Poetry and Prose by #1 Amazon Bestselling Author of Nature Speaks of Love and Sorrow, Co-Author of #1 Amazon Bestseller, Wounds I Healed: The Poetry of Strong Women, and Jan/Feb 2022 Spillwords Press Author of the Month
A New Way to Think About Growing Your Comfort Zone
The other day I was reflecting upon a conversation I had with a colleague of mine. We were talking about an upcoming leadership training, and ideas for iterating portions of the training. And, what, prey, do you think happened? Yes, I, rather we, went straight to the whiteboard.
I ended up drawing an x and y axis, and though it was, in that moment, unclear exactly what I was trying to convey, upon reflection, it became much more clear. Hence, this post about growing your awareness and attention by getting outside of your comfort zone.
Here’s what we’ll cover.
Ready? Good. Here we go.
Attention and Awareness
We all have differing levels of attention and awareness. These levels also shift, dependent on our experience, which we will discuss more in a minute.
There are three basic levels of attention and the awareness; what we know we know, what we know we don’t know, and what we don’t know we don’t know. The last of which is also called a blind spot. We all have them. Phew. Still with me. Good.
Basically, it is those blind spots that we are addressing in this article. What we don’t know we don’t know. Because, in fact, the only way to understand what we don’t know we don’t know, is to have someone or something point to it.
Of course, we must be open to new experiences, learning, and paying attention. If we are, our awareness about ourselves as human beings will increase, and our blind spot, in this area at least, will decrease.
When we choose to have the same experiences every day, sticking to our normal routine, or habits, we miss out on the opportunity to grow our attention and awareness. Why?
Because, when we stay in our normal routine, we don’t pay as close attention to our environments, as we do when we are in a new experience. Think about the last time you did something new. Did you pay closer attention to the experience? The sights, sounds, smells, or information you were receiving? Yep.
We pay more attention in a context that is new to us, because we don’t know what to expect, and, most likely, are a little unsure and hesitant. That is getting outside of our comfort zone. That feeling of unease.
Yet, when we get outside of our comfort zone, our capacity to pay attention increases, as does our awareness. And, when our attention and awareness increase by way of the new context we’ve exposed ourselves to, our attention and awareness increase in others as well.
As we grow our attention and awareness in new contexts, we discover new things about ourselves, and about the world. Of course, discovery is hard. We must be vulnerable, willing to take risks.
Humans have a tendency to stay inside of their comfort zones; inside of their habits, where they feel safe. However, inside of our comfort zone, discovery is not possible. Why? Because we know about these experiences. We’ve been doing them for, well, in some instances, all of our lives.
However, when we are open to new experiences, we get to discover, and we get to create new possibilities. As we learn and grow, we also get to create. It’s inside of this creative space, where new possibilities exist for our lives. It is quite beautiful.
Here is what growing your comfort zone, as we’ve discussed it here, looks like to me visually.
As you can see in this simple diagram, the space in between our normal experiences, and new experiences, is where we can grow our attention and awareness.
Our attention to the new experience, which will spill over into all of our experiences, and our awareness of who we are as human beings. The latter also translates into understanding all human beings. It’s how it works.
Alright, that is a new way to think about growing our attention and awareness by getting outside of our comfort zone.
And, as my colleague would say and I’ve written before, the size of the step we take outside of our comfort zone is entirely up to us. And, once outside, we always get to return to our comfort zone.
The important thing to remember is that when we choose new experiences that challenge us, we are growing. And, well, growth is a beautiful thing to be a part of, and to watch.
Have you ever tried to meditate? Been through classes on meditation, yet continue to struggle to do so? You are not alone. It is too often the case that people take “meditation” classes or yoga classes, and yet struggle to have an experience they feel should be reminiscent of meditation. Sound familiar?
Well, let’s take a look at three simple steps that you can take to create the space you need to take up a practice that’s been on this planet for thousands of years. And, we will take a look at these three steps in just four minutes. Ready? Alright, let’s go.
