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Getting Comfy with Uncomfortable

A half-circle image of a fantasy landscape and the title of the blog below

You've heard the old saying 'feel the fear and do it anyway' well this is what I wanted to write about today. About what that fear is, how it affects us, and how I am learning to rethink some of my inner fears in order to push at the boundaries of my creative comfort zone.

Take a minute to think about these two definitions;

"Fear is good. It's an in-built safety switch that stops me doing dangerous things. It is a deeply intuitive reaction that could literally save my life one day. Fear is what protects me."

"Fear is bad. It's a relic of evolution that just gets in the way. It is a learned reaction that can be unlearned. Fear is what stifles me."

I believe that both are true for us all to some degree, and we, as very smart animals with our big brains, are able to navigate a path between the need to feel secure, to be comfortable, and the urge to explore the unknown, which is inherently uncomfortable and and sometimes scary. Security, or the feeling of safety (which is different for everyone), is one of life's fundamental requirements and, creatively speaking, it is the things we are good at that makes our comfort zone.

Obviously, we aren't born with a comfort zone. Experiences from day one fill our brains with information which is categorised into safe and not safe. As we grow we get curious about the world and start testing our surroundings. We put our hands on the hot thing, we get burned, we learn that the hot thing is not safe. That's normal curiosity leading to learning and behaviour modification. Similarly, my one traumatic experience with one dog led to me to re-categorise all dogs as 'not safe' and so began decades of fearing dogs. But all dogs are not the same are they! The fear of what could happen [because I'd seen it happen once] overrode any desire to go near another dog.

Can you see where I'm going with this? Desire is the biggest contributor to getting past our fears and expanding our comfort zones. I think of fear as a locked door. I have the key in my hand, but I have to want to use it! The desire to experience what's without has to outweigh the comfort of within.

Okay, lets put that into some arty context. My comfort zone is realism; really detailed colour pencil realism. I'm very good at it, and I know a lot about doing it. But, I don't want to only do realism with colour pencils. I want to do it all! This is my desire. [This is also my problem, I'm like a pick n mix goblin* where art is concerned]. I am constantly looking outside my zone to see what else I might want to bring in. But I still halt at that door with the key and think 'Nah, I'll be rubbish', turn around and go stare at my pencils again!

This is my initial response when I try a new style, or a new supply. 'Nah, I'll be rubbish' The diva on my shoulder, who only wants to make the art that everyone likes, whispers in my ear. But if I'm genuinely interested in learning that thing rather than it being a passing phase, the desire to actually try it far outweighs the uncomfortableness of giving it a go. When I get to this stage, not doing the thing feels worse than actually doing it.

That's not to say that you can't give something a go if you're ambivalent to it. The results are more likely to be less than the best you can do, but you might get lucky and find that you take to it right off the bat. The desire comes after.

So, what happens then? A one-time attempt isn't going to extend the confines of my comfort zone! As with anything, you gotta practice. The desire still needs to be there after that first dismal result, and it's at this stage that many of us, me included, have thrown our dummy in the dirt (toys out the pram/baby with the bathwater) and stormed off in a huff. Meanwhile, the little diva on our shoulder sits back in her armchair, sips her tea and shrugs 'I told you so!' reinforcing the fear (of failure) and stomping upon the desire to try again. It is this childish reaction that allows fear to take centre stage. It can convince us that the pain of failure is so much worse than the euphoria of success, and we never try again.

Does it take bravery, or courage to continue? Eh, no not really when you compare that to genuinely dangerous situations. But the fear still needs to be acknowledged. It is real [for you] and it's unlikely to go away until you give it a little airtime. I was listening to a fascinating podcast with Professor Stephen Peters* about confidence building recently, and he spoke spoke at length about our 'chimp brain' which is the emotional reaction centre where fear lives. He literally speaks to his 'chimp brain' when he needs to control his emotions. I'm willing to bet we've all given ourselves a good talking to on occasion, the big difference here is that he suggests having an actual conversation!

"Hello fear. Thank you for your help, but this isn't actually a dangerous situation. You can leave now."

I think what I'm trying to say, in a very longwinded way, is that your comfort zone is a heavily guarded elastic band around your creativity. Although it is elastic, you can be sure there'll be resistance when it is stretched the first few times. But if you keep stretching, it'll loosen up and you'll soon be able to fit more in.

*pick n mix goblin - otherwise known as a multi-passionate creative.

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