Rocks & Hard Places: 3 ways to grow by challenging yourself

We’re all capable of overcoming great odds, but we’re most likely to act when our backs are against the wall. If we don’t have to act, well… we probably won’t. Complacency is bred by comfort.The old adage tells us to do one thing every day that scares us, but how feasible is that? Over the course of a day, I probably won’t encounter much that I’d deem “scary”, so it’s easy to write the idea off as advice for somebody else. But it isn’t.

Think back to a time when you’ve done something you’re proud of. Did you beat the odds? Achieve a personal best? Go above and beyond what you’d thought possible? For most people, those are the moments we’re most proud of. They stand out in our minds because it’s not something we do everyday. We don’t look back fondly on the day we spent sitting on the couch or the three days when we gave up on our diet. We remember the best public speech we gave, the award we won or the culmination of a long, difficult project.

We all want more of those moments. But complacency and self-doubt are powerful adversaries. We either don’t want to attempt what is hard or don’t believe that we can. And the longer we go without overcoming something, the harder it may be to convince yourself that you can. Only by forcing ourselves out of our comfort zones can we increase our confidence and promote new opportunities for greatness. Below are three simple practices that can help beat complacency and give you opportunities to grow.

No 1: Read a Book You Normally Wouldn’t

If you don’t read much, this is a great way to break up a routine, commit yourself to a project and probably enjoy yourself a little along the way. If you read regularly, you probably have a type of book that you tend towards. Whichever is the case, try to pick out a book that you normally wouldn’t choose. And make sure that it isn’t unduly difficult or boring. If you like to read horror fiction, don’t feel like you’ve got to pick up Kierkegaard. You can go on Amazon and look at well reviewed books. If a book is getting 4–5 starts, it’s going to be approachable and decently written.

I’m a pretty voracious reader, and I love to pick up books from the opposite end of the political spectrum or about a seemingly mundane topic, like traffic planning. I’m continually astonished by how immense the worlds of thought and opinion really is. I might end up better understanding a different political or cultural stance or learn an appreciation for how complicated bees are. Either way, my world view is a little bit bigger, and I’m less likely to assume that I have all the answers.

No 2: Meet New People

Another area of comfort that we fall into is who we surround ourselves with. You can Google “the big sort” or “filter bubble” to see how much we tend to isolate ourselves into pockets of like minded individuals. You no doubt live in a community with an immense diversity of opinions, but the people you work with, invite to your home and regularly socialize with are likely to hold similar cultural and social beliefs to you.

Now, it’s not a bad thing that we like to be around people that we share ideas with, but it’s also not likely to challenge us. When we get into our comfort zones, it’s easy to label outsiders as different or downright evil.. Listen to the fervor in the U.S. president primary process, and you’d believe that 3/4 of all Americans are conspiring to end democracy (and the 1/4 of freedom loving Americans that remain is going to change depending on the candidate you support).But it’s not true. Black, white, gay, straight, union member or redneck, most people are decent people. They have good days and bad days, but honestly, they’re just trying to get by.

Make small talk in the line at the grocery store. Introduce yourself to the stranger next to you on the plane. Sit with a different group during lunch at the office. Double date with those couple friends that you just met. However you go about it, it’s good for us to expand our social circles. It helps us to remember that most people are good people and that we don’t have to be wary of them.

No 3: Dump the Crutch

We’re all prone to using crutches. These are things that we lean on to keep us from doing the right thing. I know I should be writing or reading when I get home from work, but instead, I’m going to sit on the couch and watch a TV show that I don’t care about. I know that I should skip the snack, but I’m bored so I’ll go grab that bag of chips from the vending machine. I know I should meet the people around me at the group dinner, but instead, I’ll take out my phone and pretend to check email.

Crutches are an easy way out, and the more we use them, the harder it is to give them up. Challenge yourself by identifying your crutch and giving it up for some length of time. Maybe that’s deleting the Facebook app from your phone. Maybe that’s unplugging the TV for a week or not buying the snack food a the grocery store. Maybe it’s eating dinner at the table with your spouse and having a conversation. Commit yourself to a day of giving up your crutch. Once that’s under your belt, try three days, a week or a month. A snack isn’t the end of the world and television isn’t the devil, but when we let those things become the default option because they’re easy, we’re operating on auto-pilot and giving up our ability to choose something better.

There you go. Three simple, totally achievable ways to break up the routine and force yourself to try something new. What’s so amazing about these steps is how difficult they may prove to be. Most of us really are addicted to our crutches, and many of us avoid social contact anytime that we can, so meeting new people is completely counter intuitive. But what’s fantastic about these things is that they only require a little effort to get over the hump. Once you’ve mastered your crutch for a day or earnestly exposed yourself to a differing opinion, it’s hard to see what the fuss was about. Now you come up against a bigger challenge, but you’ve already got a win under your belt, so you give it a go. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that can spiral in all kinds of positive directions. But it starts with breaking the complacency and putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Get to it.

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