Step 1: Quite Space
First, you must find a space that is quite, away from distractions, as much as possible. Then, let those around you know that you need this time to be alone. One of the biggest challenges in creating a meditation practice, is creating the space you need to do so. And, you are the one that needs to create this space.
You can create this space, by creating a new boundary with those closest to you. Let them know that this is your time, and is needed, and necessary. Sounds simple, yet most people have boundary issues, and may push on the boundry you are creating. Hold firm. This is your time, and you deserve it.
When I started meditating almost three years ago, the above referenced boundary issue was something that I struggled with. Yes, you also have to hold yourself accountable to create that boundary within yourself. Important. If you don’t hold to the boundary you are creating, no one else will. And, you will be continuously interrupted. What will it take?
It will take you creating that boundary over and over again. Eventually, those closest to you will get that you are serious, and leave you alone. Be persistent.
Step 2: Focus on Your Breathing
The first year of my meditation practice, I called it breathing. Why? Because I didn’t know how to breath properly. Most people don’t. That’s okay. You can learn.
Here is what my first year looked like
3 to 6 months – breathing for 5 minutes at a time, several times a day.
6 months to year 1 – breathing 15 minutes at a time, twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening.
And, here is what years 2 and 3 have looked like
Year 1 to 18 months – meditating 20 to 30 minutes at a time, twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening.
18 months to year 2 – meditating 30 to 45 minutes at time, twice a day – once in the morning, and once in the evening.
Year 2 to today – meditating 45 minutes to 1 hour at a time, mostly once a day, though sometimes twice. Second time being 30 minutes in the evening.
The important thing to note, and remember, is that it’s taken almost 3 years to go from breathing for 5 minutes, to meditating for an hour most days. Slow. Creating a meditation practice is not about how fast you can do it. It’s about taking your time, yet being persistent. Building the healthy habit, slowly and methodically.
Alright, when you are ready, here is a guide to your first 5-minute breathing exercise
Sit comfortably. You DO NOT have to sit in the lotus position. Actually I recommend not sitting like that. Simply sit in a sturdy chair, back straight, yet relaxed, hands resting on your thighs.
Set a timer, or a meditation app, if you have one for 5 minutes.
Close your eyes, and take a couple deep breaths, breathing in through your nose, and out through your nose. Slowly, deeply.
Now, breath normally, still in through your nose, and out your nose. And, as you breath in focus your attention on the air making its way through your nostrils – can you feel the cool air coming in? If not, that’s okay, then focus on the tip of your nose. If you can, focus on the air coming in through your nostrils.
As thoughts arsie, let them. If you begin to focus on them, that’s okay. When you begin to focus on a thought, simply bring your attention back to the air coming in through your nostrils, or back on the end of your nose.
And continue to repeat the above again and again. Thoughts arise, you notice, may even engage with them, then notice you are engaging, and refocus on your breath. Again, and again.
If you’ve just completed your first 5 minutes of breathing, nice job. You are on your way.
Step 3: Practice
Whether you are meditating for 5 minutes at a time, or an hour. Creating and maintaining a meditation practice, takes just that, practice. You must be willing to make meditation a priority in your life. It is like any healthy habit we want to develop; it takes persistence to build a regular habit.
The coolest thing about developing this habit, is that once you’ve done it for a couple of months, you will demand that space of yourself. Really, you will. You will hold yourself accountable to create that space; and, as you hold yourself to that standard, those closest to you, if they aren’t getting it, will.
And, the more you practice, the more benefits you will realize about incorporating meditation into your life. There are many. One of my favorite benefits, is that I have time for myself. Time to be quiet, away from all technology, and all people. We all need that time.
Practicing meditation is about learning how to focus your attention, as your mind continues to be busy. And, believe me, it will be. Yet, as we’ve discussed, let the thoughts come. It’s okay. And, as they come, notice when you are paying attention to them, instead of your breathing, and then refocus your attention on your breath.
Remember, creating a meditative practice takes time. Building this practice is not something that will happen overnight. It won’t, so relieve yourself of that pressure right now; and when you are ready, find a quiet space, focus on your breathing, and practice.