I live in a box – we all do. It may be a sacred box or a profane box… either way, it is still a box.
I have created a box or a “comfort zone” in life where I spend my days and feel safe. It is a mental box that I created from all the rules and habits that define where I live and work, who I interact with, what’s acceptable, “safe” behavior, what’s allowed in my family and my culture, what’s bad or wrong behavior, etc. And all those things that I have decided are off limits, too big or too scary to be part of my life, create the walls of my box.
Pain and Boredom as Catalysts
Ultimately my box defines how much of my true self I will share with the world. It’s very hard to be a big presence in the world if I choose to inhabit a tiny little box. But my little comfort zone of a box provides continuity and safety for me – no one wants to live in a completely unpredictable world where everything is new and unknown all the time. And my little box may be beautiful and fun for me. But as time passes my comfortable little box of a life may come to feel constrictive and limiting; I may begin to feel caged up and ache for something new.
The most amazing box can ultimately become downright painful; mine certainly did in the months before I decided to get divorced from my first husband. Or maybe I inhabit the same comfortable box for so long and come to know every corner of it so well, that I find myself bored to tears by its predictability. That was the case for several years before I chose to completely shift gears and change careers.
When I am bored or in pain, I am way more willing to stretch and embrace a little of the unknown. And I am way more likely to seek out change. I may decide to take a class, go on a trip, change jobs, start exercising, change my diet… 18 years ago I took a huge leap and got divorced – but only after aching for a change for years. I am only human; change, big change is most likely to happen when my box becomes too painful or too boring to bear for another second.
Pushing My Limits
Every shift or change I have ever made, involves expansion; I end up pushing against the limits of my old comfort zone. And like most people, I am willing to wait a long time and put up with a lot of boredom or pain before I try to change my life. It’s great to feel safe and comfortable. And change can be very uncomfortable and scary. But when my box becomes too painful or restrictive, I eventually reach an internal tipping point. Then I am willing to swallow my trepidation and make a change in my life.
With every change, I inevitably run up against my old limits; I push up against the walls of the safe and known box I’ve been living in. Or if I shift fast, I may even completely blow through the walls of my box before I realize it! When I run into, or completely blow by my old familiar limits, I feel fear – it’s not very comfortable to be outside my old box at first. And I am likely to find ways to contract again and sabotage myself. I get shaky and try to talk myself out of the shift. Or I decide I can’t handle the change or don’t know how to change. Ever insecurity of mine rears its ugly head!
Craving and Sabotaging Change
When I feel shaky, it’s natural to want to to crawl right back inside my old box; to run back to my old comfort zone, even when a huge part of me is still aching and crying out for something bigger, something more. But I’ve learned that it helps me immensely to remember that whenever I grow and expand, I will knock up against the walls of the comfortable “box” I’ve been living in. And when I do, I will feel quite vulnerable and fearful. It’s part of the process. I find it comforting to realize that I am just being human whenever I get scared and sabotage my own growth and change. I may even give myself a little slack if I can remember that all of us tend to do stupid, self-defeating things when we’re in a new world and feel off-balance and scared.
Realizing that it’s human nature to both crave and fight against change, helps me relax and give myself some grace. When I can own that part of me that fears and fights against change, I find it’s easier to pay attention and catch myself whenever I start to contract back into my safe little box. So, when I catch myself sabotaging the change and growth that I actually crave, I have a choice; I can berate and verbally beat myself up for being so dumb. I can give up and jump back in my old box and forget about every changing. Or I can try to treat myself with loving kindness; I can realize how vulnerable it feels to be outside my comfort zone. And do it anyway.
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
How I Expand and Start Living Outside My Box:
1. Breathe and pause. Look around at life outside my old comfort zone; try to explore a little. Allow myself to take baby steps into the new world outside my old box. If I push or rush myself, I only trigger more fear and confusion and upset. Eleanor Roosevelt suggests doing one thing a day, not 20! Easy does it. There is no need to muscle through all my fear and confusion at once.
2. Own my fear and shakiness and confusion. Just allow myself to FEEL it all. Try not to stuff it or run from it. Remind myself again and again that it’s completely normal to feel this way when I jump outside my old comfortable box and land in a new unknown place! Chaos, fear and confusion are normal after any change – especially at first.
3. Breathe and ask, “is this fear – or curious excitement – or both jumbled up within me?” When I ask this, I usually find that a big chunk of what I am feeling is actually excitement at being in a new place outside my box. And curious excitement is way less loaded with negative charge than fear is. 🙂
4. Do things that blow off stress and give me physical comfort; exercise, get a massage or energy work, take long soaks in the bathtub, dance. Get my body grounded and moving in my expansive new world. I have learned that as soon as I get my physical body grounded, I start to feel 1000% better.
Breathing and owning my fear and confusion at being out of my comfort zone is key for me. If I can breathe and stay with those big hairy feelings of vulnerability and exposure, then the fear dissipates. And I can slowly calm down and ground in this new space. I can feel my way into how to get comfortable and embrace my brand new, exciting and scary, more expansive box.