The Doing Cure: Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Grow
There was a performance early in my music career that was host to a terrible bout of anxiety. I distinctly remember escaping to the bathroom before the show, splashing water onto my face, and peering into the mirror. Its cracked glass reflected shafts of waning daylight and a worried young man.
When I took the stage, I refused to look at the audience. That only made it worse. My voice trembled through choruses. My fingers forgot eight years of guitar. The stage lights penetrated my eyelids and begged them to open. Eventually, I acquiesced. And there, dead-center, an old alcoholic spun dance to my songs. The rest of the set, I focused my anxious energy on spinning him to the ground. By the time we took our bow, he was still standing, but my anxiety lay dead on the floor.
In stepping out of your comfort zone, you risk security, but secure enrichment for both your emotional and spiritual being. Whatever the task: getting on stage, traveling abroad, rappelling down a rock face, or even just walking out your front door – when you do it, it becomes you, and you are stronger for having done it.
Freud and Breuer had the Talking Cure. This is the Doing Cure. Here's how it works.
Comfort Is The Enemy
The first step to the Doing Cure is admitting that the comfortable structures you create, while vital in some regards, are not the end-all-be-all to experiencing life to its fullest.
They send us to school not so that we can get a job, but so that we can learn how to live. For most of us, the final bell rang a long time ago. There are no more teachers to guide us to new experience. We have to seek it out ourselves. Just as the literature geek was forced to sit through math class and now can balance a checkbook, the self-searcher forces herself into discomfort and emerges a true scholar of life.
This isn't to say that sleeping in or enjoying a good cuddle is worthless. But, honestly, how many times has a day spent doing nothing left a lasting impact? The purpose of this life is to grow. When you resign yourself to comfort, whether that comfort be a job, a routine, or a relationship, you rob yourself of opportunities to achieve growth.
Action Becomes You
Not to get too morbid, but imagine your funeral. What do they say in your eulogy? Is it, “She had red hair. She liked to drink coffee every morning. She had a fulfilling job.” Or is it where you went, what you did, how you did it, and why you did it?
Your life on this Earth is measured by merit. Consider the old cliche that it's quality, not quantity, that determines value. Now, consider what you're doing at any given moment. Is it a quantitative action or is it a qualitative action? If it's the former, it's time for a change. If it's the latter, then focus on that feeling and reach for it at every turn in your life. From the toothpaste you buy, to the person you spend your life with, be sure that every choice you make comes from a single place of honest virtue.
The second step to the Doing Cure is identifying quality action, and just doing it (refer to Nike for more on that).
Redundancy Will Be Your End
This will take some self-awareness to navigate, but the moment that you can make a decision without fear is the moment you fully understand why stepping away from comfort was the best thing you could have done. There is no measurement here. It's up to you to figure out where and when that will happen.
Just as distinctly as I remember cleansing my face in the bathroom of that rec-center where my first performance took place, I remember cleansing myself entirely of anxiety a year later. I was on the Copper Coast in southern Ireland, faced by a unmarked hill that led to a steep cliff over the Atlantic. Without thought, I rushed to climb it to the top and stood with my toes hanging over the edge. I spit into the waves crashing below and descended back down.
It was an experience I can never have again. If I continue to ascend cliffs and spit into crashing waves, then I'll become a caricature of myself. That's why the final step to the Doing Cure is the most vital: Never become content in your new-found confidence. Doing so will drop you back into comfort.
Stepping out of your comfort zone can be a terrifying thing to do. For those who suffer from anxiety or other roadblocks, it appears to be impossible or even unnecessary. To them, I ask to consider the poem, Eternity, by William Blake.
He who binds to himself a joy Does the winged life destroy He who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in eternity's sunrise