Last night, I watched my two daughters (aged 5 and 6) dance on stage, in front of approximately 200 people. Both girls had learnt a dance in the day with another 8 children as part of a Step Up and Move all-inclusive activity and then performed as part of the evening entertainment programme.
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One of my girls is shy in new situations and scared of being the centre of attention. She was terrified about going on stage and we spent much of the evening meal going through techniques that might be helpful to her – such as focusing on someone in the audience with a smile on their face, or studiously ignoring anyone she knew well. (Two techniques I use often when speaking in public too!)
My other girl is outwardly very confident and loves being right in the thick of the action. But she was the one who was terrified just before the show started and clung to me, needing a word of encouragement in her ear first, a gentle cuddle and a good luck kiss.
Both walked up on stage confidently in the end and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the performance. They particularly enjoyed the certificates at the end and came off stage positively beaming with pride. Full of their achievements and full of confidence in what they had pushed themselves to do.
It did make me think though, what rewards do we get when we step up and move ourselves out of our comfort zone?
Our Comfort Zone.
The idea of the comfort zone dates back to 1908 when psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson explained that a state of relative comfort created a steady level of performance. Simply, Lifehacker argue, that your comfort zone is a behavioural space where your activities and behaviours fit a routine and pattern that minimises stress and risk. It provides a state of mental security.
In order to maximise performance, Yerkes and Dodson argued that we needed a state of relative anxiety—a space where our stress levels are slightly higher than normal. This space is called "Optimal Anxiety," and it's just outside our comfort zone. Optimal anxiety is that place where your mental productivity and performance reach their peak.
The Huffington Post argues that the benefits of stepping out of your comfort zone are varied. Highlighting the following three areas as tangible benefits:
- challenging yourself to help you perform at your peak,
- taking risks to help you grow.
- trying new things to make you more creative.
So, the question I asked myself was - have I followed the lead of my girls and stepped out of my comfort zone?
My journey to my optimal anxiety
In April 2017, I took the biggest step outside of my comfort zone in my career so far, when I led our organisation out of the national Relate Federation and into a wholly independent charity, TLC: Talk, Listen, Change. I experienced many of the same emotions my girls did – nervousness about whether I could do it, fear that I wouldn’t be good enough and worry that I would mess up and let everyone down. I also was outwardly calm and confident but inwardly relied heavily on those words of encouragement from those who knew me well – our fantastic Board of Trustees, my amazing colleagues and my so much-loved family and friends.
And the rewards for me? Where was my dancing certificate?!
Unfortunately, I’m not the best dancer…
What I did receive however, was that when 1st April 2017 arrived, I could stand with my team and say we have officially launched an organisation that can really make a difference. And that sense of achievement was immense, the pride I have in our organisation is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before in my working life and I also have a great degree of thankfulness as I realise how lucky I am to have a job I love doing, day in and day out.
But what happens if we don’t step up and move and stay within the confines of what we know?
Well obviously, the opposite of all of the above, but also I think, something more as well. When we don’t push ourselves, when we stick within only what is safe and tried and tested, we miss those endless opportunities and possibilities open to us. We can let our fear rule the choices we make.
In our first Clore Social residential, the amazing Eve Poole gave us all a small tiara, suggesting we wear it when we need that extra burst of confidence. Have you ever seen a CEO wear a tiara? I guess you’d need to see me managing the end of year reports!
I actually wear mine often and it always helps me remember that some things are more important than fear.
So, my advice to my girls, my reminder to myself and my desire for all at TLC, is to Step Up and Move because you never know what you might achieve if you do.