I use an approach called ACT – it stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and it does what it says on the tin; it teaches you to accept what you need to in order to commit to doing what matters most. So often in life, we don’t want to accept; we want the commitment side – the opportunity to take action, to go for our goals and chase our dreams, but we don’t want to face the difficulties that doing so will bring. So we put it off.
You want to be an author, but the words don’t come for fear of the rejection; or your own self-criticism; or even the discovery that you suck at writing. You want to teach but the thought of standing up in front of a class and speaking with authority strikes terror into your bones, so the dream never manifests.
But what if you could accept that most of the things that matter come with a whopping great side-helping of challenge? That we can’t have what we want without going through some kind of discomfort?
You see, I have a theory about bubbles. We all have one, we all live in one, and inside it we feel all warm and squishy and safe, wrapped up in the comfort of our bubble zone. Outside, all is terror. Even people who appear so confident, it seems they long ago burst out of their bubbles, have bubbles. For some, home is in, but the street is out. For others, addressing a crowd of thousands in a televised speech is in; skydiving is out. For some, sleep may be all that lies in the bubble and waking is out. Different stuff, but the edge of the bubble always feels the same – a terror inducing squidgy mess of gut-wrenching anxiety. It’s one thing that makes us all human.
But you have charge of your bubble – and every choice you make dictates if it shrinks, grows, or floats around in its happy bouncy equanimous way. You’ll know if it’s growing, because you’ll be experiencing the discomfort that is only found on the edge.
Do something enough times that scares you and your bubble will start to expand around it, embedding it with all those other things that long ago found their way into your comfort zone.
I saw Greg Howe, an incredibly talented guitarist, speak last week. He talked about playing on stage to 65,000 people at extremely short notice…with Michael Jackson. Now THAT’S scary. I asked him how he has coped with nerves and being thrown in at the deep-end in such terror-inducing situations. His answer was that he has learned how valuable these experiences are. And it is that knowledge that can free us to not only face and accept our fears, but even to begin to embrace the discomfort, knowing it is good for us.
By making little choices, consistently, in line with the expansion principle, our bubble will grow without us even realising, and therein lies the secret. Remember that dream you had? The one you buried and pretended was never there because it lay so far beyond your comfort bubble? There’s nothing but a flexible edge keeping you from it.