“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
– Anaïs Nin
Chances are, in your life, there are things that you’d like to do – perhaps even, things that you feel you really ought to do – but that you’ve been avoiding; putting off for a later day. Maybe you’ve wanted to do these things for a while but the thought of actually doing them scares you.
This is an issue we all face.
Confronted with our fears, it’s far easier to retreat into our comfort zone than it is to try and tackle them. The problem, simply, is that this is a short-term solution, not a long-term one.
Whereas, by addressing our fears, we can potentially expand our comfort zone and put ourselves in a better position to deal with the next set of obstacles, by succumbing to them, we fail to grow and risk repeating the same mistakes over and over.
The choice is simple: we can get better at facing our fears or we can get better at avoiding them. We can strive to evolve or we can choose to stay the same.
“The ticket to victory often comes down to bringing your very best when you feel your worst.” – David Goggins, Can’t Hurt Me
In the pursuit of any goal, we are likely to run into some challenges and/or setbacks. Progress, for a start, is rarely linear.
Our goals will typically require consistent, long-term engagement, rather than short, sporadic bursts. The problem is, if we are easily derailed, we won’t be consistent. And consistency is key.
Grit is about perseverance and commitment; it’s repeatedly making those difficult choices that you’d rather not, but that you know you should.
When someone has grit, they are typically able to make choices based on their values rather than their emotions – for example, by going to the gym on a day they don’t feel like it because they’ve chosen to improve their health; by working on their public speaking so that they can address their limitations at work.
Without grit, it becomes much harder to leave our comfort zone.
The growth-mindset is the belief that our traits can be developed – in this case, that grit can be cultivated and built. It is the most powerful argument for self-improvement; simply that we can.
If we’re struggling to persevere in our endeavours then that is exactly what we need to work on – our perseverance. If feeling scared is a frequent excuse for our inaction, we need to build our courage.
By expanding our comfort zone, we tackle both.
Our comfort zone is like an elastic band, in that, if we stretch it, it will grow. The more we’re able to act in spite of our fear, the less challenging it becomes. Over time, we raise the threshold for what makes us feel uncomfortable – and with a higher threshold, we’re simply able to do more.
Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves why we’re voluntarily putting ourselves through discomfort. If, when we’re feeling scared or ready to give up, we can reframe these thoughts as being a normal part of the process, we’re far more likely to persist. The more we can do this, again, the easier it becomes.
Grit, in a sense, is the ability to reframe painful experiences so as to make them worth going through. These feelings then become valuable tests to overcome.
What’s more, the better we get at reframing these experiences, the more our comfort zone will grow, and the further we will internalise the growth mindset. The relationship is synergistic.
“Lock yourself in a room
Doing five beats a day for three summers
That’s A Different World like Cree Summer’s
I deserve to do these numbers”
Kanye West – Spaceship
To put this into practice, we must buy into the notion that what we do matters and that we are what we repeatedly do. When venturing outside of our comfort zone, it doesn’t matter how big or small the steps are – they could be fucking tiny. Done consistently, they will add up.
In the words of Haile Gebrselassie, Ethiopian long-distance runner and two-time Olympic gold medalist, “In long distance, you have to learn to be patient. You don’t need to start very fast. But training is the most important thing.”
And it’s the same here – we must check our egos and leave any expectations at the door. Progress is progress. It’s that simple. By setting our initial bar too high, we often needlessly waste time. It’s far better to build momentum by taking a series of smaller steps – ones we will actually take – than it is to procrastinate on a larger step that perhaps we’re just not ready for. The mistake here is thinking that we are ‘above’ the process.
Fundamentally, we have to see the value in these small steps as otherwise we won’t take them. If it’s a step in the right direction, what more could we ask for?
Focus on your trajectory, not where you are now.
(19:29-20:19) Jordan Peterson on the small things adding up:
In the end, our comfort zone is problematic only in so far as it prevents us from doing things that, given the choice, we’d actually like to. Paradoxically, the longer we stay within its confines, the less comfortable it actually becomes; the more we are reminded of the things that we’d like to change about ourselves but have yet to.
In avoiding short-term pain, we sacrifice long-term fulfillment; by treading the path of least resistance, we forgo growth and development for the sake of instant gratification.
The truth is, achieving our goals will often require us to grow as individuals. Just like we put our bodies through stress at the gym so that they can come back stronger, we can learn to approach adversity with a similar mindset. By consistently pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone, we widen the range of what becomes individually possible.
To quote ex-Navy SEAL David Goggins, “The bottom line is that life is one big mind game. The only person you are playing against is yourself. Stick with this process and soon what you thought was impossible will be something you do every fucking day of your life.”