There are some people who do not have a fear response. In the face of danger, they laugh and run towards it (literally). One of the causes is an unusual genetic disorder called Urbach-Wiethe disease, which destroys the amygdala in the brain, and with it the ability to feel afraid.
There are others who don’t seem to feel fear — at least, not like the rest of us. On the face of it, it looks like they seek out danger and risk, like those free-solo climbers who scamper up El Capitan without ropes (seriously my palms have just started sweating typing this, that’s how healthy my fear response to plummeting to my death is).
The rest of us, though, fear stuff all the time.
All. The. Time.
Generally, that’s a good thing because otherwise most of us wouldn’t be here. Our ancestors would have run face-first and giggling into a sabre-toothed bear before they got the chance to breed. Fear causes us to run away and self-protect and that’s a very sensible evolutionary trait.
These days, we mostly don’t have to worry about sabre-toothed bears so our brains transfer that fear onto other stuff and convince us that it’s life-threatening. Like public speaking, for example, or performing on a stage, or sharing our writing with other humans (or countless other things people find terrifying).
None of which will kill us… but we’re terrified anyway.
That survival response, by the way, isn’t so daft: what we’re really risking is ostracism. Ridicule. Exclusion. All of which can, in fact, kill us slowly.
So when we hear the advice to push ourselves out of our comfort zone — to do something we fear, that might be dangerous — to stick our heads above the parapet and risk ridicule and dislike — it’s… tricky. Our comfort zones are safe. They keep us alive.
To make matters worse, quite often we’re told not to gently explore the boundaries of our comfort zones; we’re told, by the bro-hustlers of the internet world, to shove ourselves out there. Into the fatal embrace of the sabre-toothed bear.
(Yes, I have been guilty of copying the loud voices on the ‘net and shrieking this advice at people myself, before. But I am older and wiser now, and older me is glaring at younger me and telling her to think before she opens her mouth.)
I don’t know about you, but I like my comfort zone. It’s comfortable. It has a blanket and a cup of tea.
I reckon we spend a lot of time trying to do the impossible. Some of us are happy to gently wander out of our comfort zones and explore the frontiers, safely… but to a lot of people pushing boundaries is akin to free-soloing El Capitan. They’re just not wired that way and trying to force it pushes them back into their nests.
No shame in that at all.
Because let’s be honest: I’m lazy. I like tea and a good book. I want to stay under my comfy blanket — especially this year, when just getting out of bed feels like a risk some days.
So instead of trying to force ourselves out of our comfort zones, which is scary and often painful and makes us want to not do it again, how about instead we bring stuff into our comfort zones? How about we expand the edges of it?
Figure out what you want to do that scares you, and move it into your blanket fort until it feels safe enough to put out in public.
I’m not just talking about physically scary stuff like climbing or wrestling or skydiving; specifically here I’m talking about creating. Writing. Sticking our heads above the parapet. Allowing other people to see us.
That, to me, is at least as scary as climbing El Capitan with or without ropes.
Creation is often uncomfortable but I don’t believe it should always be painful or unpleasant or even frightening. It should be joyful… and one of the ways we get to joy is by expanding our comfort zones.
We don’t usually feel joy by pushing past our safe zones (although it can be rewarding, for sure); we feel joy by becoming more comfortable with new things.
By getting better at stuff.
Take trapeze. I tell people that I love to learn new moves on the trapeze.
Here’s the sordid truth, though: I hate it.
Okay, I love learning and I love improving and yada yada yada, but currently I’m learning to do elbow rolls.
I hate learning this move. It hurts. It’s frustrating. I’ve taken all the skin off my spine and bruised my vertebrae. My biceps are mush. I STILL CAN’T DO IT.
And yet I persist, not because I am loving this process (believe me, I’m not) but because I know that when I bring this move into my comfort zone, it will be joyful. Graceful. Easy.
And that’s what I want. For the work I do to be easy. Eventually.
This might seem like semantics; and perhaps it is. Perhaps I’m playing with words. But to me, it makes more sense to expand my comfort zone than bust out of it all the time.
Being outside my comfort zone is great every now and then, for a short time… but it’s also stressful and scary and that’s not a healthy way for most of us to live long-term.
When I work with writers to write their books, I don’t want them to be stressed and scared and miserable. I want them to be excited. Maybe nervous and really keen on doing it well, but not scared. My job isn’t to yell at people like a Sergeant Major and put them off the whole adventure; it’s to help you fall in love with the idea of writing and creating.
My job is to expand your comfort zone so that writing a book is drawn into it.
There’ll still be moments of pain… but they’ll be cushioned by the knowledge that you can do this.
We need to make the impossible possible. Turn pain into pleasure.
I said a moment ago that I hate learning elbow rolls on the trapeze, and that’s true. Kind of. But I love the process of creation. There are awful moments dotted in there, but the process of creation is well and truly in my comfort zone now. I only have to venture out every now and then to pull something new into it.
My coaching clients tell me similar stories about writing their books: they come to love the process. Not all of it and not all the time… but they are surprised to realise they have fun, and when they look back on their big book adventure, they realise that the whole thing was wonderful.
We are so hard on ourselves. Writers more than most, I think. Let’s not make writing harder: let’s make writing part of WHO WE ARE, not just what we do.
And the way to do that is to do it. Every day.
Write your buttocks off.
Write until you can’t imagine not writing — and then take a look at how far your comfort zone has expanded.
Then, once you’ve written, you can start publishing. Stick your head above the parapet and do it in a safe place like Team Moxie.
Start Writing Your Book Today
If you want to learn more about how to write, self-publish, and market a book for your business, snaffle yourself a copy of How The Hell Do You Write A Book? Then check out the blog and podcast for more articles and guides. If you want a little (or a lot) more help, find out how you can work with me.
Vicky Fraser is the founder of Moxie Books and author of How The Hell Do You Write A Book and Business For Superheroes. She helps business owners write life-changing books, connect with readers and new customers, and grow their businesses. When she's not doing that, she's hanging from a trapeze by her feet.