One Tip for Leaving Your Comfort Zone

Comfort is a drug. Once you get used to it, it becomes addicting. Give a weak person consistent stimulation, good food, cheap entertainment and they’ll throw their ambitions right out the window. The comfort zone is where dreams go and die.

Anne Lamott’s (1994) book «bird by bird» is an excellent book on writing. And as it’s subtitle «Some Instructions on Writing and Life» says, it is about more than writing.

One tip, which is also the title of her book, is told via the following story:

I also remember a story that I know I’ve told elsewhere but that over and over helps me to get a grip: thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
Lamott (1994)

She also points out the benefits of the story for writers:

I tell this story again because it usually makes a dent in the tremendous sense of being overwhelmed that my students experience. Sometimes it actually gives them hope, and hope, as Chesterton said, is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate. Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong. It is no wonder if we sometimes tend to take ourselves perhaps a bit too seriously.
Lamott (1994)

And it is not only for writing. I think it is useful elsewhere in life. And especially when you want (or have) to leave your comfort zone.

It is very … well, «comfortable» in the comfort zone, but I agree with the quote in the beginning of the posting: it is also where «where dreams go and die». And not only creative dreams — anything you want to do or achieve dies if you stay there. (Well, not if you want to «life» and die there.)

Especially anything that is new.

After all, how do you know you can do it if you have never done it before. It can quickly seem too complex, too overwhelming.

And in these situations Lamott’s mantra is really helpful. «Just take it bird by bird.» Concentrate on doing the first step, once you have done it, do the next. And sure, it pays to think through all the steps in advance. For example, what do you need along the way? What can you prepare? But once you have done so, just concentrate on the first step. What is the first step you need to take?

And suddenly overwhelming issues become manageable.

So, yeah, «bird by bird».

(Although I wonder whether her brother actually managed to write that report in time … but that might not make the story that motivating. In any case, he probably got father than without it.)

Reference: Lamott, A. (1994). bird by bird. Some Instructions on Writing and Life Anchor Books.