll summarize my lengthy answer for you.
Many complex skills are made up of a series or sequence of simpler skills. Ones that almost anyone can learn.
Take driving a car, for example. The first time you get behind the wheel, it’s terrifying (or thrilling, maybe). You feel overwhelmed by just how much there is to learn, to handle, to master.
Then your instructor points to the panel, explaining what each dial and display is for, what each slot and socket does, what every handle and device is meant to do.
Step by step, your knowledge about the component parts of ‘driving a car’ increases. After a while, you feel adequately informed about the process. You KNOW how car driving is done.
The next step is to practice it.
And this is a fresh challenge in itself. You learn to do it, once again, in tiny bite-sized pieces. Turning on the ignition. Shifting gears. Using the accelerator to gently move forwards. Applying the brakes to bring the vehicle to a halt.
After some time, you wrap your head around this, too. You understand what to do – and how to do it.
It has been a long road to arrive at this point. And no doubt, you’re in a hurry to zoom ahead.
This is when the two things kick in –
Discipline. And humility.
A novice driver thinks, once she has learned the basic skills – how to start, shift gears and stop – she is ready to take the car out on a highway.
An experienced instructor knows this is just the beginning.
It takes discipline and a lot more practice to reach a level of competence where you are good enough at driving to take the car out on the roads – without being a public menace!
You will be asked to repeat the same steps over and over again. To keep practicing them. Until, over time, you’ll get better at them. And then, you can do them almost automatically. Without even making an effort. While juggling many different things at once.
As your driving instruction progresses, you’ll find yourself being aware of other vehicles on the road, glancing quickly into the rearview mirror to assess traffic conditions behind you, unconsciously assessing your speed, course, and direction.
Your hands will grip the wheel less tightly.
You won’t sweat or frown as much.
You’ll become comfortable doing a complex task.
And that’s only because you had the discipline to practice it until you’re good enough.
But… why ‘humility’?
Because unless you accept, to yourself, that you are not yet ‘good enough’ to drive a car safely, you won’t have the discipline to practice until you actually become good enough!
If you stopped attending your driving lessons after the first week, because you feel you already know enough, you’ll likely end up having an accident.
To keep learning, you need humility.
The Deadly ‘Comfort Zone’ – And How To Break Out Of It
Each of us exists in our own zone of comfort. It is different for you than it is for me. But we all live within it.
Inside this zone, we are good at whatever we do. Competent. Even excellent. We have gone through the difficult process of learning skills, and have mastered them to function well.
Now, outside this ‘comfort zone’ lie certain things we dream about. Hope for. Wish we had.
A few of these things are “impossible“. (Notice the “quotes” around the word? That’s because I believe nothing is truly impossible… just harder to get. But, for practical purposes, a few things do fall into this category.)
Most of what you dream about, however, is attainable. Even easily. Or inexpensively.
Yet, we don’t reach for them.
In fact, we actively avoid them.
In a lovely book called “Do The Work“, Steven Pressfield explores this intangible beast inside us called ‘The Resistance’ – which objects to our exploring or trying out anything new.
‘The Resistance’ inside your mind knows that, to master any new skill, you’ll need discipline and humility.
It says: “You’re too old/weak/poor/sick/comfortable/well-off/etc. to do this.”
This way, it undermines and erodes your discipline.
It asks: “You’re already good at what you do. Why do you need to try this?”
And in this way, it plays to your ‘arrogance of competence’.
Your resistance knows that, by making you turn down any risky initiatives to acquire new skills or take chances, it can hold you firmly within the comfort zone that you’ve grown used to.
So far too many of us simply give up on our dreams.
Because it is difficult to get outside your ‘comfort zone’ and do something new. It’s far more easier to procrastinate and put off things for “later” or “tomorrow”.
And we all know… that day never comes!
“Oh, how I wish I could play the piano as well as you!”
“I’ve been thinking about writing a book.”
“When I was younger, I could draw and paint so well. Maybe I will again.”
“I’d love to learn how to speak Spanish!”
“Wouldn’t it be heavenly to visit Paris?”
If you’ve ever said this (or any variant of it) to yourself, you’ll know the power of The Resistance – and how seductive the ‘comfort zone’ can be.
None of these dreams, or even far bigger ones, are beyond your scope or reach… if only you have the discipline and humility to strive for them.
Learning to play the piano (or any other musical instrument), or to speak a new language, or master any skill at all, takes consistent practice. But being consistent is an effort. It isn’t quick or easy. And the lure of instant success draws more people in than the promise of guaranteed results following hard work!
The big question, then, becomes this…
Do You Want A Purposeful Life?
A life with meaning and purpose is a joy on many levels. The best part of it is that YOU get to define what exactly it is about.
There’s no objective or external definition of what your purposeful life should be.
For some, it may be defined in financial terms. By having enough wealth and an income big enough to indulge their fancy.
For others, it could be about health. By being fit, free of any disease, energetic and excited about doing things.
For yet another, a purposeful life might be painted in spiritual colors. By serving others. Working for a larger cause. Touching and changing people’s lives.
However you describe your own version of it, there’s one thing that remains constant in crafting, designing and sculpting your purposeful life – and that is:
It takes consistent effort towards a clearly defined goal.
You can’t procrastinate and put things off. You can’t hope for shortcuts and ‘cheats’ to get you ahead. You can’t meander along without a target, and count on stumbling into ‘success’.
You have to take charge of your life.
Decide to venture outside your ‘comfort zone’ – and try out new things.
Be disciplined enough to practice – until you’re very good at them.
Have the humility to know when you’re not yet ‘good enough’ – and keep practicing until you are.
Stop procrastinating – and get things done.
It’s this ‘formula’ that I followed to finish writing my book, ‘The Icedrop’ – and the others that followed.
It’s also what I did to launch a non-profit 15 years ago – which has grown to fund heart operations for almost 150 little children born with congenital heart defects.
It’s even the approach that has got you reading this post – because in an effort to try out new things, I offered to write an article for Dileepa’s blog… and he graciously consented!
So now you know this works. Use the tested-and-proven formula to construct your own Purposeful Life.
I wish you all success and every joy it will bring you.
Heart surgeon. Author. Social entrepreneur. Fund raiser. Dr.Mani juggles many roles in pursuit of his dream – to make heart healthcare accessible to every Indian child. His non-profit has sponsored life-saving treatment for 147 ‘Heart Kids’, with many more to come.
Dr.Mani’s books will inspire you to go for your dreams – and make them come true. And a share of profits go to fund a child’s operation. His latest books are ‘Knife At A Gunfight: How To Transform Your Life In 5 Easy Ways‘, and ‘Heart, Guts & Steel: The Making of an Indian Surgeon‘. Buy a book, save a life!
You can connect with Dr.Mani on Twitter (@drmani), Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest