Yesterday I was hit by a metaphorical freight train.
It came in the form of Arthur.
Sometimes, when I write, characters will waltz into my head fully formed and whole. Other times putting them together is a labour of love, involving many hours and a lot of work. Arthur came to me a fully formed 70-year-old man, with a crooked walking stick, a love of fine whisky and a murdered wife.
Arthur then proceeded to sit comfortably in my brain, sip his whisky and beat me round the head with his tragic but compelling story.
The reason I am telling you this is because Arthur’s story is something completely new to me. My usual writing fair, my fictional stories anyway, not counting my legal or freelance work, is fantasy, aimed at young adults and horror aimed at adults.
It’s not fantasy, it has elements, yes, but it is not at its heart a fantasy story, and it certainly isn’t aimed at young adults. Arthur, you see, has the early stages of dementia with Lewy bodies and his story is one of tragedy both past and present. It is one I am going to write, difficult though it may be.
In short, this story will take me well out of my comfort zone.
This got me thinking last night about comfort zones. I like my comfort zone; I’m happy here. Like most people, my comfort zone is where my behaviour, or, in this case, my writing, fits into a routine that minimises stress and risk. It gives me the mental security that I crave.
It’s nice to get out of the comfort zone once in a while. To perform better, we need to be in a state of relative anxiety, which is a fancy way of saying slightly higher stress levels than normal, the key word being slight. This is called Optimal Anxiety, just the right level of stress, not too little or we become complacent, but not too much that we wig out and become completely nonfunctional.
By stepping out of your comfort zone, your mental productivity and performance will reach their peak. You will be more productive (nothing kills productivity more than comfort, why do stuff if you’re happy where you are, after all). You’ll also get used to coping with new things, then when they happen unexpectedly look who’s ready to deal with it, you. Lastly, it will boost your creativity.
However, getting your backside out of your comfort zone is hard. It’s tricky to get the distance right if you go too far from your comfort zone, then stress can overwhelm you, but don’t go far enough then what’s the point.
How to step out of your comfort zone
If you’re nervous, then try little things first, mix up the routine with small changes. For example, if on Tuesdays if you tend to go to the bar with friends, go to a restaurant or a movie instead. Doesn’t sound like much, but that’s the idea, remember this is just the warm up. Once you’ve got the hang of little changes, start making them bigger (but not too big, remember we’re stepping out of the comfort zone not base jumping off it). I’m changing the genre of my writing with Arthur’s story. I’m also planning on pushing myself to take on more freelance work (confidence is still a bit wobbly after the rejection last month). Little changes, nothing huge and dramatic, that’s not the point of the exercise.
If you don’t know what to change, then try learning a new skill. Take an art class, visit Lean direct and take a free course. If you’ve got the time, volunteer at a local community project. If you’ve got the time and the money, then travel somewhere. The amazing Mr Sherlock and I are taking our first solo trip together this October; we’re venturing off to spend a week in Boscastle in Cornwall. I’m very excited; I’ve even borrowed my lovely dad’s camera which is much spiffier than mine. But I’m a bit nervous as well, we’ve never done this before, it will be an adventure.
Going back to your comfort zone
Lastly, while this blog is about the benefits of getting out of your comfort zone, going back to it can be a good thing too. It relaxes you, gives you the stability you need to thrive. The important thing to take away from this blog isn’t that comfort zones are wrong, just that now and then it’s a damn good idea to stick your head outside and smell the fresh air.
Don’t forget Katie Marie wrote a Book. A big one and a couple of little ones. Check them out!